By Gregory Hunt
When quarterback Tom Brady threw an interception on his first pass of the game, it looked like it was going to be a long day for the New England Patriots. But after spotting the Miami Dolphins a two-touchdown lead, New England outscored Miami 24-0 in the second half to come away with a 27-17 victory Sunday at Gillette Stadium. The victory improved New England’s record to 6-2, two games over the second-place New York Jets in the AFC East.
Offense Grade: C
In spite of the win, Patriots Nation still has great reason to be concerned about the play of Brady. When Brady’s first pass attempt of the game was intercepted, it was because he threw the ball behind tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had a step on Miami cornerback Dimitri Patterson. Instead, Patterson came up with the ball and it led to a 40-yard touchdown drive for Miami. In the second quarter, Brady tried to force a deep pass to a triple-teamed Gronkowski. The ball fell incomplete, but the Patriots were fortunate to see Miami get flagged for pass interference on that play. While Brady did eventually throw an impressive touchdown pass to wide receiver Aaron Dobson, Brady’s best play of the game came on the ground, when he made a couple of nifty moves on an eight-yard rush to convert a fourth and four situation.
New England’s successful running game was accomplished by committee, as Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden combined to gain 147 yards on 33 carries. Ridley and Bolden scored New England’s two rushing touchdowns.
Defense Grade: A-
Credit must be given to the defense for keeping New England in the game while the offense struggled in the first half. When the offense started to make some noise in the second half, the defense followed suit by forcing three turnovers. In the third quarter, a strip sack by cornerback Logan Ryan at the Miami 13-yard line led to a recovered fumble by linebacker Rob Ninkovich. In the fourth quarter, a deep pass by Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill was tipped by safety Devin McCourty then caught by Marquice Cole just before he fell out of bounds.
The Patriots sacked Tannehill six times, all in the second half. Five different players combined for these sacks, with Logan Ryan being the only one to get a pair. New England did give up quite a few yards on the ground – 156 – but they gave up only 145 net yards passing even though shutdown corner Aqib Talib missed the game with a hip injury.
Special Teams Grade: B+
The kicking game was solid in spite of a stiff breeze that resulted in Stephen Gostkowski getting only three touchbacks on six kickoffs. He also made both of his field goal attempts, from 34 and 48 yards. Ryan Allen made five punts, and although only one was downed inside the 20-yard line, he never really gave Miami a short field. The biggest play on special teams was made by defensive end Chandler Jones, who blocked a 39-yard Miami field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. That block pretty much nullified any chance of a Miami comeback.
Coaching Grade: B+
On a day when Brady appeared to be struggling throwing the ball, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels decided to establish the run and it worked. Even when New England fell behind by 14 points early, there was never any panic in his play calling. In contrast, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia made a key halftime adjustment. After hardly calling any blitzes in the first half, New England blitzed relentlessly in the second, and Tannehill couldn’t handle the pressure.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.