An early Christmas treat pitted the New England Patriots versus the resurgent Miami Dolphins. While, the Dolphins have been a roller coaster of a team over the past few years, a Patriots-Dolphins game is always a treat no matter what their respective records are. Entering week 16 with the Patriots already in the playoffs and the Dolphins nowhere near a playoff berth, Saturday’s game could have been a game for the backups, but not with Tom Brady under center and Belichick rooming the sidelines.
For the second week in a row the Patriots started the game off slowly, this week the Patriots offense was the cause for concern early. Clearly troubled by the blitzing attack of the Dolphins defense, Tom Brady seemed out of character throwing more balls to the ground than receivers in the 1st half. The Patriots defense yet again proved futile in making stops, allowing Matt Moore to be the gunslinger on the field, not Brady. The Dolphins, led by Moore built up a commanding 17-0 1st half lead, while the Patriots were showing little signs of life on either side of the ball.
This seemingly insurmountable 1st half lead would cause most teams to pack it in the second half, especially with little more to play for than pride. Yet, the Patriots are not a team to just pack it in, they show up to play every game, for pride in every victory no matter the circumstance is and has been “the Patriot way”. Receiving the ball in the second half, Brady led the Patriots to their first score of the day, a 45-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. The turning point of the game came on the next possession by the Dolphins. On only the 3rd play of the Dolphins drive after the Patriots field goal, a bad snap put the ball on the ground right in front of ball hungry Vince Wilfork who engulfed the ball under his 350-lb body. 7 plays and 38 yards later Deion Branch smiled and bowed after receiving a 1-yard TD pass from Tom Brady.
Now only a 17-10 game, the Patriots had resurgence of energy on both sides of the ball. Tom Brady resumed his passing onslaught, leading the Patriots to 3 more scores, 2 touchdowns scored by Brady himself and another Gostkowski field goal, to take a 27-17 lead. More surprising than Tom Brady’s revival in the second half was the Patriots defense deciding to actually play defense. Other than the gimmie Wilfork fumble recovery in the early minutes of the 3rd Quarter, another take-away in the 4th Quarter keyed the Patriots 2nd half success.
With the score then tied at 17-17 early in the 4th Quarter, Matt Moore and the Dolphins poised to reclaim the lead took their chance down the field against Devin McCourty, throwing a 44-yard pass to the endzone intended for Brain Hartline. Yet it was McCourty who came down with the ball in the endzone, not Hartline. McCourty’s name has been one called more often this year for being the Patriot defender responsible for giving up the deep ball to opposing teams, not for reeling in interceptions. While all the blame cannot be thrown on McCourty for being the victim of opposing teams down field attack, (a lack of safety depth has more to do with this), McCourty has not been the same play maker as he was during his outstanding rookie season.
The 4th Quarter interception by McCourty was his 1st of the year and turned into the game’s most decisive moment. The Dolphins would not have another opportunity to score until late in the 4th Quarter after Tom Brady had done his work, building a commanding 27-17 lead. Patriots won the game by a final score of 27-24.
The victory did prove to be more than just one for the pride factor. The Patriots secured a 1st round by in the playoffs and an even more importantly a playoff home game. With a victory against Buffalo in week 17, the Patriots will secure the top seed in AFC which comes with the ever important home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Patriots will need all the help they can get come playoff time, but for the time being the Patriots keep finding ways to win.