Saturday, December 24, 2011
The Dolphins Prove A 17-Point Halftime Lead Means Nothing At Gillette Stadium
If you claim to have ever seen something like this version of the New England Patriots, I'm going to call bullshit. From series to quarter to half to game, there is no way to mentally prepare for what the Pats give us each week.
Regardless of how ugly it gets, New England (12-3) clinched a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs this season with a come-from-behind 27-24 win against the Miami Dolphins (5-10) this afternoon at Gillette Stadium on Christmas Eve. It was the seventh straight win for the Patriots.
To say that the Patriots played terrible in the first half would be way too generous. They trailed 17-0 at halftime as Tom Brady (27 of 46, 304 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) was either getting sacked or throwing passes at his receiver's feet. Bizarre doesn't begin to describe it.
Still, New England managed to wake up in time to score its first 17-point rally and victory in nine years.
Just when it looked like Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore (17 of 33, 294 yards, 3 TDs, INT), running back Reggie Bush (22 carries, 113 yards rushing; 26 yards receiving) and wide receiver Brandon Marshall (7 catches, 156 yards, TD) would combine for one of the biggest upsets in the NFL this season, Miami reverted back to its usual loser ways.
The Dolphins built up their beefy lead thanks to a 47-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter in the first quarter then a 19-yard touchdown catch by Marshall and a 1-yard touchdown grab by something called Charles Clay.
New England couldn't do anything offensively in the first half as their first six drives ended prematurely with Zoltan Mesko punts then Stephen Gostkowski badly yanked a 51-yard field goal attempt on the second to last play of the half.
Things started to go the Patriots' way to begin the second half as they finally got on the board with a 45-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Three plays later, Moore inexplicably fumbled the ball right to Vince Wilfork.
New England went to work as Brady found Deion Branch for a 1-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive to cut it to 17-10. After the Pats defense forced a punt (thanks to two sacks by Brandon Deaderick and Rob Ninkovich), they managed to tie it before the third quarter ended. Brady scored on his first of two 1-yard quarterback sneaks to knot it at 17.
With all the momentum swung over to their side, Moore gave the Pats another absolute gift early in the fourth quarter. His pass intended for Brian Hartline turned into a duck that Devin McCourty (9 tackles, 4 solos, 4 passes defensed, 1 tackle for loss) picked off-his first of the season!
Gostkowski's 42-yard field goal following that second turnover gave New England a lead they would never relinquish. The Pats defense forced a punt and Brady scored his second quarterback sneak for a 10-point lead (27-17) with 2:56 left.
It wouldn't be a Patriots game in 2011 without them failing to close the door on an inferior team so it was entirely predictable that Moore would drive the Dolphins right down the field for a touchdown. He threw a 15-yard strike to Davone Bess with 1:48 remaining on the clock.
Miami elected to kick it deep but they couldn't get a stop. Brady iced it with a six-yard throw to Wes Welker (12 catches, 138 yards) who had a monster performance. He was targeted an absurd 19 times.
Rob Gronkowski was kept out of the end zone for the second straight game but he had seven catches for 78 yards while rookie Stevan Ridley ran hard (season-high and career-high 13 carries, 64 yards).
Jerod Mayo (13 tackles, 4 solo, 2 sacks, 1 tackle for loss) had a solid game while Shaun Ellis notched his first sack of the season (haha he beat a fullback to get to Moore).
Matt Light was a surprise inactive today and things got even worse for New England's makeshift offensive line when Logan Mankins went down with a knee injury and never returned. Marcus Cannon replaced him with Nate Solder shifting over to left tackle. Keep in mind that Sebastian Vollmer was still out.
Also, Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes missed yet another game. You can't count on everybody to be healthy when the playoffs roll around but the Patriots need at least a few of these guys back by then.
New England closes out the regular season next Sunday at Gillette against the Buffalo Bills (6-9). Before today, I thought the Bills had completely given up but they snapped a seven-game losing streak by blowing out the Denver Tebows 40-14. So I guess they will show up next week.
With a win or losses by the Steelers and Ravens, the Patriots clinch home-field throughout the playoffs. Not that the Pats need additional motivation but Buffalo beat New England 34-31 in Week 3 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Merry Christmas everybody, thanks for reading!
UPDATE 12/26: Ross Ventrone was released from the 53-man roster today along with Cedric McKinley from the practice squad.