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Monday, September 8, 2014

Dolphins Outscore Patriots 23-0 In The Second Half to Take 2014 Season-Opener, 33-20

I don't want to have to resort to using it already in the opener of the 2014 season but how else can you explain the Patriots-Dolphins game other than saying it was a tale of two halves? After allowing a blocked punt and subsequent TD following their opening drive, New England (0-1) recovered to outscore Miami (1-0) 20-3 for the rest of the first half. It was similar to a basketball game in the second half as the Dolphins gained all the momentum and ran away with it by outscoring the Pats 23-0 for a 33-20 win at Sun Life Stadium.

If it feels like a while since New England dropped their first contest of the regular season, it has been. 2003 in Buffalo (right after they released Lawyer Milloy) was the last time it had happened. Apropos of nothing, the Patriots bounced back quickly from that drubbing to go 14-2 and win their second of three Super Bowl titles in three years. Besides the obvious disappointment of a loss to a division rival, who look like their biggest threat, the most frustrating aspect of this for the Patriots had to be how their supposedly improved defense wilted in the swampy Miami weather.

Ryan Tannehill (18 of 32 for 178 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) was OK while Knowshon Moreno (24 carries, 134 yards, 1 TD) tore New England to shreds for the second time in a row (he also did that with Denver last season). Tom Brady (29 of 56, 249 yards, 1 TD) couldn't do it by himself and he wasn't perfect either missing a couple throws that he normally makes in his sleep. The easy way to diagnose the loss was that the Patriots' offensive line was a mess with the Logan Mankins trade looking awful at least for the near future.

A few plays later after the blocked punt set them up in great field position, Miami punched it in the end zone on a four-yard touchdown run by Lamar Miller. You couldn't script a much worst start for the Pats or dream scenario for the Dolphins but it didn't last long as New England scored on their next drive (13 plays, 80 yards, 6:36) thanks to a 2-yard run by Shane Vereen.

Miami started to turn the ball over like it was going out of style, allowing New England to convert on three straight possessions. Miller and Mike Wallace (7 catches, 81 yards) both fumbled while Tannehill was picked off on an errant deep ball by Alfonzo Dennard. Stephen Gostkowski gave the Patriots their first lead at 10-7 with a 47-yard field goal late in the first quarter.

As expected, Rob Gronkowski wasn't on the field for a ton of snaps (4 catches on 11 targets, 40 yards) but he made it count with a 6-yard touchdown catch midway through the second quarter. Miami cut it to 17-10 with 1:59 left in the half on a 38-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis but New England answered with a 45-yard kick by Gostkowski with six seconds left.

It's not an excuse since they both had to play in it, plus New England has practiced in the heat and humidity for a while, but just stating a fact that they usually struggle in Miami (they fell to 15-35 all-time there). I don't think being there for Week 1 helped them either. The third quarter was all Dolphins as they scored 13 points to take a 23-20 lead. Two Sturgis field goals (24, 22) were sandwiched around a 14-yard touchdown catch by stone hands Wallace.

Back to New England's offensive line, they really struggled since they allowed Brady to get sacked four times (and pressured numerous times) while the running game only produced a paltry 89 total yards. Cameron Wake as usual was a force with two sacks and two forced fumbles (Miami recovered both). Moreno iced it with a four-yard touchdown run with 3:29 left and Strugis' 27-yard field goal closed it out.

It's only one game but still I'm bracing myself for a week of complaining and second-guessing which should at least make for some good talk radio. Julian Edelman (6 catches, 95 yards; 2 carries, 21 yards) was unstoppable in the first half but he got completely bottled up in the second half. Darrelle Revis' much-anticipated Patriots debut wasn't particularly memorable: he was beaten by Wallace for the TD (well sort of) but he deflected two passes away and recovered a fumble. Jerod Mayo (10 tackles, sack, fumble recovery) played well in his return from the pectoral injury from last season.

0-1 is not the end of the world but 0-2 looks more realistic for the Patriots because the Vikings (1-0) drubbed the Rams 34-3 in their opener this afternoon in Minnesota. New England will travel to new TCF Bank Stadium next Sunday (1, CBS) to play Brady's former backup Matt Cassel who at least for now is the Vikings' starting quarterback. Fixing the rushing defense I'm sure will be the main focus this week with Adrian Peterson, still the best running back in the NFL, awaiting New England next weekend.

Miami will try to go to 2-0 on Sunday (1) when they travel to Orchard Park, NY to face the 1-0 Bills. The Dolphins make their annual pilgrimage to Gillette Stadium on December 14 (Week 15) when you know it will be cold and miserable (advantage New England as always). Along with Buffalo's surprising 23-20 overtime win at Chicago, the Jets took care of the Raiders 19-14 meaning that the Patriots are at the bottom of the AFC East for once.

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