FOXBORO -- Logan Ryan's strip-sack of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the third quarter on Sunday was the product of a play call that worked to perfection and ball skills honed since training camp.
"I think it was a great play call obviously because it worked, and I think everyone executed," Ryan said. "That's not just a one-man play. A lot of people need to do a lot of things right, people need to cover people, need to stunt the right way to be able to cut me free, and I have to make a play. Everyone did that and I think it was a good result."
"That was something we game planned for," said Rob Ninkovich, who recovered the fumble at the Dolphins 13-yard line. "Specific call and it worked the way it should've worked. [Ryan] did a great job of getting the ball out, and when the ball's out, you gotta get it. Get on it."
The Patriots needed just three plays for running back Brandon Bolden to get into the end zone from two yards out to tie the game, 17-17. By that point, momentum had clearly shifted in favor of the Patriots, and they went on to win, 27-17.
With the help of some screen shots of the play, here's how it broke down:
Here the Patriots are lined up in a nickel package -- five defensive backs -- with two high safeties. Patriots corner Alfonzo Dennard is lined up in press coverage on Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline at the bottom of the formation, while Kyle Arrington has speedster Mike Wallace at the top of the formation. Both Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich are lined up across from tight end Dion Sims to jam him at the line, and Ryan is disguised in coverage on tight end Charles Clay in the left slot.
In a second-and-long situation, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and head coach Bill Belichick have selected a perfect play call. They seem to have recognized that Tannehill would look to Wallace first to see if his most athletic receiver can beat Arrington's man coverage. Because Ryan began the play lined up on Clay, Tannehill likely assumes Ryan will be following Clay across the field on Clay's shallow drag route. Instead, as Ryan blitzes unaccounted for, safety McCourty comes toward the line of scrimmage to pick up Clay, while safety Steve Gregory sprints in the opposite direction to take the deep middle of the field and protect on any deep pass attempts. Though both Wallace and Hartline are challenging one-on-one covers, their longer-developing routes are both rendered ineffective on this play because of the quick pressure dialed up. Thanks to the disguise at the line and the Ryan-to-McCourty switch on Clay, Ryan will get to Tannehill before he even has a chance to throw. Ryan has a clean shot on Miami's quarterback and knows that this has the potential to not only be a sack, but a turnover as well. (Not to be overlooked is the stunt performed by Chandler Jones from his spot at right defensive end. By stunting to the middle of the formation, he takes the attention of left tackle Bryant McKinnie away from the edge, allowing Ryan to get into the backfield untouched.)
Ryan gets to Tannehill as soon as Tannehill is about to make his throw, either to Clay (who is open with McCourty trailing in coverage) or Wallace (not pictured). This is where ball-skill drills -- repped early and often in practice since the start of training camp -- pay dividends.
"Every single day," Ryan said with a smile when asked how frequently Patriots defensive backs work on stripping quarterbacks in practice. "Forcing turnovers is something this defense prides itself on, and I'm just trying to hop right in and continue to do that."
It was the first of two sacks on the afternoon for Ryan, and the second forced turnover by the rookie corner in as many weeks. He had an interception return for a touchdown last week in a 30-27 loss to the Jets.
Credit Ninkovich with staying with the play -- likely knowing there would be a chance at a fumble recovery -- and out-hustling three Dolphins linemen to the loose ball to secure the turnover for New England. Like a base runner in baseball utilizing a hook-slide at home plate, Ninkovich slides around his target, allowing him to simultaneously cradle the ball in his arms and protect it from the Dolphins by shielding it with his body.
"I thought I showed some great tuck-and-roll ability there," Ninkovich joked afterward. "I didn't think anybody touched me, but I guess they did. I'll take the recovery and the points scored."
The play represented a nice comeback moment for Ryan, who did not play in the first half against the Dolphins. Neither he nor Belichick explained why Ryan sat out, though it was presumed he was being disciplined for celebrating his touchdown return last week by grapping his crotch. Ryan was fined $10,000 by the NFL for his actions and apologized when approached by media members last week. He vowed to represent himself better and move forward, helping his team as soon as possible.
He did just that on Sunday, and his veteran teammates appreciated his efforts.
"He's a great teammate," said Gregory. "He's a good kid, he wants to learn. He's starting to really pick up our defense. He plays hard, works hard every week, and he's somebody we enjoy having having around here. He's a good football player for us, and we like him."