Patriots make a statement with 41-14 rout in Miami


Patriots make a statement with 41-14 rout in Miami

By Art Martone

There was a statement to be made Monday night at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, and the Patriots made it.

Who could have figured, though, that they'd be making it with people like Patrick Chung and Rob Ninkovich?

Scoring summary and statistics

Chung blocked two kicks -- one punt, one field-goal attempt -- that resulted in two touchdowns, then scored one of his own on a 52-yard interception return. Ninkovich made the first truly big plays turned in by the New England defense all season, and he made them in droves: Two interceptions and a sack, leading to 13 points. Nor should we forget Brandon Tate, who returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown for the second time this season. Or Jarrad Page, who chipped in with an interception. Or folk hero Danny Woodhead, who scored yet another touchdown.

Not the names you'd normally associate with a big Patriots victory. But these are the new Patriots, and they took the first step toward building an identity separate from their dynastic predecessors with an impressive 41-14 Monday night win over Miami that increased their record to 3-1 and keeps them in a first-place tie with the Jets heading into the bye week.

"Really proud of the players," said coach Bill Belichick. "They stepped up on offense and defense, made big plays . . . It was kind of our night."

It didn't start impressively. On the Dolphins' first drive, they moved from their 20 to the New England 36 before the Pats' defense stiffened and forced a punt. But the second drive got off on the right foot -- a 21-yard Chad Henne completion to Davone Bess -- and never faltered. It took them seven plays to go 64 yards, with Henne hitting Bess on a 19-yard pass-and-run down the right sideline in which Bess broke a Chung tackle and eluded James Sanders for the touchdown.

The Patriots were forced to punt on their next drive and, when Henne and Bess combined for a 13-yard completion on a third-and-10 for a first down at the Miami 45, it looked like New England was in for a long night. It was here, however, where Ninkovich made his first big play, an interception of a pass intended for Brandon Marshall that gave the Pats the ball at the New England 40.

Then the Patriots' best defense became their offense.

New England began a long, 16-play drive that culminated in a 23-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, cutting the lead to 7-3 but, just as importantly, wiping more than seven minutes off the clock and keeping the Dolphins offense off the field. Almost all the 16 plays -- 11 of them, to be exact -- were runs, with Tom Brady hitting Aaron Hernandez with a pair of key, 10-yard completions to keep the drive moving. A six-yard Cameron Wake sack of Brady on a first-and-goal from the 9 distrupted the drive, and they only got back to the 5 before calling on Gostkowski.

The Dolphins resumed firing on their next possession, moving from their 21 to the New England 27 and seemed poised to add to their lead. But Ninkovich did it again, picking off a Henne pass in the flat intended for Patrick Cobbs and giving the Pats the ball at their own 25 with 2:47 to play in the half.

Seventy-five yards from the end zone, Brady (19-of-24, 153 yards, 1 TD) cooly moved the Patriots down the field with a drive that started with short passes to Wes Welker and then stretched to longer tosses to Tate. He completed 7 of 9 attempts for 54 yards during the march, and nearly got a touchdown when he just missed hooking up with Randy Moss on a 11-yard pass into the end zone after a fake spike. Gostkowski booted a 30-yard field goal as time expired, making the score 7-6.

Then the Patriots' best defense became their special teams.

For the second time this season, Tate returned a second-half kickoff for a touchdown. This one went for 103 yards, and put the Patriots on top for the first time in the game, 13-7. The Pats' defense followed with its first three-and-out of the game, and Chung blocked a Brandon Fields punt that was recovered by Brandon Spikes at the Dolphins' 16. Two plays later BenJarvus Green-Ellis burst in from 12 yards out, increasing New England's lead to 20-7.

"We practiced everything that happened - all of those blocks, and people doing their job allowed me to make a play," Chung said.

Miami, which ran up 400 yards total offense despite the 27-point loss, cut the lead to 20-14 with an 8-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 28-yard Henne pass to Ricky Williams with just under nine minutes to play in the third quarter.

This was the point -- road game, shrinking lead -- that the 2009 Pats usually crumbled.

But the 2010 Pats rose to the occasion. And then some.

In this situation in 2009, Brady's decision-making frequently devolved into forcing passes to Randy Moss. He didn't do that Monday -- in fact, Moss didn't catch a pass all night (the first time since 2006 he's been held without a catch in a game) -- and spread the ball around as New England responded with a 12-play, 78-yard drive of its own. It ended when Woodhead raced into the end zone with an 11-yard pass from Brady, making it 27-14.

On the Dolphins' next series, Ninkovich halted the drive with a sack of Henne and Chung punctuated the night with a block of an attempted 53-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter that Kyle Arrington scooped up and raced 35 yards into the end zone.

Two series later, Chung was the grateful recepient of a Henne pass thrown right at him on a busted route by Marshall and waltzed 52 yards to paydirt.

"It shocked me," he said. "I was like, 'He threw it? Thanks.' "

By then it was 41-14, the pregame worries of a leaky New England defense being shredded by the Dolphins -- not to mention all that talk of their being unable to beat a quality opponent on the road -- were all but forgotten, and these new Patriots had sparked the enthusiasm and hope for the rest of the season.

Want to talk enthusiasm? When Devin McCourty made an open-field tackle of Ronnie Brown on a fourth-and-2 that forced Miami to surrender the ball on downs, the normally stoic Belichick raced onto the field, clapping his hands enthusiastically and saluting his young defense.

New Patriots, indeed.

NOTES: The Patriots are the first team in NFL history to score TDs rushing, passing, on a kick return, on a blocked field goal and on an interception return in the same game . . . Brandon Meriweather suffered a knee injury in the first half and didn't return . . . Arrington said the touchdown he scored was his first since high school.

Rob Gronkowski appears to thoroughly enjoy himself at Daytona 500

Rob Gronkowski appears to thoroughly enjoy himself at Daytona 500

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski attended the Dayton 500 in true Gronkowski form.

He appeared to be there promoting Monster Energy drink, and was therefore hanging with the Monster Girls, who were also promoting the drink. Gronkowski's herniated disc injury, which required surgery in December 2016, does not seem to be slowing him down as he gets warmed up for the Summer of Gronk.

During the race coverage on FOX Sports, Gronk delivered a speed limit joke, which is sure to make the 13-year-old in you chuckle. (You can watch it here.)


Curran: It's time to let the air out of Deflategate

Curran: It's time to let the air out of Deflategate

I think it’s time. Time to let the Deflategate wound scab over. Time to exit the active, raging, teeth-gnashing, petition-signing, lawsuit-filing portion of the program and let the hate follow its natural course into a slow-boil loathing.

If you are of Irish descent, you know how it works. Clear a big-ass space on the grudge shelf. Put Roger Goodell, Jeff Pash, Mike Kensil, Troy Vincent, Ryan Grigson, Jim Irsay, every shiv-wielding owner, all the cluck-clucking media and the legion of retired players and exiled GMs from Marshall Faulk to Joey Porter through Marty Hurney and into Bill Polian up there. Turn off light. Leave room.

When you need to piss yourself off -- in traffic, mowing the lawn, waiting for your coffee -- fetch ‘em down, blow the dust off and when you’re in a sufficiently foul mood, return grudge to shelf.

You rode the roller coaster. You’ve been there, done that and have all the T-shirts.

I came to this conclusion a few days ago, when ESPN’s Cari Champion interviewed Rob Gronkowski and asked about Goodell visiting Gillette. It was like playing “Get the Stick!” with a big goofy Lab. Champion threw the leading question, Gronk fetched -- tail-wagging --  and returned with a slobbery response that was completely implausible but still designed to dominate a four-hour news cycle.

"The fans are nuts, they’re wild, and they have the Patriots’ back no matter what,” said Gronkowski. “They have [Tom Brady’s] back. I’m telling you, he won’t get through the highway if the fans saw him. I don’t even think he can even land in the airport in Boston because Patriot fans are the best fans, they’re the most loyal fans. I’m telling you, they might just carry out Roger themselves. They couldn’t even get to the stadium in Foxboro if he landed in Boston."

Gronk’s just doing what he thinks he’s supposed to do. And Champion is, too. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Watch these mooks up in New England get all pissed off: “Hey, hey, Chowderhead . . . Roger Goodell . . . . ”

“F*** that guy, he better never show his face in Foxboro! But I want him to come to Foxboro so I can boo the ever-living s*** out of him and maybe barricade Route 1 like Gronk said we would!”

See? Works every time.

The irony is that the person mainly responsible for turning up the burner on this is Robert Kraft.

In May 2015, Kraft said at the owners meetings in San Francisco, “I don’t want to continue the rhetoric that’s gone on for the last four months. I’m going to accept, reluctantly, what he has given to us, and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric, and we won’t appeal.

“Now, I know that a lot of Patriots fans are going to be disappointed in that decision, but I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel at this point in time that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans, and the NFL, and I hope you all can respect that.”

Well, that blew up like an ACME bomb. And -- from that moment on -- Kraft has tried to recoup the fanbase that believed he sold them out by issuing a succession of calls-to-arms that the region has dutifully responded to.

The most recent was throwing down the gauntlet to Goodell by expressly inviting him to the 2017 season opener.  I mean, it would have been a conversation point anyway, but now it’s metastasized into something that will be discussed throughout the offseason, ratcheting up in early September and hitting a crescendo on opening night.

There is appeal to seeing Goodell squirm while knowing the Maras, Rooneys and Irsays will be sipping highballs and lamenting the caddish treatment of Poor Roger. But I still like the football better.

Conversation about the historic import of SB51, the legacy of Brady and Belichick, prospects for the league in 2017? I’ll take those rather than an ESPN “personality” who spent a weekend in Newburyport at a friend’s wedding telling everyone what the mindset of the New England sports fan is.  

But that’s not what we’re going to get. There will instead be ever-escalating predictions of the terrors Goodell will be subjected to fueled by interviews with tatted-up kids from the mean streets of Marshfield who wanted “Hoodie” fired when he let Revis sign with the Jets.

Unless . . . unless the region en masse decides to let its loathing mature. Mature to the point that when the carrot gets dangled in its collective face it doesn’t leap at it with teeth bared but instead says, “No thanks. Already full.”

Yeah. I don’t think it’s gonna happen either.