Patriots finish in style with 38-7 rout of Dolphins

191543.jpg

Patriots finish in style with 38-7 rout of Dolphins

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- With nothing to play for except pride, the Patriots made the last in a series of resounding regular-season statements Sunday.

Even with coach Bill Belichick substituting liberally -- and most of New England hoping for nothing more than an injury-free afternoon -- the Pats thrashed the Dolphins, 38-7, putting an emphatic exclamation point on one of the most surprising, and satisfying, regular seasons in franchise history.

Other Patriots teams have finished with the same 14-2 record as this one, but none of those teams went into the year with expectations as low as they were for these Pats. The general feeling was that 10 wins might be their upper limit, and missing the playoffs entirely was thought to be a distinct possibility.

But New England rebuilt itself on offense after the Randy Moss trade, matured on defense, and got better as the year went along. The Pats won their last eight games, scoring 31 or more points in all of them, as they finished with the top overall seed.

The Patriots last lost on Nov. 7, a 34-14 whipping at the hands of the Browns, and after Sunday's game Vince Wilfork pointed to that day as the turning point of the season.

"The road wasn't smooth all the way and I think after the Cleveland game, it was really a gut check," said Wilfork. "Reality set in . . .

"I think from that point on, guys really buckled down and started to understand, 'Hey, anybody is beatable' . . . I think from that point on, guys just really hated the taste of losing."

That they did. From that day forward the Pats were undefeated, outscored their opponents 299-125, and secured the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. And take note, defense-wins-championship crowd: New England has held the opposition to single-digit scoring in four of the last five games.

Sunday was more of the same. The onslaught was kickstarted on the first drive of the game by Devin McCourty, whose seventh interception of the year gave the Patriots possession on the Miami 47. Six plays later, on a third-and-two from the Dolphins 13, Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski in the left flat of the end zone for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Danny Woodhead -- who had a key 19-yard run during the first scoring drive -- committed the first Patriots turnover in seven games on the Pats' next drive, fumbling (and suffering a concussion that knocked him out of the game) on the New England 34. But the Pats' defense stiffened, and the Dolphins came away empty when Dan Carpenter missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt.

That, as it turned out, was Miami's last gasp. It took the Pats only four plays -- a seven-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis; a 22-yard completion from Brady to Julian Edelman; a 40-yard completion from Brady to Edelman, and a one-yard scoring run by Green-Ellis -- to increase their lead to 14-0, and the rout was on.

It looked as if Brady's day was done when he was replaced by Brian Hoyer midway throught the second quarter, but all it took was a pair of incompletions to prompt coach Bill Belichick to reinsert his All-Pro quarterback. The move paid no dividends on that drive -- Brady threw an incompletion of his own on third-and-10 and the Pats were forced to punt -- but it did on the next one, as he directed a 49-yard drive that ended with a 28-yard Shayne Graham field goal, making it 17-0.

Then it was Edelman's turn to grab the spotlight. Dolphins punter Brandon Fields outkicked his coverage with a 61-yard drive that forced Edelman back to his 6-yard line.Edelman caught the punt, avoided a tackle at the point of reception, snaked his way through two openings, broke to the left and raced 94 yards to the end zone, giving the Patriots a 24-0 lead.

It was the longest punt return in Patriots history, and it made up for the TD Edelman lost on a punt return three weeks ago in Chicago, which was negated by a penalty.

Brady came back out for the first drive of the third quarter and marched the Pats 78 yards in 7 plays -- keys: a 26-yard completion to Gronkowski, which moved the ball to the Pats' 43, and a 40-yard catch-and-run by Brandon Tate that got it to the Miami 10 -- and make the score 31-0. Brady hit Alge Crumpler with a 10-yard pass for the touchdown.

Hoyer replaced Brady for good on the next series, which began with 10:15 to go in the third quarter, but you wouldn't have known it. He drove the Pats 85 yards in 8 plays, capping the drive with his first NFL touchdown pass: A 42-yard bomb down the left sideline to Tate, who made a spectacular leaping catch that increased New England's lead to 38-0.

"That was a play Brandon and I talked about before, and we just kind of had a good feeling about it going into the game," said Hoyer. "He made a tremendous catch . . . he really went out and got it."

"That was real good for Hoyer's first one," said Tate.

All that was left was Green-Ellis' quest for a 1,000-yard rushing season, which he accomplished with a 10-yard run on the second play of the fourth quarter. That got him to 1,008 for the year, earned him a big hug from Belichick when he reached the sideline, and ended his day.

The Dolphins finally broke through with 2:11 left on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Thigpen to Davone Bess.

Now the Pats take the next week off as they wait to find out the identity of their playoff opponent, but if you think they'll spend that week resting on their laurels -- or making "I think we're going to win it this year" proclamations, as Jets coach Rex Ryan did Sunday after his team's victory over Buffalo -- well, you know the Patriots better than that.

"After watching film of Sunday's game," said linebacker Jerod Mayo, "I'm sure Coach Belichick will knock us right back down."

"Bill will obviously keep us focused, keep us humble, keep us striving to play better week in and week out," said safety James Sanders.

But even so, a little bit of pride -- just a little -- was evident Sunday.

"The guys on this team, we know the kind of team we have here and what we're capable of doing," said Sanders.

"Fourteen-and-two," said Mayo's fellow linebacker, Rob Ninkovich. "That's not bad."

No, it's not.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Report: Brady and Gisele spotted on Italian island of Capri

brady.jpg

Report: Brady and Gisele spotted on Italian island of Capri

Anyone know any good receivers Tom Brady can work out with on Capri?

With a little over a week left before he can return to the Patriots, Brady and wife, model Gisele Bundchen, were spotted in a restaurant on the island of Capri in Italy in photos published by TMZ.

Brady, of course, is serving his NFL-imposed, four-game Deflategate suspension. He will be allowed to return to the Patriots practice facility on Monday, Oct. 3 and is expected to play in the game in Cleveland on Oct. 9.

Last week, Brady traveled to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, to serve as honorary captain for the Wolverines game against Colorado. 

 

Patriots never really practiced play Brissett took for touchdown run

Patriots never really practiced play Brissett took for touchdown run

FOXBORO -- On a short week leading up to a Thursday night game, time is of the essence. Coaches have to be mindful that there is only so much they can install for their upcoming opponent, and players have to sort through a wealth of information on a compressed schedule. Practice time is almost non-existent. 

That's what makes what the Patriots did against the Texans so impressive. Without any real practice reps to speak of -- they held walkthroughs on Tuesday and Wednesday -- they installed plays they had never run before. Not only did they work, but one of them helped break the game open. 

Jacoby Brissett's 27-yard touchdown run in the first quarter came on a play that the team wouldn't call for Tom Brady. And if they felt like Jimmy Garoppolo could run it, it was one they hadn't installed and run for him. But given the combination of Brissett's athleticism, his ablity to execute play-fakes, and the look the Patriots thought they might get from the Texans, Belichick and his staff believed they could make it work.

Even though there was no opportunity to run it in a live practice setting.

When the time came, Brissett faked a run to the left for LeGarrette Blount, the Texans defense bit, and Brissett smoothly changed direction to run around the right edge. Patriots guard Shaq Mason sought out linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, who Belichick has called one of the best young 'backers in football, and cut him down. That cleared more than enough running room for the rookie third-rounder. 

Because Houston corner Jonathan Joseph was in man coverage on receiver Malcolm Mitchell, he turned and ran with Mitchell up the sideline and only finally turned around to see Brissett coming at him when it was too late. Brissett made a move to avoid free safety Andre Hal and dove into the end zone to give the Patriots a two-score lead.

"It was just we felt like we could get what we ended up getting," Belichick said. "We thought we could get outside, and there wasn’t really anybody left out there but the corner who was in man coverage and it’s just a question of – once we got outside – it was just a question of when the free safety would get there or if an inside linebacker would be able to get there quick enough. But because LeGarrette flowed across the formation that dragged the linebackers with him . . . there was, as you saw, nobody left."

Belichick credited players with being able to take the concepts given to them with that play and executing despite their limited time with it.

"The timing of the play between Jacoby and Shaq was really perfect, which is remarkable considering the fact we’ve never run the play other than just a walkthrough," Belichick said. "But Shaq cut McKinney down at the perfect time as Jacoby was getting outside of him. McKinney just didn’t really have a chance to recover."

There were other plays that were new to the Patriots for Thursday's game, both offensively and defensively; the counter option out of a two-back pistol set is one we have not seen from the Patriots this year in a regular-season game or a training camp practice. But they were able to hit on them successfully, which Belichick explained was a nod to the work that both the starters and the scout team did in walkthroughs that week.

"We gave them a lot of new things," Belichick said after the game. "We ran some plays that we haven’t run all year. We put them in and walked through them. We never got a chance to really run them, and a couple of those hit big. Defensively we tried to do some things that we just didn’t even practice them. All we could do was walk through them. It’s just not the same as repping them, but they understood . . . They’re a smart group. They’re an astute group. They understood how it needed to try and fit against the Texans and then we got out there on the field and they executed it very well tonight.

"Just a tremendous credit to those guys – the players on the scout team, our defensive and offensive scout teams, to try and replicate the Texans’ plays so we could at least walk through them. Again, we didn’t really run them at any tempo but at least we walked through and they give us a great look, and some of the communication that we needed to be able to execute those plays was really as a result of the scout team giving us the opportunity to practice it, and if we made a mistake correct it in practice and get it right tonight.

"It was really a great, great team effort over the last four days. The guys that played, a lot of guys that didn’t play, like I said, the coaching staff, not just the coordinators, the assistant coaches. We had a lot of guys really work hard this week. It’s gratifying to see those kinds of results. Not that we don’t work hard every week, but this is a tough week."