MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It was a throwback game, a chance to wake up the echoes and remember so much of what made the Patriots so good for such a long time.
In pulling off the 41-14 win over the Dolphins in Miami Monday night (click here for the complete recap), the Patriots were able to recall an earlier era of New England football, channeling a time when they were seemingly able to overcome any obstacle in the face of adversity.
As they did so often in the early days of the 21st century, on Monday night, the Patriots answered the call. Time and again they were tested, and on each occasion, they rose to the challenge. Faced with the prospect of winning a key division game on the road, their offense was clearly not clicking on all cylinders. But they got a superior effort on defense, and were positively transcendent on special teams on the way to the victory.
In all, it was the Patriots' most complete performance since the start of the 2009 season — remarkably, they were the first team in NFL history to score a rushing touchdown, a passing touchdown, a touchdown on an interception return, a touchdown on a kickoff return and a return for touchdown on a blocked field goal in the same game.
For New England football fans, it was a peek into the not-so-distant past of the mentally tough, old-school Patriots — putting team first and winning by any means necessary.
“It was great,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “We got plays from every phase of the game. It was awesome tonight. The players really played hard. They played unselfishly and we got the win. That’s what we came down here for.”
And as was the case in so many postgame locker rooms in that earlier era, after the game, there was a lot of talk about disrespect. The teams that won so often in the early part of the decade perfected the art of playing with a chip on their shoulder, and while there are only a few of the players still around from those days, it’s clear the song remains the same: When it comes right down to it, no one believes in us but ourselves.
After the game, several players talked of the perceived pregame slights, making sure to note most of the media had picked the Dolphins to win the game. (That point was driven home to the players late last week when they saw predictions from Patriots Football Weekly on the locker room bulletin board — predictions that had the Dolphins winning.)
Linebacker Gary Guyton delivered his message with a T-shirt that read simply: “I [Love] Haters.” Nose tackle Vince Wilfork walked out of the happy locker room, telling reporters, “I’ve got nothing for you.” And safety Pat Chung — who blocked a punt, blocked a field-goal attempt and had a 51-yard interception return for a touchdown — sounded an awful lot like Rodney Harrison circa 2003 after the game.
“We like being the underdogs, I guess. I can’t speak for the team, but you guys picked who you picked,” he said, motioning toward reporters. “That’s all I can say. Enough said.”
“We had something to prove,” said linebacker Jerod Mayo, who had 16 tackles. “Everybody doubted us, but we like it that way. Keep doing it.”
No veteran remaining in the New England locker room knows more about “no respect” era than Tom Brady. He was part of the group who took the theme as gospel and ran with it, and even after the idea had clearly run its course (Patriots’ players were still repeating it after they entered Super Bowl XXXVIII as double-digit favorites against the Panthers).
And so, on a night where so much of what the Patriots did recalled an earlier era, it was no surprise to hear Brady deliver response straight out of the days of Foxboro Stadium. Asked after the game if there was a chip on this team’s shoulder because of their perceived inability to win on the road, he responded with a small smile.
“It’s going to be there for a while like that,” Brady said. “We’ve got a lot of chips.”
Here are nine other things we learned Monday night in Miami:
NEW ENGLAND’S SPECIAL TEAMS WAS IMMENSE
On a night where they needed them the most, the Patriots' special teams unit came through with one of the most impressive performances in franchise history.
Chung blocked a punt and field-goal attempt, Brandon Tate delivered a 103-yard kick return for a touchdown, Stephen Gostkowski had five touchbacks and a pair of field goals and Zoltan Mesko had three punts averaging 41 yards a boot, including a 60-yarder.
Asked about the special teams performance after the game, Belichick gave a deadpan response before breaking into a big smile.
“They were all right,” said Belichick, before waiting a beat and grinning.
“It was a great effort. Those guys really work hard. They work hard every week in practice, with [special teams coach] Scott O’Brien. They go through a lot of little things. They really do a good job of preparing, and I was really happy with the success they had tonight. The plays they made helped out team. Those kids worked hard. They deserve it.”
While Gostkowski connected on a pair of first half field goals (23 and 30 yards) and added a touchback for good measure, lightning struck at the start of the second half when Tate delivered a 103-yard kick return to open the third quarter and give New England a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. It was the second kick return for a touchdown for Tate (he had a 97-yarder to open the second half of the season opener against the Bengals), and his third, if you include one he ripped off in the preseason against the Rams.
Tate has scored two touchdowns on kick returns in four games this year, the most by a Patriot since Kevin Faulk had two in 2002.
“Coming out at halftime, we was getting the ball and coach said, ‘We need a big play.’ I told coach, ‘I got you,’” Tate said. “I give all credit to my other teammates out their for doing their assignments. If it wasn’t for them, it wouldn’t be possible. It was a big play for us. We just kept going from there.
“I give credit to everybody else out there who freed me up.”
On the next sequence, Miami went three-and-out, and was forced to punt. Chung busted through the line and had little trouble knocking down the ball, allowing New England to take possession on its own 15-yard line. (At first glance, it appeared that Miami’s Bobby Carpenter missed a blocking assignment.) The Patriots cashed in two plays later, giving the ball to BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a 12-yard touchdown run that made it 20-7.
The teams traded scores relatively quickly to make it 27-14 at the end of the third quarter. Chung struck again at the start of the fourth when he knocked down a 53-yard field goal attempt by Miami’s Dan Carpenter, beating Miami’s Joe Berger. Kyle Arrington scooped up the ball and scooted 35 yards for the touchdown, making the score 34-14 with almost a full quarter left to play and sending most of Landshark Stadium heading for the exits.
“It feels great,” said Chung, who punctuated his evening with a 51-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second half. “I just have to give thanks to the man upstairs. He really blessed me.
“We executed,” added Chung. “It opened up just like coach drew up on the board. When you execute like that, you have to take advantage of the opportunity.”
DANNY WOODHEAD IS MAKING PEOPLE FORGET ABOUT THE OLD NO. 39
In three weeks, Danny Woodhead has gone from anonymous scrap-heap pickup to cult hero. The undersized running back, who was claimed off waivers by the Patriots Sept. 18, has inherited Kevin Faulk’s old job of third down/changeup back, and flourished in limited action.
On Monday night, he had 47 yards from scrimmage — eight carries for 36 yards and one catch for 11 yards. He made the reception count, hauling in a toss from Brady on a crossing pattern and landing in the end zone with 4:02 left in the third quarter to give the Patriots a 27-14 lead. (On the scoring drive, 33 of the 78 yards came via Woodhead.)
When Woodhead was initially picked up, it was thought he was simply the latest example in a long history of the Patriots and Jets trying to stick it to each other. (It now seems laughable that New York cut him so it could add David Clowney — who they cut — and hold on to Joe McKnight.) Now, it’s difficult to imagine where this offense — and the running game — would be without Woodhead, who now has two touchdowns in two games with the Patriots.
“He’s quick in there and you’ve got to be quick to cover him,” said Brady. “He’s really able to do some thing for us and create some mismatches. He had another great game tonight.”
“Honestly, it’s not really about the touchdown,” Woodhead said. “I’m not concerned with that. If I could have made a block to help a touchdown and help a pass or whatever, then great. But the main thing is that we scored and we won. The win is the most important thing.”
THE PATRIOTS DEFENSE IS NOTHING IF NOT CONSISTENT
New England has always been about trying to take away the opponents’ No. 1 offensive option, and early on Monday night, it was clear their primary objective was stopping Miami wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder, one of the fastest and most physical receivers in the league, entered the game at or near the top of the league in most statistical categories, and was clearly the straw that stirs the drink when it came to the Dolphins’ offense.
But Marshall was silenced early and never got on track. The first time Miami tried to get him the ball wasn’t until there was 1:32 left of the first quarter, and then, the ball was picked off by linebacker Rob Ninkovich. He didn’t have a single first-half reception, and his first catch came with just over 14 minutes remaining in the third quarter, a relatively harmless four-yard grab over the middle.
He did start to get rolling a little in the second half — he had a 19-yard reception on a scoring drive that ended with a Ricky Williams touchdown run to make it 20-14 New England almost midway through the third quarter. But he ended with a mostly quiet stat line of five catches for 50 yards.
“They did a good job of doubling me or rolling coverage to me all night,” Marshall said. “That’s what we got [Anthony] Fasano, [Davone] Bess for and [Brian] Hartline. Those guys did a great job of making plays when the ball came to them. I think Bess had nine catches … so that is what the game is about: you take one of us away another guy steps up.”
“They were doubling him, which is what gave us the opportunity to get the ball to (Davone) Bess,” said Miami coach Tony Sparano. “They were doing some double with him and playing a lot of really cover two trying to jam him, do those kind of things. We moved him around a little more in the second half; we were able to get him in some positions, maybe a couple of adjustments there, and I think the guys did a good job of being able to get him the ball that way. At the beginning of the game that’s what they were doing and it kind of opened up Bess a little bit for us.”
After the game, both Ninkovich and cornerback Devin McCourty talked about the game plan for defending the Central Florida product.
“Just being conscious of him. He’s a guy they try and get the ball to, and you know what he can do when he gets the ball in his hands. I think in the secondary, we just made it a point to know where he was at on each play,” said McCourty, who ended up with four tackles and a pass defensed. “We tried to get physical with him, and he still made some plays. But you just have to try and match his physicality, so that’s what we tried to do.”
“You know, with Marshall, he’s a go-to guy. He’s a guy who’s going to get the ball,” Ninkovich said. “So you have to make sure you stop him at the line of scrimmage. Get a nice jam on him. Do anything to mess up his route. It’s all timing for him and the quarterback.”
IF IT WASN’T FOR PAT CHUNG, EVERYONE WOULD BE TALKING ABOUT ROB NINKOVICH TODAY
The outside linebacker came away from Monday night’s game with four tackles, two interceptions and a sack — probably the best defensive line of the season for the Patriots. With the Dolphins in control of the game early, the two first-half interceptions from Ninkovich helped the Patriots limit the early damage of the Miami offense to just one touchdown in the first and second quarters.
The first pick came with just under two minutes left in the first quarter. Miami was holding a 7-0 lead, and driving near midfield. The Dolphins had a first and 10 at their own 45 when Chad Henne dropped back to pass, looking for Marshall. Ninkovich simply stepped in front of the pass for the interception, his first of the year.
“The first one, it was just stacked. The receivers were stacked. I was actually thinking run because it was second down, so I was looking at the backs,” he said. “They ran an ‘Indigo.’ I just got back to my drop and read the quarterback … and saw he was looking right at me.”
Ninkovich gets some serious style points for the second one. It came in the second quarter with 2:55 remaining, and the Dolphins were still leading at this point — it was a 7-3 edge — and were at the New England 27. Ninkovich made a diving catch, picking off a ball meant for Patrick Cobbs.
“On the second one, Marshall was lined up at two [and] I saw they were running a bootleg,” Ninkovich recalled. “[Brian] Hartline ran a snag. Henne was looking right at [Cobbs], so I just dove at him and that was it.”
Ninkovich’s diving catch brought a smile to the face of Belichick, who acknowledged that the linebacker has previously shown he has some pretty good hands in practice.
“Yeah, you know. He does,” Belichick said of the linebacker. “He has pretty good hands. He does some deep snapping and handles the ball pretty well. But those were two good catches. He really ahd to extend, reach out and catch the ball. It didn’t hit him between the 5 and the 0 like sometimes it does in those [interceptions]. That was a heck of a play, both of them. Outstanding plays. They were big. They bailed us out.”
Ninkovich put the capper on the evening when he delivered a seven-yard sack on the second play of the fourth quarter, setting up a third and 17. It was a great night for the former Dolphin, who was with Miami through some lean seasons.
“It feels pretty good,” Ninkovich said, who remarked sarcastically how he was with the Dolphins for that “great year” of 2007 when the Dolphins went 1-15.
“You know, I was here as a practice squad guy,” added Ninkovich. “Now that I’m here playing against hem, it feels good to play my old team.”
TWO GUYS WHO USUALLY HAVE GREAT NUMBERS AGAINST THE DOLPHINS DIDN’T, BUT THE PATRIOTS STILL WON
Historically, Wes Welker and Randy Moss had always played well against the Dolphins. Entering Monday night, in six career games against Miami, Welker was averaging 8 catches and 102 receiving yards against his old team. (Those averages — which include three 100-plus yard games — were the best against any team Welker has faced over the course of his career.)
In addition, Moss (even though he only had two catches last season against the Dolphins in Miami) had four career 100-plus yard games against the Dolphins, three of them coming as a member of the Patriots. His career against Miami was highlighted in the first game the two teams played last season, a game where Moss had six catches for 147 yards and a touchdown.
On Monday, Welker had a relatively quiet eight catches for 70 yards, including a 17-yarder, and extended his streak of 67 straight regular-season games with at least one reception. (He has caught at least one pass in each of his 53 games with the Patriots, including three postseason games.)
However, Moss ended the night with a goose egg, finishing with zero catches for the first time in his Patriots career. He was targeted once on a 12-yard pass pattern in the end zone at the end of the first half, but that was about it. In their place, rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez (five catches, 29 yards) and Brandon Tate (four catches, 39 yards) picked up the slack on what turned out to be a relatively quiet evening in the passing game.
Moss did not talk much with reporters after the game, but seemed in good spirits in the locker room. Asked about the team playing well — even with Moss coming away with no catches — Welker said the spread-the-wealth mentality worked for New England.
“Everyone has to step up and play well every game,” said Welker. “Everyone has to play well and get open and that’s what its all about. It’s a team effort. That’s what tonight was. It was a team effort and I’m proud of all the guys that came out and played hard.”
TOM BRADY NOW HAS ANOTHER POSITIVE MEMORY TO TAKE OUT OF HIS TIME IN SOUTH FLORIDA
Miami has been the sight of some of the most ignominious losses of Tom Brady’s career (we detailed some of them here), but the quarterback will now have another fond memory of South Florida: it’s where he got the 100th win of his career as a starting quarterback.
It won’t go down as one of the finest performances — he ended Monday night with a rather pedestrian stat line of 19-for-24 for 153 passing yards, three sacks and one touchdown pass. But in the end, it was enough for the Patriots to pull out their first meaningful road victory since the end of the 2008 season, when Matt Cassel led the Patriots to a 48-28 win over the Dolphins in this same stadium back on Nov. 23, 2008.
“It’s a big win for us,” said Brady, who is now 4-5 in his career as a starter in Miami. “We’ve been talking about this all season, and what we had to do to win on the road and play a good four quarters of football. I think we did that today, and when we play well for four quarters it’s a good outcome.”
In all, Brady — who won his first game as a starter on Sept. 30, 2001 at Foxboro Stadium against the Colts — is the 11th NFL quarterback to register 100 wins as a starting quarterback. Brett Favre has the most wins with 182. Brady reached the milestone in the fewest number of starts (131) among quarterbacks who began their careers in the Super Bowl era (since 1966).
“I’ve played in a great team for my entire career with the same organization that’s committed to winning,” Brady said. “I’m privileged to be the quarterback on this team, and I hope I’m here forever.”
THE PATRIOTS RUNNING GAME REMAINS JUST GOOD ENOUGH TO KEEP THE OPPOSITION HONEST
For the second consecutive game, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the New England running backs did enough to keep an opposing defense on its toes.
Green-Ellis didn’t dominate the Miami run defense (which entered the league 18th in the league, yielding an average of 117.3 average rushing yards per game), but he ended up with a game-high 16 carries for 76 yards. More importantly, he maintained an impressive yards per carry average — it was 4.5 yards for the season coming into the Miami game, and he averaged 4.8 yards per carry Monday night — and was able to keep the chains moving when he was called upon.
When the game was still in doubt, Green-Ellis — who made the first start Monday since he started three games as a rookie in 2008 — had 32 yards on eight carries in the first half. In the second half, he had almost identical numbers, picking up 44 yards on eight carries. His finest moment came on a third-quarter touchdown when he busted in from 12 yards out two plays after Chung delivered a blocked punt that set the Patriots up on their own 15.
Woodhead (36 rushing yards as a changeup back) saw some action and Sammy Morris saw a handful of snaps at running back — he had two carries on three yards. (He also delivered an absolutely crushing block on Roberto Wallace to free Tate on his kick return). But it’s now clear that Green-Ellis remains the No. 1 option as the most traditional feature back in New England’s backfield going forward.
THE PATRIOTS ARE BACK NEAR THE HEAD OF THE DIVISION RACE
The victory allows the Patriots to move to 3-1 on the season and move into a first-place tie with the Jets in the division. While the Jets have an edge in the race because they’ve already beaten New England, the Patriots have now started to put some separation between themselves and the Dolphins, who not only fall to 2-2, but also now face the unappetizing prospect of having to win on the road in New York and New England late in the season if they want to have a shot in the divisional race.
“It feels good to get a win in the division,” said Mayo. “Especially on the road. We haven’t won on the road in a long time.”
THE LAST TIME THE PATRIOTS VISITED SOUTH FLORIDA SEEMS LIKE A LONG TIME AGO
The loss to the Dolphins in Miami last December was in many ways a microcosm of everything that has dogged this team when it comes to playing on the road since the start of the 2009 season. In that one, the Patriots had a 14-point lead, but breakdowns on both sides of the ball led to a late loss. Afterward, Brady questioned the toughness of the team and its ability to fight through adversity, and days later, the infamous “Late-Gate” scandal involving Adalius Thomas, Randy Moss, Derrick Burgess and Gary Guyton took place, creating a perfect storm of discontent around the team.
In the wake of Monday night's win — a double-digit victory that was called by WEEI’s Mike Adams — reporters standing in the interview room next to the New England locker room could hear loud and boisterous cheers coming through the walls. In his postgame press conference, Belichick was joking with reporters, and it was later revealed the players were given the next two days off.
“[I] just congratulated them on the win. They deserve it,” Belichick said when asked about what went on in the locker room after the game. “They were the better team tonight and they deserved to win. They played hard and they made more plays then Miami did.
“We’ll take a win however we can get it,” Belichick added. “We are happy with it. It was a good effort by the team and we just have to get back to work here and get ready for Baltimore.”
The Patriots will now get a chance to ruminate on the bye week, doing some self-scouting and taking the opportunity to catch their breath as an organization before starting preparations for a matchup with Baltimore on Oct. 17 at Gillette Stadium.
But as Brandon Tate said, it feels good going into the bye week with a victory.
“Yeah,” he said, laughing. “It feels real good.”