One man's running diary of the start of the Patriots 2011 season AND a new-found respect for ESPN. OK, maybe just the start of the Patriots season.
7:09 p.m. (EST): Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden. Gruden can glare at the camera all day long and it's not going to work on me. Why? I saw Gruden pre-game at Jets-Pats last season with a huge plate of macaroni and cheese in one hand and a cookie in the other and he STILL tried to give me the Chucky stare. You cannot be a tough guy with a plate of mac of cheese in your hand. Not possible. The guy looked like one my uncles at a fourth of July barbecue - I half-expected Gruden to ask me where my mom keeps the corn on the cob holders.
7:11: Kickoff -- I would describe the crowd as 60 percent Dolphins fans, 40 percent Patriots fans and 100 percent scarred for life after Fergie's rendition of the national anthem.
7:15: "I'm going to buy a Reggie Bush jersey!" Gruden screams after Bush picks up 32 total yards on back-to-back plays. Remember when we all liked Gruden?
7:17: Would it kill ESPN to mix in a replay? Nothing after two close calls early on -- a catch by Brandon Marshall that was ruled incomplete and a Brian Hartline catch that looked it like was dropped.
7:20: Miami goes for it on 4th-and-1 at the NE 21 … and gets it. I'm on record as being a Tony Sparano fan, it's not his fault he has Chad Henne as his quarterback. A record producer can only do so much with Kip Winger, you know what I mean? Neither do I.
7:21: We are nine minutes and 26 seconds into the season and Jon Gruden has seen enough from Reggie Bush -- with a career-high of 155 carries and a total of 212 carries the last three seasons -- to declare that he thinks Bush can be an every-down back this season. Keep in mind, some owner is going to give this guy $40 million to run his team in the next couple of years.
7:24: Anthony Fasano with a great catch -- Guyton never looked in coverage -- to the Patriots 1-yard line.
7:27: Andre Carter with a sack, Albert Haynesworth with a one-armed tackle on Bush. Two new guys turn a first-and-goal from the one into a 3rd-and-goal from the nine.
7:29: Brian Daboll (Miami OC) with a brilliant call on third-and-goal -- spreads the Pats out and Henne easily gets in the end zone on a QB draw. 7-0, Dolphins.
7:34: Brady to Matthew Slater -- first career catch -- for the first big play of the season (46 yards) for the Patriots offense.
7:40: A third-and-4 bullet to Gronkowski (thrown behind him) sets up a first-and-goal at the four-yard line. The Pats beat writers took turns wetting themselves over Gronkowski during training camp -- it's looking like at least 150 catches and 30 TD's after reading the daily love letters.
7:39: BenJarvus Green-Ellis caps off a ruthless six-play, 78-yard TD drive with a four-yard TD rush. Note to ESPN: Green-Ellis didn't play his college ball at Indiana. Note to ESPN, Part II: Chad Ochocinco played as many snaps on that drive as Hank Williams. Might be worth mentioning.
7:42: Three and out for the Dolphins -- Rob Ninkovich with an open-field tackle on Bush (playing well early, had a hit on Henne on the long incomplete pass to Marshall).
7:44: A 40-yard catch by Gronkowski wiped out by a dopey illegal formation penalty by Ochocinco.
7:47: Catch over the middle by Aaron Hernandez -- who might have a chance to get his old No. 85 back pretty soon -- for a first down and then a 21-yard strike to Wes Welker. No pressure from the Dolphins on Brady, who looks phenomenal (6-for-6 in the first quarter, 115 yards). As aggressive as the Miami offense looked in that opening TD drive, the defense has looked at least that passive. Is Mike Nolan in the stadium?
7:50: This is video-game stuff. Brady to Gronkowski for the 10-yard TD. I thought the 2010 offense was the best I've ever seen over the last nine (regular season) games, but this has been another level for the first two drives.
7:51: By the way, Nate Solder (with help from the tight ends) has passed the test vs. Cameron Wake. So far.
7:54: Brady is 8-for-8 for 127 yards and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Gimmie a second, I'd check and see what that new ESPN QB rating is for Brady to this point, but www.whogivesas--t is down at the moment.
7:56: Jaworski is "a fan" of Brian Daboll, keeping alive the streak of analysts liking coaches at 2,888,862,424.
7:58: This is where Gruden is at a different level than the other guys -- he can break down the thought process of the quarterback. Terrific insight into Henne being overly focused on Marshall.
8:02: Three choices: Watch "Dolphin Tale" five times, watch "Reel Steel" five times or have your left arm cut off. Which are you taking?
8:05: I'm on board: Gronkowsi is going to be an All-Pro this season. A pair of monster blocks on back-to-back Woodhead runs. I take it all back, beat writers.
8:07: I've got 7.7 seconds of time for Brady on the last play -- a deep ball that Welker couldn't haul in. Turns out that Lions preseason game might've been just, you know, a preseason game. And Solder is dominating Cameron Wake.
8:10: TMZ just reported that Manny Ramirez has been arrested in Florida. No details were given, but I suspect some kind of political activism has to be the reason.
8:13: Three-and-out for the Dolphins at their own three-yard line, Edelman returns punt to New England 45. I'd say the fans in Miami are getting anxious, if anxious means drinking mojitos and waiving obnoxiously to the camera.
8:15: Just showed Marc Anthony, Will Smith and Dwyane Wade in a suite. Who would be the least likely person to be the fourth member of that crew? I'm torn being Jerry Sichting, Dame Judi Dench or John Hinckley, Jr.
8:18: Ochocino runs the wrong route on 3rd-and-9. We are wading in Donald Hayes waters here.
8:20: A 14-yard completion is wiped out as Richie Incognito is called for holding. Second time Haynesworth has forced a holding call on Incognito, and now it's a 2nd-and-23. Haven't heard Haynesworth's name much, but he's made an impact in the first half.
8:24: Bad Timing Award as the Tony Romo "This is Sportscenter" ad runs. If he had vomited on Stan Verrett with three seconds left in the commercial it would have won the Good Timing Award.
8:26: "I like the way he's stroking it right now" -- Ron Jaworski. I suppose he's probably talking about Brady, but maybe he has a tape of me watching Nicole Eggert in "Blown Away" in 1993. Who knows?
8:28: Dan Koppen with a left leg injury -- cart is out on the field. No team wants to lose a lineman, obviously, but the Patriots can't afford to lose another guy.
8:30: Ochcocino with his first catch … maybe. Under review.
8:31: Ruling confirmed. All this talk about Ochocinco during offseason, but he's going to be (at best) just another guy. Look at this offense -- how many guys do you want Brady to go to before Ochocinco?
8:34: Just showed Mike Nolan. He's in the building, but he might as well be Joe Paterno at this point. Brady to Gronkowski over the middle. First down at Miami 21 with 36 seconds left in the half.
8:36: Holding call on Solder and Wake sack on back-to-back plays. Line a little shaky after Koppen injury.
8:38: Gostkowski misses the 47-yard field goal by about 47 yards to the right. 14-7 Patriots at the half and it feels like that's about the best-case scenario for Miami after the first 30 minutes.
8:52: I'll say it (or write it): Give me Wendi Nix over Erin Andrews every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
8:55: Brady's INT streak over at 358 -- Edelman and Branch run into each other on a bubble screen and Jared Odrick returns pick to New England 10-yard line. Deion Branch with the TD-saving tackle.
8:57: Henne -- quietly playing very well tonight, 12-16 for 144 yards -- with a TD pass to Hartline. Total yards? Patriots 277, Dolphins 177. First downs? Patriots 15, Dolphins 9. But all that matters is 14-14.
9:02: BenJarvus Green-Ellis has four carries with 11:00 left in the third quarter. Sure looks like Danny Woodhead might be taking over lead back (or as close to lead back as this team gets) status.
9:04: Not sure if it's Koppen or just adjustments, but the Dolphins are putting significant pressure on Brady in the second half.
9:06: Back-to-back catches by Branch to the Miami three-year line, then a third-down TD catch by Welker gives the Pats a 21-14 lead. Woodhead -- in the game at the goal line -- with a nice block on a Miami blitz.
9:10: Worth noting: Eight different Patriots have at least one catch tonight.
9:13: Looking forward to "Richie Adubato: A Coaching Life" on NBA TV on Thursday night. Shrewd counter-programming.
9:15: Uh, the Patriots defense has kind of sucked tonight. Dolphins moving again after Henne finds Fasano (who held on after being blasted by Pat Chung) for 25 yards to move to the New England 35.
9:18: Marshall with a tough catch (McCourty never turned to see the ball but nearly knocked it out of his hands) at the NE three-yard line.
9:21: More McCourty: Comes in to help stuff Reggie Bush on first-and-goal and nearly picks off Henne on second down (probably should have -- don't forget that play if the Dolphins score).
9:22: Marshall with the drop on third down (with Ras-I Dowling covering) and the Dolphins settle for a field goal. Very good stuff from Dowling and McCourty on the goal-line stand.
9:25: Mike Tirico is one of those announcers who thinks he can pass for a football guy if he's always holding a red pen when the camera shows him on TV.
9:28: I know this is Week 1, and we're coming off a limited training camp, but should the Dolphins be THIS baffled by a no-huddle offense?
9:29: Reason No. 444,868 why preseason games mean nothing: Deion Branch has seven catches for 93 yards (both game highs).
9:31: Brady to Aaron Hernandez for a 31-yard touchdown. Sean Smith might've touched him at the one-yard line. Review time.
9:32: Yup, no TD. What has two thumbs and was screwed by instant replay for a record 68,225th time? This guy, the most unlucky fantasy owner in America.
9:33: The luckiest fantasy owner in America gets another break, as Brady finds Hernandez on first down. 28-17 and the Dolphins sideline looks like a bunch of six-hour marathoners at Heartbreak Hill. We've got cramping, we've got sweating. All that's missing is Tony Sparano coming down with a case of split nipples. This is an NFL team, right?
9:40: Hernandez/Gronkowski: 11 catches (throw to 12 times), 147 yards, two touchdowns. If you are starting a franchise tomorrow how many tight ends are you taking over these guys?
9:44: More Hernandez, two catches move the ball to the Miami three-yard line. A TD here and the fans can start leaving -- and by that I mean all the people from Boston can get to the hotel at a decent hour before the flight home tomorrow.
9:47: Lousy pass by Brady to Dane Fletcher, Pats settle for a field goal. 31-17 with just over 11 minutes left. Brady with a career high 412 yards passing. A couple more games like this and we have to think about putting him in Eli Manning's class.
9:52: Cogent point by Gruden: "New England in better condition, coming from the East Coast." Miami, of course, is probably best known as a suburb of San Francisco …
9:56: Reggie Bush, Lead Back: 11 carries, 38 yards (3.5 yards per carry).
9:58: Look, Brady has been Brady tonight, the tight ends have been swell and Deion Branch has somehow put the horrors of the preseason behind him. But Chad Henne -- Chad Henne! -- has a 108.2 passer rating with eight and half minutes left in the game and Philip Rivers is coming to Foxboro next week.
10:00: I'll give Jaworski this: That was the most casual use of the word "s--t" I've ever heard on national TV. Puts Andy Sipowicz to shame. Actually, I'm surprised it doesn't happen more. Every time I'm on the radio I'm convinced that I'm going to forget and let the F-Bomb fly.
10:05: Hideous call on fourth and (maybe) half a yard -- Henne with an fade to Hartline. Ultimate low-percentage play in a must-convert situation.
10:10: Just another Brady-to-Welker 99-yard TD. Brady with perhaps the best regular-season game of his career, 31-46 for 511 yards and four touchdowns. 38-17 and it's time for the Chargers. Huge swing on two plays -- if the Dolphins convert on fourth-and-1 it's a seven-point game.
10:18: Reggie Bush with the NFL equivalent of a three-run HR down 13-2, a TD with 3:39 left. Chad Henne: 27-43, 369 yards, two TDs, zero INT's. The best game of his career and he's been blown off the field by Brady.
10:23: Jaworski to Gruden: "S--t, you've put on weight!"
10:24: Onside kick fails, Brady back out. I don't think he's done throwing, either (consider this: Brady is 43 yards away from single-game passing record).
10:27: Jaworski with this on-air apology:
"Hey Mike, a little earlier in the show Chad Henne was making a throw and I said an inappropriate word. I want to apologize and I hope I didn't offend anybody with that word."
Just keeping track: That would be Jaworski apologizing for swearing on cable TV 1, ESPN apologizing for "The Decision" 0.
10:31: Two-minute warning. Dolphins on the move and Pats (-7) is still in play. If Tirico teased that into the break he would take some heat off of Jaworski.
10:36: NFL record for combined passing yards -- 906.
10:40: Pats cover, Pats cover! The good: Brady, the tight ends, the O-Line, Welker, Branch, Woodhead, did I mention Brady? The bad: Secondary was weak, nothing approaching a consistent pass rush, Ochocinco was invisible.