FOXBORO - It looked like bye-bye to the bye and hello to hand-wringing that was going to have nervous hands in New England worn down to the bone by Wednesday.
And then the Patriots offense got right. Methodically erasing a first-half that featured six punts, three sacks of Tom Brady and a 17-0 deficit, the Patriots ran the Dolphins out of the gym in the final 30 minutes Sunday, scoring 27 straight points en route to their 27-24 win.
The Big Digout wouldn't have happened if the New England defense hadn't settled in and started getting the ball back in Tom Brady's hands. But Brady needed to do a 180 himself and rebound from an inaccurate half of throwing (7 of 19 for 87 yards) and general pocket jumpiness.
He did. And the prescription for the offensive woes was to hurry things up and work the middle of the Dolphins defense down.
We knew they would (go no-huddle in the second half), I mean thats what they do," said Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell. "When you watch these guys on tape they do it throughout games. Its nothing new. We knew at some point it was going to come. We were prepared for it but at the same time they slowed our pressure package down by going no-huddle. Theyd run a play and then theyd get right back on the ball trying to get the huddle call and the pressures not as good then because you cant really set up."
The heat Brady was subjected to behind a makeshift offensive line virtually disappeared because Miami couldn't sub its pass-rushers in.
"We didnt have time to set up our pressure package," explained Bell. "They were going to make sure we didnt have time to mess around in the second half so they were getting up on the ball going quick keeping us on our toes. They were snapping the ball quick and doing things like that."
Things like pounding the ball to Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Between them, they were targeted 15 times in the first half. By game's end, they'd seen 34 total throws. And Welker, who caught two of the seven passes thrown his way in the first half for 20 yards, caught 10 of the 12 thrown to him in the second for 118 yards.
"That was a pretty poor first half on myself," Welker said of the first 30 minutes. "That was pretty bad. I just wanted to let them know that that was bull on my part and in the second half, I wanted to come out and play the way we needed to play to win the game and thats what we were able to do. We were able to make some plays and everyone chipped in, and thats what its all about and thats how you win games. It takes a full effort from the whole team and nobody really was holding us back and I felt like in the first half, I really did that."
When asked to talk about Brady after the game, Miami corner Nolan Carroll said, "It was Welker and Gronkowski. He just worked the middle and that is what he is good at. He knows how to get the balls to his receivers and he is smart. He recognized a lot of stuff that we were doing and just attacked it."
In two of the past three games (Washington being the other), accuracy has been an issue for Brady early in games. On Sunday, he struggled not just with the Miami pass rush but also the Dolphins simply getting their hands up and forcing tipped passes or altered deliveries.
"We just had a hard time getting going," said Brady. "We obviously didnt play very well in the first half. I think we made a pretty big commitment at halftime to each other to go out and everyone do their job and quit worrying about everybody else and go out and play better and we did that."
The no-huddle isn't an elixir. The Patriots used it a little in the first half and the only result was quicker three-and-outs.
"We use it, it seems, like every game," said Brady. I dont think we go into every game thinking, This is what were going to do. If it works, we stick with it. We tried it early we tried it in the first half and it didnt work very well, but based on our personnel we thought maybe we should just stick with it and we certainly executed a lot better."
The reason it works better, Hernandez explained, is matchups.
"It just makes the defense hurry up and make a decision," explained Hernandez, who now has 72 catches for 772 yards and six TDs. "We play so fast and we can do so many things that cause a lot of problems to a defense... They cant really put who they really want on me, Gronk Rob Gronkowski, and Wes Welker and they kind of have to just play, so if theres linebackers on me or Gronk, theres a lot of mismatches.
"Wes Welker and Tom Brady started clicking and when theyre clicking everyone starts clicking, so they got it going and we just followed their lead," said Hernandez.
Brady isnow within 187 yards of the NFL record for passing yards in a season (5,084). Welker, who has 116 catches for 1,518 yards, needs eight receptions in the season finale against Buffalo to have the second-highest pass-catching year in NFL history. He'll surpass the 123-catch season that is currently second-highest accomplished by... Welker in 2009 (and Herman Moore who had 123 for the Lions in 1995).
With the first-round bye secured and the No. 1 seed in their back pocket if they win next week against Buffalo, the Patriots are playing for seeding and records.
But that wouldn't have been the case if New England hadn't done its about-face against the Fins.