Patriots

Dolphins tough-guy act works against them vs. Patriots

Dolphins tough-guy act works against them vs. Patriots

FOXBORO – At the start of the third quarter, the Miami Dolphins weren’t quite dead yet. It was 21-10 and Miami – which blew a perfect end-of-half scoring opportunity with an end zone pick – had the Patriots in third-and-10 after an incompletion to Rob Gronkowski.

But there was a flag. And it was for a facemask. The 15 yards were walked off and the Patriots were at the Miami 37. Two plays later, the Patriots converted on third-and-2 and Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain kept rolling around with Danny Amendola until McCain decided a punch would end things appropriately.

It did. McCain was ejected and another 15 yards were walked off and the ball was at the Miami 12.

On the next play, Ndamukong Suh tackled Dion Lewis by the facemask. Somehow, that didn’t draw a flag, but it didn’t matter. The Patriots scored on the next play, it was 28-10 and the rest would be a formality.

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“That was a terrible series for us,” said Dolphins coach Adam Gase. “That was one we really couldn’t have at that moment in the game. We really put ourselves in bad position especially losing Bobby like that. That puts a lot of guys in a bad position and then we have to start moving things around. The frustrating part when you have the facemask penalty, that’s just going back to fundamental football. We shoot ourselves in the foot when we do things like that.”

Miami – which also had an illegal contact penalty that extended a Patriots scoring drive in the first half – had 17 penalties in their last game, so the six penalties for 52 yards on Sunday was a marked improvement. That was affirmed by Gase, who found a silver lining in the postgame when he said, “We had less pre-snap penalties, so that was a positive.”

Talk about having to set a low bar for improvement. Gase’s face when he made that statement said it all. The Dolphins – who in September appeared the AFC East team most set to challenge the Patriots this season – are lightyears from where they need to be. And they remain there because they are doing the same stupid things over and over and over again.

Turnovers and penalties. Penalties and turnovers.

“Any penalties are self-inflicted wounds,” said Miami defensive end Cameron Wake. “Before the play, especially, during the play, as well. Whether it’s pass interference, jumping offside, like I did, or players miscommunicating or whatever it may be and you’ve got somebody running wide open or a back running through our defense untouched. I mean, those are the things that it’s not physical ability that causes that. There’s nobody who’s that fast. There’s nobody who’s that strong in the NFL. It’s you made a wrong step or went the wrong way or I didn’t tell you something, you didn’t tell me something (it’s mental). Jumping offside is not concentrating on your play. Guys running free, hitting the quarterback – all those things aren’t physical things. If you get beat, you get beat. This is the NFL. I mean, that happens, but to say a guy’s just running free untouched – pass, run – or hitting the quarterback, all those things, that’s you did it to yourself, not they did it to you.”

The Patriots are hard enough to beat straight up. When a team voluntarily kneecaps itself with stupidity it plays right into their hands.

Miami is wandering down the trail once blazed by Rex Ryan in New York and Buffalo. Talk a great game. Worry about the wrong things. Try and bring the fight to the Patriots. Fly home with a loss and the “we beat ourselves” lament.

The Patriots weren’t pristine on Sunday. They had seven penalties for 70 yards and handed the Dolphins a touchdown with a premature snap by Ted Karras that skittered past Tom Brady and was returned for a touchdown. But it’s testament to how sloppily Miami played to realize that that play meant they lost by just 18 instead of 25.

That result for a team that wide receiver Jarvis Landry promised would sweep New England in 2017 has to be humbling. And it kind of was.

After the game, Landry reiterated he wasn’t trying to disrespect New England. He was merely trying to speak success into reality.

“It’s a mindset thing,” he said. “As I said then and as I still say it, I respect the Patriots organization and their players but there is something for this team and for this organization to create a mindset that we’re nobody’s little brother and we are here to play.”

Meanwhile, his receiving colleague Kenny Stills – who verbally lambasted Tom Brady from the sidelines for a good chunk of the game – said that too was just competing.  

“I enjoy being out here, I love playing football, I love playing against the Patriots and every Sunday getting an opportunity to play,” Stills said. “I did everything I could to mess with him and get in his head. I talked to him after the game. He hears me. He’s laughing. We’re all just having a good time.”

Hee-hee, ha-ha. Lose by 18.

Gase must want to bang his forehead off the desk at this point. Bill Belichick rails about error-repeaters. The Dolphins have habitual offenders. Gase has tried to fumigate the locker room of bad attitudes but you can’t fix stupid, as the saying goes.

Belichick took a discreet victory lap in his postgame comments because he knew – just as he did before the Patriots played Ryan’s Bills and Jets – that there would be scrappiness.

“We saw quite a bit of that in these games last year,” said Belichick. “There were some personal fouls in that game at the end of the game in the first game here we had some after-the-play type things that occurred in this game. Look, it’s two competitive teams. All our guys are playing hard. You’ve got to be able to control your emotions, to play with poise and play with aggressiveness but do it legally and within the rules and before the whistle blows and all of those kinds of things. I thought a number of our players did a good job of trying to keep their poise, stay focused on football and not get caught up in some of the after-the-play stuff. Sometimes that’s hard to do, but we’ve got to try and do the best that we can at it. I thought that they tried to do that.”

The Dolphins are now 4-7 and their season is in tatters. In two weeks, they’ll host the Patriots on a Monday night in Miami. If Jarvis Landry wants to be half-right in his prediction, he’ll have to convince his teammates that – until they stop beating themselves – beating the Patriots is a pipe dream.

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Cowboys edge Raiders 20-17 by slimmest of margins

raiders_cowboys_derek_carr_fumble_121717.jpg

Cowboys edge Raiders 20-17 by slimmest of margins

OAKLAND, Calif. - Dallas kept its playoff hopes alive by the slimmest of margins.

Dak Prescott converted a fourth-down sneak by the width of an index card to set up Dan Bailey's go-ahead 19-yard field goal, and Derek Carr fumbled the ball inches from the goal line with 31 seconds left to give the Cowboys a 20-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday night.

"We know where we're at, our season is on the line as far as going to the playoffs," tight end Jason Witten said. "It's good to just see us find a way to get the result that we did. ... Good to get lucky and see the football gods help you out a bit. I've certainly been on the other end of it over the course of my years."

The first key play came when Cowboys coach Jason Garrett decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 39 with about five minutes left in a tie game. Prescott ran into a pile that took officials time to untangle.

Referee Gene Steratore then called for the chains to come out, but even that wasn't clear. He then tried to slide what appeared to be an index card between the tip of the ball and the end of the chain. When the card didn't slide through, Steratore signaled a first down for Dallas (8-6). He said he had decided it was a first down before the odd measurement.

"The final decision was made visually. The card was used nothing more than a reaffirmation of what was visually done," he told a pool reporter. "My decision was visually done based on the look from the pole."

That explanation didn't satisfy Raiders coach Jack Del Rio.

"I had a different viewpoint. I saw air," Del Rio said. "It was pretty obvious. Again, they do the best they can with a tough job."

Prescott then hit Dez Bryant with a 40-yard pass that set up Bailey's short kick with 1:44 to play that gave the Cowboys the lead.

But the game was far from over. The Raiders (6-8) got a gift when Jourdan Lewis committed a 55-yard pass interference penalty on a fourth-and-10 from their own 30. Carr then scrambled on third-and-3 from the 8 and reached out for the end zone. But the ball came loose before crossing the goal line and went out of the end zone for a touchback that all but ended Oakland's playoff hopes. The Raiders are tied for ninth in the AFC.

"I tried to hold onto it," Carr said. "It wasn't like I didn't try. But there's obviously a lot of different things . throw it away, kick a field goal, run out of bounds. OK, cool. But in that moment I was just trying to win for my teammates."

Dallas is in a three-way tie for seventh place in the NFC, a half-game behind Atlanta for the final playoff spot. The Falcons beat the Cowboys head-to-head.

The Cowboys got their third straight win without suspended star running back Ezekiel Elliott, who returns from a six-game suspension next week. But Dallas' three straight losses at the start of the suspension created a hole the team is still trying to escape.

"We continue to scratch, we continue to claw," coach Jason Garrett said. "It wasn't our most perfect performance in any phase of our football team, but the fight was there."

FAKE IT OUT

The Cowboys took a risk in the third quarter on a fourth-and-11 from their own 24. Punter Chris Jones kept the ball and ran 24 yards for a first down. Dallas then drove down the field and took a 17-10 lead when Prescott ran in from 5 yards out and then was given a shower of drinks thrown by fans in the Black Hole.

MILESTONE THROW

Carr set up Oakland's first TD with a 32-yard scramble that was his longest run since his rookie year. That led to a 2-yard TD to Michael Crabtree that gave Carr 100 career touchdown passes. He joined Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck as the only players with at least 100 TD passes in their first four years in the NFL. Carr added a second TD pass to Crabtree in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 17.

TAKE IT AWAY

Sean Smith intercepted two passes for the Raiders, doubling the team's total from the first 13 games. Smith got his first on the opening drive of the game and then added another just moments after Oakland got on the board for the first time. Bruce Irvin hit Prescott on the throw and Smith came up with the floater . He was initially given a TD return on the play but was ruled down by contact on replay and Oakland settled for a game-tying field goal from Giorgio Tavecchio.

INJURIES

The Raiders lost LT Donald Penn (foot) and DT Treyvon Hester (ankle) to injuries in the first half. ... Dallas LT Tyron Smith left in the second half with a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Cowboys: Host Seattle on Sunday.

Raiders: Visit Philadelphia on Dec. 25.

GOAT-to-GOAT: Brady puts trust in Gronkowski with Steelers game on the line

GOAT-to-GOAT: Brady puts trust in Gronkowski with Steelers game on the line

PITTSBURGH - Down 5 points with a little over two minutes to play, Tom Brady knew what the Patriots offense had to do. But with precious few of his receivers actually getting open consistently, the quarterback knew whose number to dial up again and again and again. Rob Gronkowski’s phone was ringing off the hook and the tight end knew who was on the other end.

“There were two minutes left,” he said. “I knew we had to go down, make a drive and just do what you have to do. If the ball is coming to you, you have to make some plays. It just went well.”

Gee, you think? Gronkowski dominated the Pats’ final drive of the game, accounting for 69 of the team’s 77 yards and then added the all-important two-point conversion.

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“I thought he did a great job of separating and making the catches,” said Brady. 

The game-winning drive nearly ended in disaster long before it finished with Gronkowski dancing and flexing in the end zone like he had temporarily lost his mind. On first down from the Pats’ 23, Brady went Gronk’s way, but the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and safety Sean Davis had the ball slip through his hands for an interception that surely would have sent the Pats to their second straight loss in December. Instead, Davis was unable to go back across his body and snag the football. What usually happens when you give Brady a reprieve? Let’s review.

The very next play was when it started. With Gronkowski working out of the left side of Brady as the slot receiver in trips, the tight end worked down the seam but then angled his route more toward the post and reeled in a 26 yarder with Davis desperately in a chase position. How does someone who’s 60 pounds lighter - as Davis is - find himself in that position? Allow Matt Slater to offer a theory.

“It is hard to describe special players in this league,” he said. “There are certain guys - when the moment is big - they just become bigger. The moment wasn’t too big for those guys. They’ve worked at it for years now, that connection, and it was certainly clicking tonight. It was fun to watch. The confidence they have in one another hasn’t happened overnight. It is something that they’ve built on.”

With more ground to cover, Brady would once again go back to the Gronk well. But this time, the Steelers weren’t content to sit back and let it happen. They blitzed, playing zone behind it. Lined up as the wide slot in twins, Gronk once again got over the top of Davis and found a soft spot in the coverage. The window wasn’t huge, but Brady fit the ball in there. Another 26 yards and the Pats were now well-positioned on the outer rim of the red zone.

“I have so much trust in him,” said Brady. “It may look like it’s 50-50, but it might be 95-5. You try and develop that chemistry over time, and Gronk’s earned it.”

So much so that Brady went to him yet again. It came on a play that maybe Gronk doesn’t make if he hadn’t changed up some of his training and embraced the pliability that Alex Guerrero - yes, that guy - preaches. The 28-year old went down and got a low throw from Brady, plucking the ball off the blades of glass like he was picking daisies to bring back to his mama.

“That was unbelievable,” admired newcomer Kenny Britt. “I’ve never seen anything like that between two people. That’s some connection they have built over the years. Hopefully we can keep seeing it.”

“Awww man, I’ve seen it so many times but to see it firsthand on this team was incredible,” said Dwayne Allen. “It was incredible. Tom and Rob just carried us to the win.”

To prove he isn’t a one-trick pony, the Pats ran off Gronk’s backside on the game-winning touchdown jaunt by Dion Lewis. The big fella sealed off 303-pound defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt like he was just a little fella who took a wrong turn and ended up playing with the big boys. Then needing a two-point conversion to make it a field goal game, Gronk flexed out wide right. Davis tried to jam him, but the attempt was futile. The Steelers’ safety had been emasculated. Gronk caught the fade and shook and flexed and generally acted like a fool. 

“It was just spontaneous,” he said.

The Steelers may remember it, but so what, they have never been able to stop it. Hell, no one has had any success stopping the Brady-to-Gronk connection.

“That’s the GOATS, man,” smiled Duron Harmon. “Gronk’s turning into the GOAT. Tom’s the GOAT and Gronk’s turning into one. Those two did what they had to do for us on that drive, man. That’s what happens. Your best players play their best in situations and those two are our best players.”

No arguments here, nor, it would seem, from the Pittsburgh sideline.

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