MIAMI GARDENS – The fixation with the Patriots offense all week and into Sunday was understandable but the performance of the New England defense over the first two weeks is what’s going to send shudders through the NFL.
That’s my No. 1 takeaway from a game that – despite the score – had plenty.
Last week, the Steelers managed just a face-saving field goal in the 33-3 drubbing administered by the Patriots. Pittsburgh punted five times, turned it over on downs twice and was picked off once while managing 175 yards of offense in the first three quarters (the yards gained in the fourth were moot).
This week, the Patriots forced Dolphins punts, had four picks (two returned for touchdowns) and – by the end of the third – Miami had 38 yards of offense. Thirty. Eight.
Going back to last year’s Super Bowl, the Patriots have allowed a total of six points in 12 quarters. The Rams were 3 for 13 on third down in the Super Bowl. The Steelers were 3 for 12. Miami was (2 for 15).
Jared Goff was 19 for 38. Ben Roethlisberger was 27 for 47. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 11 for 21 for 89 yards.
Finally, get this. There have been three drives that went inside the Patriots 30-yard line in the past three games. In the Super Bowl, the Rams got to the New England 27 in the fourth quarter and Jared Goff threw a pick. Last week, the Steelers got to the Patriots 1 and settled for a field goal. Pittsburgh also got inside the 30 on the final drive of the game when they were down 30.
Miami crossed midfield twice. The first time, they got thrown back by a sack. The second time, elated with their penetration, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a pick-6.
We expected the Patriots to be tough on defense, but this tough? Yeah. Kinda. Even with the departure of so many defensive coaches – Brian Flores, Josh Boyer, Brendan Daly and - what the hell – Greg Schiano – the Patriots were stacked defensively before they started adding in the offseason.
Bringing back Jamie Collins, adding Michael Bennett, getting a slimmed-down Danny Shelton and a healthy Ja’Whaun Bentley while drafting Chase Winovich was a matter of piling on. And the aggressiveness they’re bringing routinely dating back to the tail end of the 2018 season has changed things drastically from the team that was a white-knuckle ride for years.
On Sunday, Jamie Collins had his second straight game shooting through junk to drop a ball-carrier for a 4-yard loss. He also had a salt-in-the-wound pick-6 that followed on the heels of Stephon Gilmore’s pick-6. Shelton had a sack of Fitzpatrick when the Miami defensive line saw Dont'a Hightower coming on a blitz and went for a double of Hightower cutting Shelton loose. Patrick Chung had another tackle for loss. Devin McCourty had his second pick of the year. Adam Butler had two sacks.
With the Jets up next, the beatings will continue until morale improves.
ANTONIO BROWN'S TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECT ON RECEIVING CORPS
Phillip Dorsett had three catches on three targets for 39 yards and each one had a high degree of difficulty. Meanwhile, tight end Matt LaCosse had two catches for 33 yards. There’s a lot of focus on how much Antonio Brown can do for the Patriots offense individually but the trickle-down effect of his presence makes a huge difference on the wideouts.
Dorsett is a precise route-runner with bear-trap hands but he’s not a great deep threat (unless a team decides not to cover him like the Steelers) and doesn’t give you much after the catch. So he’s not great as a primary wideout option which he was last week along with Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon and for much of 2018. Having Brown in the offense allows Dorsett to move down the chart a little bit to become more of a fourth option for Tom Brady. The same role as Danny Amendola.
As for LaCosse, he made a terrific catch on third down early in the game on a pass thrown behind him and low and later sold a blocking assignment then leaked out for a seam pass where he was left unattended. He’s definitely not yet at 100 percent on his sore ankle either.
If the Patriots can find a viable pass-catching option at tight end in LaCosse, that will add another layer to their attack.
WHY BILL BELICHICK DIDN'T TAKE HIS FOOT OFF THE GAS
Third-and-goal at the 10 with 2:15 left, the Patriots went empty and dumped a screen pass to James White for a touchdown that made it 43-0. They got down there with a deep throw to Rex Burkhead and a 17-yard dart to Julian Edelman.
Given this is the second game as head coach for Brian Flores and the rest of the former Patriots coaches on that staff and given the fact they are tethered to a shit situation down here, I figured Belichick might at least pull some punches once the matter was decided. He did not.
My best explanation for why? Miami kept throwing. I know. Of course they would. But until the other team puts up its white flag and says it’s had enough by running the ball, the Patriots are going to play through the echo of their whistle. Not every time. But that’s my best guess. And the final play of the game, with Miami fighting to score at the buzzer, the Patriots sent Duron Harmon on a blitz to force a final pick.
GOSTOWSKI'S POOR OUTING
Stephen Gostkowski had a disastrous game missing a 48-yard field goal, and two extra points. Is it the new holder, Jake Bailey? Is it just a cold snap? Is it time to get some new legs in town? Everything is on the table, one supposes, until he gets straightened out.
O-LINE IS BANGED UP
The Patriots are now down three-fifths of their projected offensive line without David Andrews, Marcus Cannon going down last week and Isaiah Wynn leaving Sunday with a lower leg injury. That's the kind of thing that - while nobody will focus on it today - is a big deal to the coaching staff and the team going forward the next few weeks.
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