Late last week, I said that the Dolphins' best chance of pulling out a Christmas Eve win in New England was to contain Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, batter Tom Brady often and get after the Patriots' ultra-porous secondary. Surprisingly, the Dolphins did all of those things during the first half of Saturday's game, and took a 17-0 lead into halftime. A three-score lead isn't nearly enough against a peeved Tom Brady, however, and he proceeded to undo all of the Dolphins' first-half defensive accomplishments with a big second-half performance, securing a 27-24 Patriots victory.
Don't worry, plenty of blame can/should go around for this Dolphins loss.
How many times will the Dolphins have to play Tom Brady before their coaches figure out that it takes four quarters of scoring to beat the guy? Entering the second-half up 17 points on New England, the Dolphins fumbled the ball on their first series, went three and out on their second series, served up an interception on their third series, collected a single first down on their fifth series, and then finally found the end zone on a seven-play, 80-yard drive. You want to beat the Patriots at Gillette Stadium? Move the chains and make their defensive backs beat you. Instead, the Dolphins held the ball in the second-half for just 9 minutes and 51 seconds, and both Dolphins turnovers resulted in points for the Patriots. Not a winning formula when you're playing in Foxborough ...
Behold the magically disappearing defense
Miami's D came out looking pretty sharp last Saturday, sacking Brady three times and preventing the Patriots' offense from crossing into Dolphins territory until late in the second quarter (resulting in a missed 51-yard field goal). Brady got his groove back at the start of the third quarter, however, and led the Patriots to four consecutive scoring drives--two of which ended with back-breaking, 1-yard touchdown runs by none other than the dimpled one. In fact, the Dolphins didn't get another sack of No.12 until midway through the fourth quarter. You cannot make things easy for Tom Brady, and Dolphins did just that by failing to maintain the pass rush they had on tap during the first two quarters.
Insult to injury
As if it wasn't bad enough to witness the Dolphins' defense get rolled by the Patriots, Miami also lost left tackle Jake Long to a torn right bicep. You could make a strong case that Long, hobbled through most of this year with a nagging knee injury and then a back injury against the Eagles two weeks, should've been sat for the season after the back issue came up. Instead, Miami added to Long's offseason rehabilitation to-do list by bringing him back into the starting line-up (I am sure Long lobbied for it anyway--the guy would play in a wheelchair if given the opportunity). In an offseason that's bound to have plenty of questions (head coach, quarterback, defensive scheme), Long's health is going to be one of the biggest concerns.
Matt Moore dividing Dolphins fanbase?
My recap of the Dolphins' victory in Buffalo last week brought out a surprising number of comments regarding "unfair" analysis of Matt Moore as a quality stopgap--not the long-term answer for this team. Fair enough, but Moore's inability to get the offense going in the second-half last Saturday has to be a concern to even his most hardened supporters. Moore's stat line of 17/33 for 294 yards and three scores is absolutely nothing to scoff at, but Chad Henne could roll out of bed and probably put up similar numbers. For the Dolphins, it's about finishing games and keeping the offense pumping in the fourth quarter, and I don't know if Moore can do those things every Sunday. Of course, conservative coaching in the second-half might have something to do with Moore's Houdini act after halftime, but the idea that the Dolphins should settle down with Moore and forget about drafting a signal caller is flat-out insane. Moore's an adequate starter right now, but there's no way he should be viewed as the future in Miami unless he starts taking over games in the fourth quarter.
-Welcome to the 1,000-yard rusher club, Reggie Bush. Bush ran for 113 yards and was one of the few bright spots for the Dolphins in the second-half against the Patriots. And after going through the last few seasons with the belief that Miami's backfield was a weakness, it's now a certified strength with Bush in there. The jury's still out on rookie Daniel Thomas, but an actual offseason should have him ready for the 2012 season.
-Brandon Marshall was monstrous against New England, recording 156 yards and a score. Still, he'll most likely end up short of 100 catches this season ... again. I wonder if that'll be the case next season when a new Dolphins coaching staff is in place.
-Can the Dolphins please switch the defense back over to the 4-3 after this season? Click Wake and Merling over to defensive end, put Starks and Odrick at defensive tackle, draft a safety, find a cornerback in free agency and be done with it.
-Speaking of the draft, might the Dolphins consider finding a legitimate right tackle there at some point? If not, I hope Murtha or Jerry can fit the bill on the right side.
-The Jets are a long shot to make the playoffs, but a Gang Green loss in Miami this Sunday means NYJ will definitely be playing golf in early January. I'd hate for the Dolphins to give these guys actual hope.
-Look for my first 2012 mock draft later this week.