The Miami Dolphins took the field Sunday with new faces and a renewed attitude. Miami took on their AFC East rival, the New England Patriots, in a showdown to measure how far this team has come since the disappointments of last season.
The Dolphins won this game convincingly despite early mistakes. It was the type of win that can energize a season and demand national attention.
Here are my five thoughts on the game, followed by some quick-hitting thoughts:
- The Dolphins had no business winning that game
After a blocked punt by rookie LB Chris McCain set the Dolphins up to take an early 7-0 lead, the Dolphins committed three first half turnovers (a Ryan Tannehill interception and fumbles by both Lamar Miller and Mike Wallace). and seemed to be treading water. Mistakes, such as drops and penalties, were rampant. That's usually not a formula for success against the Patriots.
Miraculously, the Dolphins were down only by ten points at halftime (20-10). The mistakes came early and often in the first half, but hope was not lost as it was clear the Dolphins offense could move the ball. What happened next was what shocked the world...
- Miami outscored the "halftime adjustment genie" Bill Belichick's Patriots 23-0 in the second half
The Dolphins' offense came on the field to start the second half then marched right down the field.
Unfortunately, as was an early theme for the Dolphins, they weren't able to finish the drive with points and had to settle for a Caleb Sturgis field goal to cut the Patriots lead to seven.
After a Cam Wake strip/sack, the Dolphins offense tied the game on a touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to a leaping Mike Wallace who fought for the ball and won against All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis.
The momentum had flipped completely by this point and the Patriots were on their heels.
Miami's defense forced four straight punts in the late third/early fourth quarter and Miami's offense scored ten points over this stretch.
The Patriots offense was clearly frustrated and their defense could not stop Miami's offense.
With that 23-0 stretch to end the game, the Dolphins are reaching out to grab the AFC East torch from the Patriots.
- Knowshon Moreno was an team-energizing animal
Moreno accounted for 134 yards on the ground, the most by a Miami running back since 2012. Moreno was an absolute tank with the ball in his hand and the energy he provided to the team was unequivocal.
50 of Moreno's 134 yards were after first contact. Moreno ran with a toughness and attitude that was sorely missed last season with Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas as the featured backs.
Moreno's energy was clear and contagious, but it was his punishing running that made the difference. A big back who is tough to tackle will wear down a defense.
In the fourth quarter, Miami methodically marched down the field, on the back of Moreno, with a 12-play drive that killed six minutes off of the clock.
Moreno ended this drive with a touchdown run, during which he evaded two defenders in the backfield and put his head down to plow his way into the endzone, to extend the lead to 33-20.
The Dolphins offense benefitted greatly from the presence of Moreno and a solid running game. For the first time in his career, Ryan Tannehill didn't have to perform perfectly for the Dolphins to walk away with a victory.
- The Dolphins defensive line was ferocious
Miami's defensive line was absolutely dominant. The Patriots offensive line was being tossed around all day, but New England was able to experience early offensive success due to the dink-and-dunk passes that Miami's defense was allowing.
When Miami tightened the screws in the secondary, the defensive line had time to get to Tom Brady and make their presence felt. Brady was sacked four times in the game and fumbled twice.
Cameron Wake was an absolute beast. Wake had a third quarter strip/sack that was the turning point in the game. Miami's offense scored a touchdown off of the takeaway to tie up the game.
Overall, Miami dominated the trenches in this game on both sides of the ball, which was key to victory.
- The Dolphins' backup linebackers were great
Miami entered this game knowing Philip Wheeler wouldn't play, but early in the first half the Dolphins lost both Koa Misi (ankle) and Dannell Ellerbe (hip) to injury.
This left Jason Trusnik, who started at SLB for Wheeler but played middle linebacker for most of the day, Jonathan Freeny and Jelani Jenkins to play LB.
And they were tremendous.
In fact, I had never seen Freeny and Jenkins play the way they did.
Jenkins was playing with more physicality and aggressiveness than I had ever seen and it showed as he was around the ball on a great deal of plays.
Jenkins was playing extremely fast and was effective in coverage.
The Patriots only ran for 89 yards on the day. The Patriots offensive line was not very good, but the linebackers still need to clean up plays and make tackles, which they did.
The performance of these linebackers was crucial in the second half shutout the Dolphins' defense pitched. Huge props go to the LBs for stepping up and to defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle for making it all work.
- QUICK HITS:
-According to ProFootballFocus.com's ratings, the Dolphins ranked first in the league in run blocking and pass rushing.
-MVPs of the game: Cameron Wake and Knowshon Moreno
-The Dolphins had more yards rushing than they did passing. It's a new day in Miami!
-Mike Wallace's touchdown catch was extremely important and impressive, but he needs to catch the ball with his hands more consistently.
-Can the Dolphins' receivers get a flag? Brian Hartline was mugged multiple times, but not even an illegal contact was called.
-Zero points. The Patriots scored zero points in the second half. This is a testament to the Dolphins defense and coordinator Kevin Coyle.
-Punter Brandon Fields had a short work day. The Dolphins only had two drives end in punts.
-Chris McCain had a great rookie debut. McCain blocked the Patriots first punt and had a key sack on Tom Brady.
-Miami finished the day -1 in turnover margin after two second half fumbles by Tom Brady.
-Mind-blowing how a balanced attack on offense equals a successful day of offense, isn't it?
-Bill Lazor's offense was effective and exciting. Even throughout the first half mistakes, it was clear that the offense was successful and could move the ball.
-"We take out those mistakes, it's kind of crazy what this offense can do" - Ryan Tannehill.
-Tannehill wasn't sacked until the fourth quarter.
-Shelley Smith was a huge part of the successful running attack, but was victimized in pass protection. Smith allowed four pressures on Tannehill.
-Tom Brady wiping away tears at the end of the game was my favorite sight of the day.
-The Dolphins now have what no other team in the NFL has, a win streak against the Patriots.