FOXBOROUGH – Bill Belichick calls his first timeout of the second half with 18 seconds left in the third quarter. Why? To save time for a 47-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski while he still had the wind at his back.
The field goal, which was good, gave the Patriots their first lead of the game at 20-17. The decision to call timeout was underscored earlier in the period, where a game-changing moment transformed a Miami Dolphins domination of the Patriots into the opposite. Early in the third quarter and against a stiff breeze blowing left to right, Caleb Sturgis tried a 46-yard field goal and doinked it off the right upright. The Dolphins were leading at the time, 17-3, but the Patriots went off on a 24-0 run to defeat the Dolphins, 27-17 on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Prior to that doink, the Dolphins had completely dominated a Patriot team that looked lazy and disinterested, almost if they were taking a long siesta in the first half.
To underscore how badly the Patriots looked in the first half, the numbers can tell the story. The Dolphins outgained the Patriots, 175-59. At one point, the Dolphins had more first downs (six) than the Patriots had total yards (four). Tom Brady threw a pick on his first pass, passed for only 25 first half yards, and had a rating of 38.0. The Patriots had one long first half drive, going 43 yards in 13 plays culminating in a 34-yard field goal by Gostkowski. Other than that, the Patriots looked completely listless on both sides of the ball and let Ryan Tannehill (106.7 first half passer rating) and running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas (103 combined first half rushing yards) completely dictate the game.
But after Sturgis's miss, an invisible pendulum swung back towards the home team.
Right off the bat, Stevan Ridley broke off a 23-yard run. Two plays later, Rob Gronkowski hauled in a pass over the middle of the same length. Two plays later, on second down and six at the Miami 14, Brady withstood a withering rush from Philip Wheeler and managed to loft a pretty scoring toss to Aaron Dobson to make it 17-10 Miami. Dobson ran a beautiful stop and go pattern and left Nolan Carroll in his wake wondering what just happened.
The Dolphins got the ball back, and two plays later Tannehill was strip sacked by Logan Ryan. Rob Ninkovich picked up the fumble and scooted in for the touchdown, but Ninkovich was ruled down by contact at the Dolphin 13. Three plays later, Brandon Bolden ran it in from two yards out and the game was tied with two Patriot touchdowns 44 seconds apart.
The teams exchanged punts, and with time running out in the third quarter, the Patriots were able to move into field goal range. Belichick took the unusual step of calling a timeout to stop the clock in the third quarter, but with the wind at their backs, Gostkowski was able to give the Pats the lead at 20-17 with a 47-yard wind-aided field goal as the third quarter ended.
The Patriot defense took over in the fourth quarter. The Patriots managed to sack Tannehill six times, four of them coming in the fourth quarter. Marquice Cole had a nice interception early in the fourth quarter after receiving a nice tipped deep ball from Devin McCourty and just managing to stay in bounds. Cole would later thwart another Dolphin scoring drive when he managed to block a Sturgis field goal attempt from 39 yards out.
The Patriots iced the game with a 12-play, 67-yard drive off the Cole interception, with Ridley running it in from two yards out. The Patriots scored 14 points off the first two Miami turnovers (Tannehill also threw a late pick to Duron Harmon on the last play of the game on a desperation heave downfield), and seized control of the game very suddenly from the Dolphins who had controlled the first 34:42 of the game.
Brady's final numbers were underwhelming, going 13 for 22 passing for 116 yards and a touchdown. He had the first quarter pick and finished with only a 69.5 rating. But his numbers were still better than Tannehill's, as the Miami quarterback finished with 22 of 42 passing for 192 yards and two touchdowns. His two picks lowered his rating to 60.8.
Despite better passing yardage than Brady, Tannehill's leading receiver was former Steeler Mike Wallace with only 41 yards, and three other receivers had 30 or more yards. Dobson led the Patriots with 60 yards receiving.
Both offenses were paced by the running backs. Miller and Thomas were better contained in the second half and finished with 136 combined rushing yards. Ridley and LeGarrette Blount combined for 125 yards rushing, and all four backs averaged over four yards per carry (Thomas and Ridley were over five yards per carry).
Brady himself was sacked three times, as both defenses were able to tee off on the other quarterback. Jared Odrick had two of the three Dolphin sacks of Brady. Logan Ryan led the Patriots with two sacks of Tannehill.
If the Dolphins had any complaints about the tide turning in this game, they could maybe look at two penalties called which happened in key moments of the game.
In the second quarter, as the Patriots were driving towards their first field goal, the drive was extended by a pass interference call on Jimmy Wilson while he was covering Gronkowski on an intermediate middle pattern. Replays showed that Wilson never really impeded Gronkowski. Then in the fourth quarter, as the Patriots were driving towards the clinching touchdown, Wilson moved in and strip-sacked Brady at the Dolphin 31. The ball was batted backwards by Ollivier Vernon and covered by Nate Solder back at the Miami 45. Instead of a 15-yard loss on a sack, Vernon was penalized for illegally batting the ball and the Patriots had the ball on a ten-yard penalty from the line of scrimmage. This rule smacks of the famous 1978 "Holy Roller" play by Dave Casper of the Oakland Raiders (which prohibits batting fumbled balls forward, not backward), and replays did not clearly show that Vernon intentionally batted the ball.
The Patriots will have none of this, of course. A 30-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski late in the third quarter was wiped out on a holding call on Solder. Solder really did commit a legit holding penalty, literally tackling Vernon as he converged on Brady.
The Patriots did avoid their second straight division loss, something that hadn't happened since 2006. The win somewhat freshens the air after the stench of last week's controversial loss. Once the Patriots realized they were in a game, they woke up and blew the Dolphins out of Gillette Stadium.
The waking up part is nice, but those who insist on sixty full minutes of football know what they're talking about.