Every team deals with injuries throughout the course of a season, but the New England Patriots have been especially decimated on both sides of the ball coming into this week's contest with the Miami Dolphins.
The Patriots have lost four key (and by key I mean the four best players on the field) defenders in Wilfork, Kelly, Mayo, and Talib while just seeing the return of Gronkowski and Amendola on offense. Meanwhile, Tom Brady is playing hurt and his offensive line took another hit with the loss of Sebatian Vollmer today.
The Dolphins, on the other hand, have virtually all their players available with the exception of tight end Dustin Keller and defensive end Cameron Wake. But this also shows why the Patriots are always on top, finding players to fill holes and designing game plans to win no matter what.
But we have to move past the subject of injuries and focus on excecution in a fierce battle between division rivals.
Here are the five things we learned from today's game:
1. The Patriots are having trouble playing a full 60 minutes of football.
Last week they disappeared in the second half, while New York came alive to eventuaslly tie the game and then win in OT. Against Miami, the Patriots failed to mount any resistance until the second half. Fortunately, it was enough to mount a comeback and take the win away from the Dolphins.
2. Miami's run game is legit.
Lamar Miller has speed, moves, and the ability to break tackles. If he can stay healthy, he is a weapon to reckoned—with. When they have to rely on Ryan Tannehill's arm, it just isn't enough.
3. New England moves the ball better when they utilize the run well.
Be it Stevan Ridley, or LeGarrette Blount, or even Brandon Bolden, when Josh McDaniels opens up the play book for these backs, good things happen. This is what makes up for the deficiencies in the pass game. If there is one area that Bill Belichick shored—up this year, it was depth at the running back position. Abandon the run and the whole game suffers. Focus on it and good things happen.
4. Special team play can dramatically effect the outcome of the game.
The Patriots won the battle in this department, blocking a field goal in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, while Miami missed one to the right earlier. Punting was pretty much a wash, although neither team could muster much in the way of return yardage. Steve Gostkowski, on the other hand, was 2-for-2, helping his team pull out the win. Preseason inaccuracy is a distant memory for him and the Patriots.
5. The Patriots' defense proved to be tougher than the Dolphins' defense.
Turn—overs were the name of the game, as the Patriots defense became a wrecking ball in the second half. Six sacks, two interceptions, and a forced fumble recovered by Rob Ninkovich in the fourth quarter turned the tide in this game. Again, it was a tale of two halves, as the Patriots were the team to come out and dominate after a dismal performance in the first half.
Miami did get to Brady three times, as well as the first half interception, but had trouble taking advantage in the second half, yielding yards and points to revived and determined Patriots on both sides of the ball.
It seems to be better to come on strong in the second, but obviously the goal will be to put together two halves of strong football. Miami has no excuse for their second half melt—down, but credit New England for making adjustments and playing with abandon down the stretch.
This style of play bodes well for the remainder of their schedule, although they will return from their bye, which comes after their next game against Pittsburgh, to face a much tougher slate of opponents. They will need Brady to start games more comfortably, while the run keeps defenses honest and pounds out yards to open up the pass.
Miami, on the other hand, will be licking their wounds and wondering how this one got away. They cannot blame it on conservative play—calling, as they asked Tannehill to throw the ball more, which may have been their downfall. It may just be a case of poor execution after the half.
This may also be a sign that Miami is spiraling down, while New England has found a formula for stealing wins from the jaws of defeat. It also signals that New England is not ready to concede the reigns to the AFC East, showing why they have been the king for so long.