- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI GARDENS – Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 41-14 victory over the Dolphins:
What it means: The Patriots came up with the answer for their road woes in a big way. Motivated by media predictions leading up to the game -- many picked Miami -- they hung tough early when things looked rocky (Miami led 7-6 at the half) and played a complementary game -- offense, defense and special teams. This is the Patriots' biggest win of the season. Special teams were huge for the Pats.
What is next: The Patriots will be off next weekend, so they enter the bye at 3-1. That will give them extra time to prepare for a tough stretch of facing Baltimore (home), San Diego (road) and Minnesota (home).
Special teams sparks the win: When a team has a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown (Brandon Tate), a blocked punt (Patrick Chung) that is converted into a touchdown two plays later, and a blocked field goal (Chung) returned for a touchdown (Kyle Arrington), it’s a dominating performance. All of those plays came in the second half. Special teams changed the complexion of the game, starting with Tate’s big return at the start of the third quarter.
Patrick Chung a star of the night: It was a career night for the second-year safety, who had the two big special teams plays, then capped it off with a 51-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The 34th overall selection of the 2009 draft -- taken with the pick acquired from the Chiefs in the Matt Cassel/Mike Vrabel trade -- was the top playmaker on the field.
Rob Ninkovich with two big interceptions: Who would have thought that the five-year veteran, in his first year as a starter, would be one of the defensive players of the game? He had two interceptions. Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne’s decision-making and accuracy could be questioned on the plays, but Ninkovich still came up big.
Much-maligned defense does its part: It wasn’t always pretty, but the New England defense rose up in critical situations with turnovers and key stops in the second half. The unit remains a work in progress, but overall it answered the criticism it received over the first three weeks of the season.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead carry the load: On a night in which they had just three running backs active, the Patriots received big-time contributions from the duo. Both had touchdowns -- Green-Ellis on the ground and Woodhead on a catch-and-run. Green-Ellis ran with power and Woodhead morphed into Kevin Faulk as part of the three-receiver package.
Meriweather the big injury to monitor: The fourth-year safety was knocked out of the game with a knee injury and didn’t play in the second half. His potential absence would thrust Jarrad Page up the depth chart behind James Sanders and Chung.