Rapid reaction: Pats 38, Dolphins 24
September, 12, 2011
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com
MIAMI -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots' season-opening 38-24 win over the Dolphins:
Tom Brady -- 517 passing yards. What a night for quarterback Tom Brady. The 2010 NFL Most Valuable Player finished with 517 yards, the exclamation mark coming on a 99-yard hookup to Wes Welker in the fourth quarter. The 99-yard play ties the NFL record for the longest play from scrimmage. Brady's 517 passing yards are a franchise record. Coach Bill Belichick responded with a first pump after the 99-yard score, which made it 38-17 Patriots and effectively ended the game. It was the 11th 500-yard passing game in NFL history. The previous Patriots high was 426. Brady's final stat line: 32-of-48 for 517 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT.
Pressure offense -- and protection -- is the big story. The Patriots can create a lot of stress on opposing defenses, and that was the story of this game. They played fast, snapping the ball quickly and never letting the Dolphins get settled. Brady was sharp, and a key was that he had time in the pocket for most of the night. With rookie Nate Solder starting at right tackle and center Dan Koppen leaving the game with a serious left ankle/leg injury, this was a case in which the short-handed offensive line delivered for the team. Veteran right guard Brian Waters, signed eight days ago, played every series but two. The Patriots made the Dolphins' defense look like a junior varsity unit.
Turning point in third quarter. The decisive point of the game came in the third quarter when the Dolphins intercepted Brady and quickly scored to tie the game at 14. That's when the Patriots took control, a combination of the pressure offense scoring on its next drive (10 plays, 73 yards) and the defense holding the Dolphins to a field goal after they advanced to the 1 on the ensuing drive. That turn of events, which was followed by a Patriots touchdown, was the big swing of the night.
Brady's regular-season INT streak broken. Brady had his NFL-record string of 358 regular-season pass attempts without an interception snapped when defensive lineman Jared Odrick gathered in a tipped ball and returned it 39 yards at the start of the third quarter. A look back at Brady's streak.
Where's Ochocinco? That figures to be a question some will ask after veteran receiver Chad Ochocinco was the third option in the Patriots' attack. Including penalties, Ochocinco was charted on the field for 18 snaps in the game. Given the way the Patriots played -- utilizing a two-tight end offense in hurry-up fashion -- they obviously wanted receivers who had a deep background in the system. It's hard to execute, and that's why Deion Branch and Wes Welker were the top options.
No answer for Patriots' TEs. The Dolphins had no answers for Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who were terrific. The Dolphins tried to match up in different ways, but the Patriots were a step ahead each time. Hernandez finished with seven receptions for 103 yards and one touchdown, while Gronkowski had six catches for 86 yards and one touchdown.
Debut for Haynesworth. Defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth did not start, and was used as part of a four-man rotation along the interior of the defensive line with Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and Myron Pryor. He was credited with two tackles and drew two holding penalties.
Koppen carted off with serious injury. Any time a player is carted off the field, it's usually not good news. It didn't look good for starting Patriots center Dan Koppen at the end of the second quarter, as he couldn't put any pressure on his left leg. The Patriots first announced Koppen's return as questionable, before quickly updating him to out. Dan Connolly took over at center, and now the Patriots could consider a free-agent addition if Koppen's injury is a long-term situation, as it appears to be. The health of reserve Ryan Wendell (calf), who didn't make the trip to Miami, takes on added importance.
Next up -- Chargers. The Patriots return home to host the Chargers on Sunday. Drew Bledsoe (quarterback) and Jon Morris (center) will be inducted into the team's Hall of Fame the day before the game. This win over the Dolphins certainly will generate excitement in New England, as it should. This was an explosive performance.