Report card: Patriots-Dolphins
It was another week without any controversial play calls or clock management decisions, and therefore another game with strong marks in this category. The play call and execution of linebacker Jerod Mayo's third-down sack of Ryan Tannehill in the fourth quarter deserves praise. On the opposite end, the Patriots knew the danger of the Dolphins' pass rush and weren't able to scheme around it well enough, allowing four sacks.
One storyline coming out of this game is be the impact, or lack thereof, of receiver Brandon Lloyd. In a game in which Brady targeted his old reliable receiver, Wes Welker, 18 times, Brady only threw at Lloyd once, and that came on the final drive. Brady had some notably bad throws in one of his worst performances of the season. Even so, Lloyd's disappearing act deserves blame outside of Brady. Welker and tight end Aaron Hernandez carried this unit.
Bill Belichick acknowledged after the game that he and his coaches realized the Patriots weren't running the ball enough in the game, and attempted to achieve more of a balance in the second half. They did so, and while the results weren't off the charts -- they rushed 32 times for a 3.4-yard average -- the running game was effective when it was needed most. The Patriots gave their biggest and best punch on their final drive, with Stevan Ridley averaging 7.2 yards per carry on his first five runs of a 16-play drive, getting the Patriots past midfield.
One of the better performances from this unit this season, albeit coming against one of the NFL's weaker aerial attacks. Tannehill completed just 45 percent of his passes, going 13-of-29 for 186 yards. The pass rush came up with some big plays, particularly fill-in defensive end starter Trevor Scott, who came up with two sacks and a forced fumble. On the back end, cornerback Aqib Talib had a rough afternoon, getting lucky on a Tannehil overthrow and getting flagged for pass interference on another play. It's still a unit in need of improvement.
There was some talk coming into this game about the danger of the Dolphins' one-two punch of Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas, but like the Dolphins offense as a whole, it was far from the biggest threat the Patriots will face defensively this season. Bush rushed 15 times for 64 yards, while Thomas added 10 yards on five carries. This unit did what it needed to do, preventing big plays and giving the pass defense a chance to succeed.
With one exception, this was a ho-hum day for the special teams units, with the Patriots containing the Dolphins' return game and the Dolphins containing the Patriots' return game. The exception, of course, is Stephen Gostkowski's 49-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter that missed badly to the right. It was hardly a chip shot, but Gostkowski has missed six field goals on the season. In the end, the miss didn't play a major role in the game.