With all due respect to the Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots brought their own Tom Brady-led version of a bona fide Dream Team to South Florida on Monday night.
And it was a familiar foe that wilted in the Miami heat.
Often it’s the visiting team from a more comfortable summer climate that gets gassed in September games at Sun Life Stadium. But it was the Miami Dolphins defense that was left huffing and puffing — not to mention gobsmacked — by Brady’s 517-yard passing performance in a 38-24 Patriots victory.
That’s right. 517 yards.
Even a quadruple-double by Miami Heat forward Dwyane Wade — who watched the game from a luxury suite filled with pseudo-celebrities — couldn’t compare with the fast break that Brady spearheaded.
The lone thing more stunning than a once-proud franchise squandering the home-field advantage that should come from playing in a sauna: Brady’s 99-yard throw to Wes Welker that tied the record for the longest scoring pass in league history.
By that point in the fourth quarter, a slew of front-running Dolphins fans had already headed for their air-conditioned vehicles.
Miami defenders weren’t so lucky, after having to stay in the muggy, 80-plus-degree temperature.
“It was hot. It’s still hot,” Brady said in a postgame interview while dabbing sweat from his forehead. “But we tried to play at a fast tempo and take advantage of some of the opportunities we got when they weren’t ready to go. I thought we did a decent job.”
Decent? In comparison, the 416-yard effort by Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne can be considered decent.
But in an aerial display that set an NFL single-game record for combined passing yards, Brady was the one with better aim and ammunition. He spread the ball to eight different targets in a 32-of-48, four-touchdown outing. Brady did this against a defense that was expected to improve on its Top 10 NFL ranking from 2010.
“No, this is not the performance we were looking for,” embattled Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. “I mean, they had almost 700 yards of offense, so that was an understatement.”
Statistical superiority isn’t the only thing that separates Brady from his peers on an NFL opening weekend with 13 other passing performances of 300-plus yards. Miami couldn’t easily substitute because Brady had his team ready to pounce so quickly at the line of scrimmage. While the Dolphins were caught with 12 men on the field only once — a near miracle considering the number of close calls with defenders chugging off the field — starting cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith were forced to the sidelines with second-half cramps.
Brady took full advantage by exploiting the subsequent coverage mismatches on wide receiver Deion Branch — who had five of his seven catches after halftime — while continuing to gouge Miami’s secondary with second-year tight ends Aaron Hernandez (seven catches for 103 yards and one touchdown) and Rob Gronkowski (6-86).
By the time the damage was done, it was easy to forget that Brady had a string of 358 consecutive regular-season passes without an interception ended in the second quarter.
“It’s definitely an attacking style,” said Welker, who led all Patriots with 160 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions. “I think they were lined up in just a few defenses. They weren’t able to really coordinate what they were going to run or anything like that. That gives you an edge when you’re able to do that.”
The fact Welker stuck the final dagger in Miami’s heart was fitting. He once again reminded the Dolphins what a horrific mistake it was trading him to New England in 2007 by zipping behind backup cornerback Benny Sapp, sending him to the ground with a stiff-arm and then sprinting the remaining distance to become the 12th player in NFL history to score on a 99-yard passing play. That put New England ahead, 38-17, with 5:44 remaining.
“It wasn’t like I threw it 99 yards,” a smiling Brady said. “Wes did all the work. I just had to put it out there for him.”
Welker laughed en route to the team bus when privately reminded that he played for the Dolphins when the visiting Denver Broncos melted in the 2005 season opener.
“I’ve got to admit we were tired, too,” said Welker, who brought a half-filled gallon of cold water into his postgame news conference. “There were some times I was definitely hurting out there. But you’ve got to push through. We’ve got a bunch of mentally tough guys who did a good job with that.”
Mind you, New England’s offense has produced similar regular-season fireworks plenty of times before. Yet the Patriots haven’t won a postseason game since the 2007 campaign.
That helps explain why Brady was so publicly blasé when questioned about such a memorable game. He hasn’t added to the three Lombardi Trophies that New England captured between the 2001 and 2004 seasons. Now 34 years old, statistical accomplishments are secondary compared with doing something the real Miami Heat couldn’t accomplish this past NBA season — winning a league championship.
We’re a long way from knowing whether these Patriots can reach that goal. But if Monday night’s showing is a sign of what’s to come, the rest of the NFL will be feeling a different kind of heat that could finally net Brady and the Patriots another Super Bowl title.