New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: Top 5 Takeaways From Week 17

New England Patriots

Jan 1, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase (left) and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick shake hands after an NFL football game at Hard Rock Stadium. The Patriots won 35-14. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The  New England Patriots were able to finish their regular season with a 14-2 record after a win against the Miami Dolphins. What were five takeaways from the win?

The New England Patriots closed out the regular season with a 35-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL. The Patriots jumped out to a 20 to zero first half lead before the Dolphins sandwiched two touchdown drives around halftime (along with a missed 52-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski) to make it a one-score game.

The Patriots took care of business after that with Tom Brady finding Julian Edelman on a short pass which turned into a 77-yard touchdown. When the Dolphins tried to mount a drive to get back in the game down 13 points, inside the ten-yard line running back Damien Williams got popped by Devin McCourty and the fumble was scooped up by Shea McClellin who rumbled 69-yards to set-up the final score and effectively end the game.

With an exciting finish to the season and ending a three-game losing streak in Miami, the Patriots were able to lock-up the top seed in the AFC. This clinched home-field advantage for New England and potentially hosting the AFC Championship Game. With a strong finish–in contrast to last season–the Patriots finished the 2016 NFL regular season 14-2.

Here are five takeaways from Sunday afternoon’s victory:

New England Patriots

Jan 1, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) catches a ball before an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

1 – Record day for Tom Brady

It was just another day at the office for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as he crossed Miami off his Revenge Tour following his ridiculous “Deflategate” suspension. As the NFL Headquarters offices remain shrouded in silence during the season with deflated footballs being squashed and teams using non-kicking footballs, every week Tom Brady continues to show how ridiculous it is that anyone realistically believes that air pressure in footballs had any bearing on Brady’s performance before 2015 and 2016.

Brady came back with a flourish in Week five lighting up the Cleveland Browns. The only hiccup would have been the loss to Seattle (where Brady played well in the loss) and Denver (where the defense stifled the passing attack but the team still won). Brady finished 25-for-33 for 276 yards and three touchdowns for a 130.4 quarterback rating (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise stated).

According to ProFootballFocus.com, Brady’s adjusted completion percentage on Sunday was 89.7% as five of his eight incompletions were throwaways, drops, or batted at the line of scrimmage. Basically, only three of 28 on-target passes were not completed. Just another ridiculous performance which has become the norm.

Brady finished 2016 with an 11-1 record and 291 completions on 432 attempts (67.4%) for 3,554 yards and 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The touchdown to interception ratio is an NFL record beating Nick Foles 27-2 record. Brady had a 112.2 quarterback rating (or an 89 QBR rating if you prefer the ESPN stat). He was sacked just 15 times in 12 games.

The touchdown to interception ratio record was initially set by Brady in 2010 when he won the MVP. He had a fantastic season with 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions that year. After Nick Foles had that outlier season in 2013, Brady took the record back this season.

Also, with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett not throwing any interceptions in the first four games of the season the Patriots’ offense set an NFL record for fewest interceptions with just two. This record shows how the three quarterbacks taking snaps for New England this season were able to minimize costly turnovers and help keep the defense out of difficult situations.

Brady also passed Hall-of-Fame Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino and is now fourth all-time in career passing yards. Only Drew Brees, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning are ahead of Brady on the career passing yards leader chart. That trio is ahead of him in passing touchdowns as well.

It was a record-setting day for Tom Brady, but the records are something he is not focused on at this time. Right now, the focus is on getting ready for the AFC Divisional Round match-up at home in less than two weeks.

New England Patriots

Jan 1, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Michael Floyd (14) celebrates a touchdown during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

2 – Edelman and Floyd Shine for Depleted Wide Receiver Group

The game plan for most teams when facing Miami is to run the ball. Despite solid players like Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, Earl Mitchell, and exciting second-year player Jordan Phillips up-front, teams have been pounding the Dolphins all season. However, the Patriots were determined to attack the depleted secondary of the Dolphins and completed 25 passes to seven different receivers.

Of the receivers, Julian Edelman, recently claimed Michael Floyd, and Martellus Bennett all scored touchdowns. Edelman had a huge game with eight catches on 13 targets for a career-high 151 yards. He had four first down receptions to go with his touchdown and two-point conversion reception. Edelman had the dagger that broke the Dolphins with a 77-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter to quell a Miami comeback.

On Edelman’s touchdown reception his big play was the direct result of a key block downfield by Floyd. He lit-up Miami cornerback Tony Lippett with a legal block which temporary put Lippett into the concussion protocol on the sidelines. Claimed off waivers just a few weeks ago after Arizona released him, Floyd had three catches for 36 yards and a touchdown.

On his touchdown catch, Floyd caught the ball at the ten-yard line and ran into a quartet of Dolphins defenders around the four-yard line. The six-foot-two and 209 pounds wide receiver kept his legs churning and in a display of individual effort he pushed his way to the goal-line. Extending at the last moment as he fell, he stretched the ball enough to break the plane of the goal line.  

While Arizona fans were wondering where THAT Michael Floyd was all season, the Patriots fans were excited to add their second big outside receiver (rookie Malcolm Mitchell has been excellent in that role as a rookie) after having searched for a consistent outside receiver since Randy Moss mouthed his way out of Foxboro. The Patriots tried to fill that role with Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Dobson, and Brandon LaFell since then but now have two intriguing options there going into the postseason.

New England Patriots

Jan 1, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs the ball during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

3 – Ground Game Strong Early on

The Miami Dolphins came into this game with the 30th ranked rush defense. Miami had held only held opponents to under 110 yards rushing just three times this season. New England ran the ball plenty with their balanced attack as they ground out 120 yards on 29 carries. In the first half, the Patriots got 100 of those yards on 19 carries.

While the rushing attack struggled in the second-half in a large part to the individual performance of Miami’s young second-year defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. Phillips has played sparingly in his first two seasons as veterans Ndamukong Suh and Earl Mitchell get the majority of the playing time. The 2015 second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma is huge, explosive, and an athletic playmaker.

Phillips took over in the second half of the game as fellow defensive tackle Suh seemed more interested in scrapping with Patriots players. New England running back LeGarrette Blount picked up a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct late for ripping off Suh’s helmet after Suh was up to his usual dirty play under the pile.

Suh also had an offsides penalty earlier in the game in the second quarter which enraged the Foxboro faithful as he sent center David Andrews falling backwards comically. Suh hit the unprotected center high flipping him up in the air as Suh jumped offsides. There was no retaliation by Andrews other than shutting down Suh on the field.

Suh had made a pair of good plays in the running game earlier on that drive stuffing Blount but seemed frustrated as Brady and running back Dion Lewis moved the ball down the field with little resistance. After that penalty Suh disappeared until tousling with Blount in the fourth quarter.

Blount led the way for New England on the ground with 51 yards rushing on 14 attempts and his 18th rushing touchdown of the season. Dion Lewis added 48 yards rushing on 11 attempts as New England continued their balanced approach on offense.

New England Patriots

Dec 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots center David Andrews (60) and offensive guard Joe Thuney (62) and tackle Nate Solder (77) line up to protect New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

4 – Powerful Performance by Offensive Line

The Patriots have struggled for the past three years in Miami mainly due to pressure from the Dolphins’ front four. The Dolphins have been one of the teams who consistently have been able to pressure Tom Brady with four pass rushers and flood the passing lanes.

This week was different as the New England offensive line was stout. ProFootballFocus.com gave high grades to tackles Nate Solder (87.1 grade) and Marcus Cannon (80.1 grade) for the Miami game. The tackles shut down defensive ends Cameron Wake and Andre Branch and kept them off of Brady all game.

The run blocking struggled in the second-half but the pass blocking was great from start to finish (well, except for the one pass attempt by Jimmy Garoppolo, but back-ups were on the field on the offensive line at that point). The Dolphins had no sacks and were credited with just one quarterback hurry (Wake).

Suh–the highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL–created no pressure on Tom Brady. Guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason along with center David Andrews held their own against one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Suh got near Brady once during the game and was pushed around in the running game.

New England started the same five offensive linemen (Solder, Thuney, Andrews, Mason, and Cannon) for the eleventh straight game. After so many injuries and ineffectiveness last season, the return of Dante Scarnecchia and a return to health has been huge for revitalizing the running game and keeping a 39 year-old quarterback upright and healthy.

After so many years of the Patriots’ offensive line being overpowered by the Dolphins’ pass rush and pushed around trying to run the ball (see: final game of the 2015 season debacle), it was a great sign heading into the playoffs to see the Patriots’ line clicking on all cylinders.

New England Patriots

Jan 1, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore (8) throws a pass over New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers (98) during the second half of an NFL football game at Hard Rock Stadium. The Patriots won 35-14. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

5 – Slight Hiccup but Opportunistic Defense Wins Turnover Battle Again

Most of the focus has been on the New England offense, but it would be a shame not to take a look at the other side of the ball. Once again, the Patriots’ defense came out smothering their opponent. Miami could not get their first first down until the second quarter and did not sustain a drive until their final drive of the first half.

At the half, Miami had 30 yards rushing and just 75 yards passing and trailed 20-7. They had six first downs, just one third down conversion and held the ball for just 8:44. New England had an interception in the first half from cornerback Logan Ryan thanks to strong pressure from defensive end Chris Long.

In the second half, the Dolphins opened with a strong drive and cut the lead to 20 to 14 as Miami quarterback Matt Moore got the ball to his trio of wide receivers with Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, and DeVante Parker all getting involved in the offense. A blown coverage with eight defenders back in coverage left a wide open Stills alone in the end zone.

New England did not sack Miami quarterback Matt Moore; however, they did get a lot of pressure on him. Chris Long provided pressure on the interception and Trey Flowers had another strong game generating pressure from the outside on early downs and from rushing inside on third down.

As they have done the entire second half of the 2016 season, the Patriots’ defense alternated between shutdown play forcing three three-and-outs and ending two drives with turnovers. The Dolphins had two scoring drives (10 plays/75 yards and 12 plays/80 yards) and two one-first-down-and punts. The final drive was Miami down by 21 with 2:32 to play.

The Patriots allowed 13 first downs on three drives by Miami (two touchdowns and a fumble inside the New England ten-yard line) and just three first downs on their other seven drives.

The secondary for New England was strong again with the Ryan interception, McCourty causing the fumble, and other than the miscommunication on the Stills touchdown there were not many big plays. Safeties Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon (who did not play much with three cornerbacks the primary alignment on defense) were strong in pass coverage.

Cornerbacks Logan Ryan, Eric Rowe, and Malcolm Butler were all strong in coverage. The Dolphins adjusted running short crossing routes when the Patriots defense backed-off and went more conservative on the two scoring drives. It was a nice adjustment in the second half to get back up on the receivers and play more press coverage.

Finally, credit to the linebacker group. Shea McClellin had a huge fumble recovery and 69-yard return to set-up LeGarrette Blount’s touchdown. Elandon Roberts led the team in tackles and had some strong plays against the run stuffing Jay Ajayi. Dont’a Hightower returned to the lineup and looked strong as he knocked the rust off.

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