By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The Patriots have entered the portion of their schedule where they just want to win games and avoid injuries. On Sunday, they accomplished just one of those tasks.
Nate Ebner went down on the fourth play of the game and is likely out for the season. Trevor Reilly got knocked out in as grisly a collision as you'll ever see. The Patriots made NFL history by having two players named Flowers injured on the same play. The Patriots ended up with a third-string right tackle in the game after LaAdrian Waddle -- starting in place of the injured Marcus Cannon -- suffered an injury himself. Kyle Van Noy -- the Patriots' most dependable linebacker this year -- suffered an injury while sacking Matt Moore.
The severity of most of those injuries remain unclear at the moment, but when you consider the team has already lost Julian Edelman, Dont'a Hightower, Shea McClellin and top pick Derek Rivers, and when you see that Chris Hogan has missed three straight games and that David Andrews has missed two in a row, it's becoming clear that this year's team is not quite as blessed in the injury department as they have been in some of their Super Bowl years.
That's not to say they're doomed -- boy, that'd be a mean story to lead with after a blowout win over a divisional opponent -- but the bodies lost on Sunday are indeed concerning in the big picture of the season.
Now let's move on to all of the leftover thoughts from the Patriots' 35-17 necessary but not altogether inspiring victory over the Dolphins.
--I'm always flattered and appreciative whenever anybody tells me they enjoy this weekly column. It's very nice! But boy, one thing I didn't know is that the Miami Dolphins are big fans of the leftover thoughts. That was at least the conclusion I drew after they tried so hard to make appearances this week for their employment of the Zero Humans Defense.
And really, what kind of guy would I be if I didn't indulge them in their obvious attempts to shine in the spotlight? So without further ado, I present to you some excellent defense by the Miami Dolphins.
Here's Phillip Dorsett, who entered the game with 101 receiving yards on the entire season, being left wide open for a gain of 39 yards.
Way to go, guys.
That was just the beginning. Here's the Dolphins learning about this guy named Brandin Cooks:
It looks even better from space:
To use some technical football jargon, that is literally the zeroest humans ever. Seriously though, someone should be fired for that.
You might think that the Dolphins were done employing this brilliant football strategy. You'd be wrong!
You see, the Patriots have this tight end. He's very good! His name is Bob. He warrants coverage from the defense at all times, but particularly when he's close to that area on the field where the team name and logo is painted.
All around a great day for the Miami defense. Again, I'm flattered. Thank you so much for reading. I hope I've fulfilled your expectations.
--The Dolphins defense did beat the doo-doo out of Brady, though, which was equal parts impressive and dirty. But the hardest hit of all -- when Ndamukong Suh came speeding into the backfield like a freight train -- was perfectly clean. It looked like a cartoon.
Here's the point of contact at the 27-yard line:
Here's the result of the impact:
And here's where Brady ended up, back at the 22-yard line:
Ndamukong Suh, for the record, has played against Tom Brady seven times. His teams are 1-6. That's despite playing on some very good defenses and having a real quarterback for a while in Detroit. In the seven games, he has 1.5 sacks. That's got to be frustrating.
--The hit from Suh probably didn't hurt as much as this hit from Cameron Wake. I can't be cerrrrtain, but it appears as though Wake may have delivered a closed fist directly to Thomas and the Bradys:
Hmm. Hard to tell. ENHANCE!
ADVANCE THE FRAME!
Wait is this getting weird? No? OK. Moving on.
--The Nate Ebner fake punt play was brilliant and fun ... but can you imagine if it didn't work? People in New England still sneer about the infamous mortar kick from 2015, even though it only cost the Patriots about 20 yards of field position and even though the Patriots have won a Super Bowl since then. Another flub on special teams involving Ebner? The talk radio outrage would have written itself.
Anyway, it's a bummer that Ebner got hurt, but you had to appreciate seeing the injured Matthew Slater lose his dang mind while celebrating on the sideline during the play:
He legitimately looks possessed. That's what a well-executed special teams trick play will do to Matthew Slater, even when he's not involved.
--Dion Lewis was an absolute monster, setting a new career high with 112 rushing yards. But the timing of a couple of his runs really proved to be devastating for Miami. He was handed the ball immediately after that fake punt, and he gashed the middle of the Miami defense for 13 yards. On the opening drive of the second half, after the Patriots "recovered" a muffed Danny Amendola punt return, Lewis got the ball and ran once again up the middle, this time for 25 yards.
It's just not helpful for a team's frustration level when that little fellow immediately makes things go from bad to worse with a silly run. And both of those plays were part of touchdown drives, while the second helped to inspire Bobby McCain to punch a helmet a few plays later and get himself ejected.
Dion Lewis: The Little Deliverer Of Devastation.
--Speaking of the McCain ejection, I was surprised that Andre Branch was able to get away with not only a quick jab to Lewis' throat but also a clear case of taunting.
Here's the throat punch:
Here's the taunting:
This being a Patriots-Dolphins game, the dirtiness occurred of course following a Patriots run for a first down, and the Patriots scored a touchdown two plays later.
--It was also a bang-up jub by Ronald Torbert and his crew to miss Ndamukong Suh (6-foot-4, 300 pounds) ripping the ball carrier down by his facemask, out in the open field for all to see ON THE VERY NEXT PLAY:
The grab of the facemask literally stopped Lewis dead in his tracks, and Suh spun him to the ground:
How do you miss that? The world may never know. (Because the NFL never admits to any mistakes and is always correct about everything, according to the NFL.) And how are you not looking for something dirty from Suh when roughly 11 seconds have elapsed since a Dolphin got ejected for throwing a punch and another Dolphin got away with throwing another punch?
--Dion Lewis authored a #FerociousJuke or two. One in particular was impressive because it led to some Fin-on-Fin violence:
--Did you enjoy The Gronkowski Drive? It involved Brady tip-toeing around the pocket like a ballet dancer:
Which allowed Gronkowski to take as much time as he needed to get really open for a 21-yard gain:
On the very next play, Gronkowski got behind three very confused Dolphins defenders for another 20 yards:
And then two plays later, Gronkowski just beat safety Reshad Jones on a little out route, gaining plenty of separation and catching a touchdown on the goal line. It was nifty because, even though Gronkowski got himself open by a full step, Brady still threw the pass as if he had to needle it into the tiniest of windows. It was perfect:
Thus concluded The Gronkowski Drive. With his performance on Sunday, ol' Bobby Gronk moved into the top 10 all time for receiving yards by a tight end and set a franchise record for most games with two or more receiving touchdowns (16). He and Brady also moved into fifth place all time in NFL history in QB-receiver touchdown connections with 74. BUT IS HE HAPPY ABOUT HIS CONTRACT? ARE THERE TENSIONS BREWING BETWEEN GRONKOWSKI AND BELICHICK? IT'S NOT A QUESTION OF IF THEY'LL TRADE GRONKOWSKI BUT A QUESTION OF WHEN THEY'LL TRADE GRONKOWSKI!
--We talk a lot about #FerociousJukes here in this space, but we may need a new description for whatever it is that Brandin Cooks does. He was, essentially, dead to rights in the backfield on a jet sweep in the second quarter. But with a slight hesitation and the quickest first step you'll ever see, he managed to turn it from a no-gain to an 11-yard run:
--Here's my brief non-Patriots thought of the week: What the heck are the 49ers doing with Jimmy Garoppolo? They traded a second-round pick to acquire him, and they're now five weeks away from having to decide how many millions they want to commit to him in order to have him as their potential franchise quarterback. Instead of seeing what he can actually do, they're leaving him on the bench. And when he comes in during garbage time and throws a pick, they still say he's not the starting QB. Nope, C.J. Beathard with his four touchdowns and six interceptions and 69.4 passer rating needs to start. Garoppolo? NOT READY.
It's just insane. What if they decide to slap the franchise tag on him in the offseason and he can't ever function in their system? I mean, I suppose it's possible that they intend to franchise him and then trade him, so they don't want to potentially hurt his value in these final games of the year. But whatever they're doing, it seems highly questionable. Certainly, if the plan is to sign him to a long-term deal, they might want to maybe get an idea of how he looks in their offensive system. Just an idea from 3,000 miles away.
--Rex Burkhead had himself a contest, to the point where Brady made it a point to force a touchdown pass to him in the second quarter as a reward. I believe the message from Brady was "If you take contact at the 11 and force your way to the 1, I'm going to make sure you get the touchdown."
--I think we believe in the Patriots defense now, right? Nobody would confuse them for a top five defensive unit, but with an average of 13 points allowed over the last seven games, there's plenty to feel good about with the unit.
And now, thanks to the Dolphins' offensive ineptitude, they have some stats to help boost their overall appearance. They picked off two Matt Moore passes, bringing their season total to 10 and leaving them knocking on the door of the top 10 in the league. They sacked Moore seven times, increasing their season total by more than 40 percent. And at long last, they no longer rank dead last in yards allowed per game. In fact, they're down to just being third-worst.
With an offense as potent as theirs, they need only to be pretty good on defense. They're already there.
--The defense should have had another forced fumble and recovery when Trey Flowers stripped the ball from Kenyan Drake and rolled to the carpet all in one fluid motion. And they could have had another one, thanks to this marvelous attack of the football by Malcolm Butler:
--This was a perfect comment:
Stills and Jarvis Landry were particularly fired up in this game, and I particularly appreciated when Landry did a dance after spinning the ball in celebration while his team was trailing by 11:
It was funny, though I guess you do have to manufacture your own fun when your quarterback is Matt Moore. (Moore threw a godawful interception in the end zone two snaps later.)
--Who's up for some Brett Favre-at-40 and Tom Brady-at-40 comparisons through 11 games??!!
Brady, 2017, through 11 games:
26 TDs, 3 INTs
Favre, 2009, through 11 games:
24 TDs, 3 INTs
Again, it's relevant because Favre in 2009 authored the best season ever by a 40-year-old QB. Considering how much attention I've paid to this potentially imaginary quest, I was taken aback -- flabbergasted, even -- to discover the Patriots are only counting the portion of the season after Favre turned 40 on Oct. 10 of that year.
Hey, Patriots -- no! No, I say. We're counting the whole year. Let's not pick too many nits. The man was 40, and considering the type of life he led and the hits he took, he was more like 45.
--Brady really did take a beating in this game. Some of it was self-inflicted, like when he dropped a shotgun snap and then got almost quite literally ripped in half by Cameron Wake. But overall it was just another chapter in the story of how stupid tough Brady
Long story short, Tom kept the football after this one:
--I can't be sure, but I believe Bill Belichick and Joe Judge told the punt team to pull that play clock chicanery just to send Dolphins special teams coach Darren Rizzi into a state of absolute pandemonium. That poor fella was losing it:
I just wish we got to see his reaction after Ryan Allen threw up the fake as if he was going to pass the ball. That might have actually killed this man.
--"I Don't Know What To Do: The Rob Gronkowski Story" will be a great title for a book.
On a real note, though, I don't recommend having a grown man hopping on the back of the man who's had numerous back surgeries over the past 10 years. Let's try to limit the load that Gronkowski bears on a regular basis. Other than that, fun celebration.
--I don't know how -- really, I don't -- but somehow, it's become somewhat of a story that Tom Brady was still in the game in the waning moments of a big win. I mean, is this your first time watching the Patriots, people? The man plays no matter what. It's his life. He's a football player. And if he'd be in there in a tie game, then he figures he should be in there in a three-score game. That's Tom Brady. He's the quarterback of the Patriots. Familiarize yourself with his customs.
(Also this wasn't really a blowout. The Dolphins cut it to 11 in the fourth quarter, and in an imaginary world, a non-Matt Moore-led offense could storm back to tie the game. The Patriots needed another score to really put it away. Brady delivered it.)
(When Brady was actually in during the blowout portion, he handed the ball off three times. Relax, worry warts. He's going to be OK.)
The most telling sign from Brady came after the New England defense made a third-down stop with just over five minutes left in the game. Brady grabbed his helmet and looked like a kid on Christmas.
You're not going to get that helmet out of his hands. You shouldn't even bother trying.
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