Monday, September 12, 2011

New Teammates, Same Old Brady

Tom Brady doesn’t like to lose. Luckily for the New England quarterback, the Patriots don’t lose very often these days, thanks in large part to his contributions. But Brady has lost six times to the Miami Dolphins—more than any other team in the league—including five times on the road. On Monday night, Brady and his teammates proved that history only means so much, winning 38 to 24 on Monday night, as Brady set both franchise and Monday Night Football passing records.

Brady threw for a staggering 517 yards against the Dolphins, the most for an NFL quarterback since 1996. He also threw for four touchdowns, including a 99-yard pass to Wes Welker. His performance was only slightly marred by a 3rd quarter interception by Jared Odrick on a tipped pass, Brady’s first regular season interception in 358 pass attempts.

The Dolphins started with a bang, gaining 60 yards on the first four plays from scrimmage, including a 25-yard pass from Chad Henne to Brandon Marshall on the first play of the drive. The new-look Patriots defense looked shaky, allowing big run and pass gains, eventually watching Henne power a 10-yard QB draw into the endzone for the first score.

The Pats defense settled down after that drive, though, forcing punts on the Dolphins’ next four possessions. When Brady got the ball in his hands, he looked as sharp as ever, completing his first nine passes. He showed his trademark deep ball throw on a 45-yard bullet to wideout Matthew Slater before linking up with Rob Gronkowski for the touchdown.

The New England offense was fearsome if not flawless, totaling 622 yards from scrimmage but only finishing 4 of 6 red zone opportunities. The missed opportunities were not a problem, with that yardage total going for the most in Patriots’ history as well as the most allowed by Miami.

The Patriots are known to spread the ball around on offense, and despite question marks over offensive weapons like Slater and off-season acquisition Chad Ochocinco, Brady linked up with seven different receivers in the first half alone. Ochocinco was a non-factor, though, catching a single pass for 14 yards.

Chad Henne handled the Monday Night Football limelight well, passing for an impressive 419 yards and two touchdowns. His only interception came on the last play of the game. He read the field well, rushing seven times for 59 yards and a touchdown.

Reggie Bush, recently signed by the Dolphins from New Orleans, had a solid first game, rushing for 38 yards on 11 attempts and adding another 56 yards and a touchdown receiving. Brandon Marshall was the standout for the Miami offense, catching seven passes for 139 yards, and Dolphins fans will be sweating after he limped off the field in the last minute of the game.

New England’s pass rush was a major topic of conversation in the offseason, and after a summer of tinkering, the rush looked slightly improved, sacking Henne three times. New acquisition Albert Haynesworth saw limited action, recording two tackles playing mostly alongside Vince Wilfork in 4-3 packages. Shaun Ellis, the former New York Jet once known as “the Patriot Killer”, had one tackle. Mark Anderson, the former Bears defensive lineman, also had a sack in the 4th quarter.

It was the familiar faces for New England who carried most of the weight on defense, with cornerback Devin McCourty recording 10 tackles and linebacker Pat Chung adding another 9 tackles and a sack. The Pats defense even held Miami on a goal line stand in the 4th quarter. The Dolphins were trailing 31-17, and a touchdown would have put them in a one-score game, but an incomplete pass on 4th and one from the one-yard-line turned the ball over on downs. On the very next play, Brady linked up with Welker from one end zone to the other, 99 yards from scrimmage.

The Patriots held the Dolphins to only two 3rd down conversions of a possible 14, a big improvement in a soft spot from last year. The Pats’ offense was eight for 13, by contrast.

Miami committed eight penalties resulting in 60 yards, slightly more than New England’s seven for 50. Stephen Gostkowski looked shaky, missing wide, wide right on a 48-yard attempt in the second quarter. He made a 20-yard field goal in the 4th.

The Patriots will take on the 1-0 San Diego Chargers next Sunday back in Foxboro. The Dolphins will face the Texans at home on the same day.

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