FOXBOROUGH — After recording only 59 yards of total offense in the first half of Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots scored 24 unanswered points while amassing 193 yards (252 total) to take the game, 27-17.
It was, in essence, a tale of two halves.
For the Patriots, the resurgent play can be pinpointed to some key defensive stops and turnovers, helping the team’s timid offense get a short field on three occasions, which led to touchdowns.
With that in mind, here’s five takeaways from the Patriots’ win over the Dolphins:
1. Player of the day: Logan Ryan — Ryan didn’t play the first half, but he sure made his presence felt in the second. He recorded five total tackles, two sacks, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble. His strip sack of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was pivotal play in the third quarter. Only three plays later, Brandon Bolden punched in a 2-yard touchdown.
“Any time that you’re number is called or your name is called on a certain play, you want to make sure you make it because you don’t get it all the time,” Ryan said. “The more you make plays, the more opportunities you get.”
Of course, Ryan’s day doesn’t come without regrets. He almost had a pick-six on a Tannehill throw to the flat.
“That’s one I’m going to dream about,” he said. “And have nightmares about.”
As long as Ryan continues to contribute like he did Sunday, he’ll see his opportunities increase.
2. Filling the vacuum on defense — In one respect, the Patriots scored 24 points in the second half. In another, they shut out the Dolphins. The Patriots forced three turnovers and recorded six sacks in the third and fourth quarters, making up for a first half in which the defense gave up 175 yards of offense, including 103 on the ground.
“We knew that obviously we had to step up after that first half,” said linebacker Dane Fletcher. “And we did as a whole team. And that’s what we needed. Special teams, offense, defense, we really came together. Played well and played a good, solid half together and started enjoying it.”
Fletcher, who saw an increased role Sunday with the loss of Jerod Mayo still affecting the team, managed to get in on the action himself. He finished with two tackles and a sack. It was his first sack of the year after returning from an ACL injury that wiped out his 2012 season.
“You know it’s nice to have a role on defense again and just play and get comfortable out there,” Fletcher said. “I felt, at least by the fourth quarter, I was really comfortable with things again. After taking some time off and just the game experience starts to come back to you. I started to feel better and just having a little fun with it. And then that’s when you play the best.”
Along with Jamie Collins (2 tackles), Dont’a Hightower (10 tackles, 1 sack), and Brandon Spikes (9 tackles), the linebacker group has had its ups and downs in the past two games without Mayo present. But as Fletcher noted, they’re each getting more and more comfortable. In a twist, it helps that the team’s defensive backs, Ryan and Marquice Cole, were able to make some game-changing plays.
3. The offense moves with Ridley — Stevan Ridley didn’t get in the game until 9:55 left in the second quarter. The Patriots opted to start LeGarrette Blount (11 carries, 46 yards) again, who is likely seen by the Patriots as the best back for this team in its current state.
That’s pretty confusing.
Here’s what we know: When Ridley’s on the field, for one reason or another, the Patriots offense kicks into gear. He had 14 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown Sunday. On drives in which Ridley had carries, the Patriots scored five of six times, including all 27 of Sunday’s points. On the three drives in which Blount had carries, the Patriots scored once, and that was Ridley’s 3-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
“I just always say that when our coaches call our number, we have to go out there and be the solid group,” Ridley said. “This team is going through a lot of changes, a lot of guys in and out, but one thing that has been consistent is the running back group.
“We’ve been together since camp and we’ve had Shane [Vereen] that’s fallen out but we’ve had guys that have stepped up. And I think that’s the biggest thing for us is that we have to be a strong point for this team and when they call our number, we have to go out there and make solid plays.”
It would behoove us to remember that Ridley finished the 2012 season with 1,263 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. The fact that he doesn’t get a carry until the second quarter is quite baffling.
4. Tom Brady’s swollen, or not so swollen, hand — Brady says his hand is more than fine. It’s “perfect.” This is significant for a few reasons, but mainly because it means that any blame for his deteriorating accuracy (career low 55.7 completion percentage as a starter) should be shifted from the alleged injury and back squarely on him and his play and the team’s execution. That’s something he wants because excuses are not acceptable for him and members of this franchise.
But if he his hurt, even a little bit, he’s doing his fans and his team a disservice by not being open about it. The attention already paid to his hand has outweighed much of what the Patriots were able to accomplish on offense, particularly after such a porous first half. Brady finished 13 of 22 for 116 yards, going 7 of 14 in the second half for 91 yards and a touchdown. Those meager stats won’t ease questions about it, though, especially after a press conference in which he slyly kept his right paw out of sight, even while remarking upon it.
However, despite what outside observers may think (or write), his teammates will continue to support him. And if he’s hurt, maybe they’ll find their own sly ways to praise him.
After the game, wide receiver Danny Amendola said: “Without a doubt, one of the toughest football players to ever play the game is Tom Brady.”
I wonder why.
5. Best play(s) of the day — Marquice Cole’s fourth quarter interception was simply fantastic. With a little more than 13 minutes left in the game, Cole was covering Miami speedster Mike Wallace. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill must’ve thought he saw a mismatch, because he went to Wallace quickly, unaware that Devin McCourty was lurking in coverage. At its highest point, McCourty tipped the ball away from Wallace but toward the sideline, giving Cole just enough space to grab the errant pass before stepping out of bounds.
The interception was reviewed and upheld.
“There was still a lot of football left at that point, but it as a huge play, ” said Bill Belichick. “Devin went up and played the ball and Cole showed great presence on the sideline to get his feet in bounds, catch the ball, and then fall out after the catch. It was tremendous awareness on his part.
“You don’t really coach that, you don’t drill it; it’s just an instinctive and alert play by Cole that was as good an instinctive play as I think we’ve had around here in a long time.”
A close second? Chandler Jones’s blocked field goal. According to Belichick, he had blocked a few in practice and he had gotten close in games before.
“It’s every week, that’s one of the things, one of the areas that he’s worked hard on and it’s really great to see him make that play in that situation because he’s worked so hard on it and worked so hard on it and worked on it in practice.”