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Patriots 38, Dolphins 24: Post-game report

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  September 13, 2011 01:22 AM

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - The Patriots opened the 2011 season with an impressive 38-24 on the road and against a divisional opponent in the Miami Dolphins.

How did it happen? Let's take a quick look.

WHY DID THE PATRIOTS WIN?

Tom Brady threw for a career-high 517 yards, and four touchdowns. When he does that, it’s almost money in the bank. But other than that, the defense showed some improvement, especially in one big category: third downs. The Dolphins were 2-of-14 (14 percent). That’s a long ways from the league-worst 47 percent the Patriots gave up all of last season. The closest single game was 25 percent to the Jets in the blowout matchup. Amazing what happens when the defense gets off the field and gives Brady more touches.

INJURY REPORT

C Dan Koppen (ankle) appears to be out for the season, or at least a long while.

DE Mike Wright (unknown) did not return. Didn’t have his helmet, which isn’t a good sign.

THREE THINGS TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT

1. Tom Terrific: Guess it really hurt the Patriots that they only had three workouts during the lockout. Brady and company were right back at it in the first game. The tight ends were sensational, as were Deion Branch and Wes Welker. It’s like they just picked up where they let off last season.

2. Offensive line: The unit, despite starting newcomers at RT and RG, and dealing with the injury to Koppen, allowed just one sack and one quarterback hit (according to the official stats). We’ll need to take a closer look but more often than not Brady had all day to throw back there and rookie Nate Solder did a very good job against Dolphins OLB Cameron Wake. The Dolphins can get after the quarterback, and they have against Brady, but the line did a great job tonight.

3. Defense: Yeah, the Dolphins went right down the field on the opening drive and they had 488 total yards, but the Patriots’ defense showed some vast improvement in getting off the field (14 percent on third downs) – and the unit is still very much a work in progress. There were so many preseason injuries, the players still haven’t worked a lot together, and Belichick is still tinkering with who is going to do what. For starters, this wasn’t bad at all.

THREE THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT

Really having a hard time with this until we watch the film more closely but…

1. Scrambling quarterback: Chad Henne had 59 yards on seven runs, including a 9-yard touchdown on the opening series. That shouldn’t happen. Expect that to get tightened up after a film session. Dolphins also converted 4-of-5 on fourth downs, but they kind of had to.

2. Ochocinco: Chad Ochocinco was only targeted three times and had one catch for 14 yards. This was not unexpected. He’s not playing fast in the offense, but there’s plenty of time for him to get it. Ochocinco is here for the postseason, not Week 1. A work in progress.

3. Punting: Zoltan Mesko is one of the last things the team will be worrying about but his 30.3 net was not good.

THREE STARS

1. Tom Brady: Duh.

2. Gronk-andez: Brady’s tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, were targeted 17 times (35 percent) and combined for 13 catches, 189 yards and two touchdowns.

3. Myron Pryor: As part of a rotation, Pryor officially had three tackles, a half-sack and two additional quarterback hits. He also had a stuffed run and probably a few more pressures. I think when we get another look at this game, Pryor was pretty impressive in his opportunities.

UP NEXT

San Diego Charters (1-0), Sunday at 4:15 p.m., Gillette Stadium

Result: Beat Vikings 24-17.

What happened: The Chargers trailed 17-7 but rallied to get a must-win against one of the league’s weaker teams. QB Philip Rivers completed 33 of 48 passes for 335 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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