Forty-three thoughts on the Patriots’ 43-0 win over the Dolphins . . .
1. It probably wouldn’t be accurate to refer to what the Patriots’ defense did to the Dolphins on Sunday as a destruction, if for this reason: The Dolphins, who lost to the Ravens by 49 points last week, clearly arrived at the stadium already destroyed. They have been outscored, 102-10, this season, and after this, I wonder how they got the 10. It’s not going to get better this season. They should be relegated to the XFL, or perhaps the Southeastern Conference if they think they’re ready to face ’Bama.
2. They are not ready for the AFC East, and every lateral and weird play in the world — the kind of goofy thing that has occasionally saved them against the Patriots in the past — can’t help Brian Flores’s hapless team now. Reassemble the 0-16 Detroit Lions right now, and they might just give the Dolphins a game.
3. They had no hope — and no hope of even having any hope — against a Patriots defense that is pretty close to extraordinary, and has a case that it is already there. The Patriots have not allowed a touchdown since the Chiefs’ Damien Williams scored on a 2-yard run with 2 minutes and 3 seconds remaining in regulation in the AFC Championship came.
4. They held the Rams — supposedly a greater show than the Greatest Show on Turf Rams at the start of the century — to 3 points in the Super Bowl. They held what is predicted to be a good Steelers team to 3 points last Sunday night. And they dominated the Dolphins like they were offended they even dared to take the same field with them.
5. The lopsided final stats told part of the story. Among them: the Patriots held the Dolphins to 3 yards per play, 11 first downs, and just 2 of 15 on third down. There were so many moments where the Patriots’ defensive dominance and the Dolphins’ offensive ineptitude intersected.
6. Here’s one: When the third quarter ended, the Dolphins were outgaining Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse, 38-33.
7. Here’s a second: Stephon Gilmore intercepted a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass and took it 54 yards for a touchdown at 10:45 of the fourth quarter. The Dolphins had 59 yards of offense at that point.
8. Here’s a third: When Jamie Collins picked off a pass that ricocheted off inept Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage hands and took it 69 yards for a touchdown and a 37-0 lead at 8:57 of the fourth, the Dolphins had 85 total yards at that point.
9. Even their desperation for some sort of moral victory, to avoid the shutout, the Dolphins ended up humiliated. The game ended with Collins picking off a deflected Josh Rosen pass on a sad gasp by the Dolphins to score a touchdown in the final seconds.
10. Overall, the Dolphins gained 184 yards of offense, and the Patriots had 128 yards on interception returns.
11. Another (and even worse) way of looking at it: Ryan Fitzpatrick and Rosen, the Dolphins quarterbacks, combined to throw for 186 yards. The Patriots had those 128 yards on INT returns, and docked the Dolphins another 44 on sacks.
12. Conclusion: The Dolphins would have been better off pulling Dan Marino out of the owners’ booth to take a few shots downfield. Heck, they might have been better off pulling Stephen Ross out of the owners booth to take a few snaps.
13. The Patriots ended up with seven sacks. Adam Butler, who along with Danny Shelton was a wall all day along the defensive line, had two. Impressive rookie Chase Winovich contributed 1.5, the first of his career and far from his last.
14. We all know the Patriots have traditionally struggled in Miami. They’re now 9-10 there since 2001. But we can put that narrative aside for the foreseeable future. The Patriots are as stacked as they have ever been, and the Dolphins are going to be hopeless for a while. Turns out the bizarre double-lateral loss there last year might have been the last time the Patriots will be frustrated in Miami for a long time.
15. Seemed to be some gamesmanship going on, and perhaps even a message or two being delivered, even as the game was out of reach. The Patriots kept Brady in and went shotgun on their final possession, leading, 37-0, a possession that culminated with an easy James White touchdown.
16. Then, in the final seconds and the Dolphins trying to get that zero off their side of the ledger, the Patriots called a timeout with 10 seconds left. The Dolphins countered by taking one with 4 seconds left. Then the Patriots sent a blitz on the final play, with Rosen’s pass getting deflected into Collins’s arms.
17. Belichick was adamant afterward that there were no messages being delivered. But it was easy to wonder whether it was some sort of message to Flores for . . . well, something. Flores was a terrific coach here, but he did raid the Patriots coaching staff and join an AFC East opponent. That doesn’t make him Eric Mangini, but the Patriots did seem to enjoy scorching that Miami earth.
18. As far as the offense goes, it almost looked like a joint practice, where the Patriots were working on certain things and it was a controlled environment — the controlled part being that Miami’s D had no real chance to disrupt the Patriots once they buckled down.
19. Pregame reports that the Patriots would target newcomer Antonio Brown early proved accurate. He was the only receiver targeted on the crisp first drive, catching all three targets for 36 yards. He also drew a holding penalty in the end zone, setting up Sony Michel’s 1-yard touchdown run.
20. I was uneasy with the Patriots signing Brown in the first place, and I half-expected them to cut him after he was accused of rape and sexual assault in a civil suit. I will wonder as long as he’s here when the next self-inflicted problem will arise.
21. But Patriots fans’ turnabout on Brown is amusing and predictable, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a sports hypocrite, as as I see it. Liking a great player on your team that you loathed on a rival is part of being a fan. Though I would have drawn the line at rooting for Derek Jeter as a Red Sox, if that terrible day had ever come.
22. And it was impossible not to enjoy watching him play, to realize he was as in synch with Brady as any receiver in his first week here ever could be. It was fun watching the obviousness (getting open almost at will) and subtleties (the little push of the defender right before his touchdown catch) of his talent.
23. And his teammates seemed pretty giddy to have him around — he had more individual handshakes with fellow receivers than James Posey did with the ’08 Celtics.
24. I don’t especially like him. I don’t especially trust him. But it sure is a blast watching him. Sports hypocrisy at its finest? It is, and it’s how it goes.
25. As the Patriots charged into the red zone on their first possession, analyst Dan Fouts said, “The flexibility of this offense has to be the envy of the entire league.’’ That’s one way to put it. Another way Fouts could have put it: “This offense has enough weapons to make my Air Coryell Chargers look like the ’76 Bucs by comparison. My beard quivers with envy.’’
26. Great line from Fouts when asked by play-by-play voice Ian Eagle how Brown was adjusting to the Patriots’ offense: “Well, I think he’s over the frostbite.’’
27. In the first half, it was not the newcomer Brown, but Josh Gordon, that looked like he was still trying to get acclimated in the offense. Brady’s first incompletion went in Gordon’s direction after hitting eight straight throws to start the game.
28. Gordon’s first catch came on the first possession of the third quarter, and it was good for 14 yards on third and 12. Brady went back to him on the next play, too. He finished with 19 yards on two catches.
29. Stephen Gostkowski went wide right on a 48-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter that would have put the Patriots up, 10-0. After sneaking a 28-yarder through later in the game, he’s now 18 of 27 (67 percent) in his career on field goals at Miami. That is not quite hitting the Scott “Missin’’’ Sisson depths of kicking inaccuracy, but certainly surprising for a kicker who has hit 87.5 percent of his field goal attempts in his career.
30. Gostkowski also missed an extra point after Brown’s TD put the Patriots up, 13-0, late in the first half, and other after White scored the last touchdown. His only extra-point miss in 50 regular-season attempts last year came in Miami.
31. Is this an issue? I doubt it, though we tend to magnify his misses. Gostkowski is 737 of 750 in extra points in his career, for those of you who think he misses them fairly regularly.
32. Devin McCourty collected his second interception of the season early in the third quarter. That puts him on 16-pick pace that, if he keeps it up, would break the single-season record of 14 set by Dick “Night Train’’ Lane for the 1952 Lions.
33. Little-known fact: Lane also picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick that season. If I remember correctly, he was in his third season with the Dallas Texans in ’52.
34. OK, McCourty probably isn’t getting 16 picks. And he got a nice assist on this one from Gilmore, who contorted himself like he’d entered the Matrix to poke a pass away from Devante Parker and into McCourty’s waiting arms.
35. If there’s a better cornerback in the NFL than Gilmore . . . actually, forget that. There isn’t a better cornerback in the NFL than Gilmore.
36. Gilmore got one of his own in the fourth quarter, catching a Fitzpatrick heave into his midsection and taking it back 54 yards for a score.
37. You’d think Fouts would have had that fresh in his memory — or everything else Gilmore has done the last year-plus — when he suggested the Patriots don’t have any superstars on defense.
38. If Phillip Dorsett, who caught all of his targets (3 catches for 39 yards) once again, isn’t becoming one of your favorite Patriots, well, we’ve still got room on the bandwagon over here for you.
39. I’m going to keep saying it until you agree with me: He’s a lot like David Patten, an unheralded stalwart of the early age of the dynasty who gained the ultimate trust of his quarterback. That Jacoby Brissett-Dorsett deal with the Colts in Sept. 2017 is looking like a win-win, isn’t it?
40. Sony Michel finished with 21 carries for 85 yards and the game’s first touchdown, a major improvement over his 15-carry, 14-yard performance against the Steelers, not that anyone should have been concerned about that. He did have a fumble late. He’ll hear about it.
41. Attrition could be a real concern with the line. Ted Karras has done a capable job — save for the occasional eephus shotgun snap — filling in at center for anchor David Andrews. But the Patriots came into the game thin at tackle with Marcus Cannon out on the right side.
42. Marshall Newhouse filled in, but he had to shift to left tackle when Isaiah Wynn went out on the second possession, with Korey Cunningham coming in at right tackle. It’s not a good sign when the bookends of the Patriots line weren’t even Patriots a few weeks ago.
43. Up next: The Jets. Their quarterback has mono, their star running back has an injured shoulder, and it’s at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots aren’t giving up a touchdown next week, either, are they?