Patriots

Unconventional Preview: Dolphins Will Be Dealing With a Different Gronk Than They Saw in Week 1

Welcome to Season 3, Episode 14 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday afternoon. The 10-3 Patriots are coming off an emboldening 23-14 victory at San Diego Sunday night. Now a warm-weather team gets to visit New England as the Miami Dolphins, who beat the Patriots 33-20 in the season opener at Joe Robbie Stadium Pro Player Park Pro Player Stadium Dolphins Stadium Dolphin Stadium Land Shark Stadium.Pitbull’s Stupid Mustache Stadium visit Foxborough. With a victory, the Patriots will clinch their sixth consecutive division title and 11th in 12 years. Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let’s get this thing started already ..

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THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY I’LL BE WATCHING
1. LeGarrette Blount: Since coming back to the Patriots after his abrupt departure (first from the sideline and then the organization), he’s basically been the exact same back he was a year ago. Last year, he averaged 5 yards per pop, rushing for 772 yards on 153 carries. In three games with New England this year, he’s averaging 4.8 per carry, having gained 202 yards on 42 attempts. The Dolphins allow 123.5 yards per game on the ground, 22d in the NFL. Josh McDaniels sometimes vexes us by running the ball sporadically against defenses that seem ripe to be exploited by the Patriots’ fairly versatile running game — the loss to the Packers was the most recent example. Blount — and Shane Vereen too — should be a big part of the game plan Sunday. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they will be.

Nate Solder: It’s not a good sign when your recollection of the left tackle’s performance in the previous week includes more mental images of him turned 180 degrees as his man bears down on Tom Brady than it does of him actually making a block. As kind as it was of him to make Dwight Freeney believe it’s 2005 again, Solder needs to be much better than he has been.

Gronk: To reiterate what I said last week, and probably the week before: He owns this spot until further notice. There are a few differences in the Patriots’ and Dolphins’ rosters from the Week 1 debacle — Miami has lost so many linebackers that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Eric Kumerow starting Sunday. But chief on that list is the Status of Gronk. He looked rusty, slow and unsure in the season-opener and played just 39 snaps, less than half of the Patriots’ offensive plays. Now? He’s back to leaving linebackers in the dust and turning defensive backs into dust. It’s such a blast to be able to watch this guy play every week.

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REGARDING GRONK, FRIEND OF CATS AND ADMITTED SNUGGLER …

… did anyone else watch his ESPN interview and his photo shoot with the pick of the litter and think of this?

‘I will call him George and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him …”

GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK
This week’s grievance of the week is an obvious choice: The Patriots’ decision to give versatile, adequate offensive lineman Marcus Cannon a two-year, $3.2 million deal.

I’m mean, are you kidding me? Everyone on hold to talk to your favorite sports radio show, say it in unison:

“THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN LOGAN MANKINS’S MONEY!!!”

(Wait, what’s that you say, reasonable reader? Mankins has been mediocre and way overpaid in Tampa Bay? And Bryan Stork has stabilized the line? And the trade has actually worked out very well for the Patriots?

Fine, I’ll revise this contrived opinion on the fly like I’ve gotta keep the phones ringing from 2-6 p.m. five days per week:

“THAT’S TIM WRIGHT’S MONEY, CALLER!!!”

That’s how you do it, right?

MARV COOK, DEEP THREAT

Fun little random time capsule here of a 1990 Patriots-Dolphins game shot from the sideline. Gotta love Steve Grogan’s neck roll — oh, and the beautiful throw to Cook, a tight end who never averaged over 9.9 yards per catch in four decent years in New England, for the TD.

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COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD

The 1989 NFL Draft is celebrated because of the four legends (Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, Derrick Thomas) and one bloated bust (Tony Mandarich) who went in the first five picks.

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The Dolphins had the ninth pick that year, but they didn’t quite hit the jackpot like the teams at the top of the draft. In Don Shula’s eternal quest to find a running back whom Dan Marino would willingly hand the football, he used the selection on Florida State’s Sammie Smith.

Now, Patriots fans probably shouldn’t mock the Dolphins for too long about the Smith pick. Four selections later, they selected a flop of their own in brittle Texas receiver Hart Lee Dykes. But Smith wasn’t just a flop; he was a flop (3.5 yards per carry in two-plus seasons with Miami) who could not hold on to the football if it were superglued to his Isotoner gloves. He fumbled 14 times in his first two seasons with the Dolphins — including fumbles in successive weeks in 1991 that resulted in him requiring a police escort from the Whatever-The-Hell-It-Was-Called-Then Stadium:

From the excellently titled (if barely maintained) website The Dolphins Make Me Cry:

In a game against the Houston Oilers in 1991, the Dolphins were trailing late in the 4th quarter. Marino drove the team to the goal line. With time running out, Smith took the hand-off, went over the top and fumbled the ball away. Houston recovered and held on to win 17 – 13. It was a carbon copy of a play from the previous week, where Smith fumbled into the end zone against the Chiefs. That one was run back for a touchdown. The back to back fumbles were labeled the “Double Whammy on Sammie”. Fans had seen enough of Sammie Smith and what followed was one of the ugliest scenes in professional sports. The entire stadium erupted in chants of “Sammie Sucks”. Smith needed a police escort from the stadium. …his own stadium. He said after the game that he doubted he could play for the Dolphins anymore. He was right.”

Geez, and you guys thought Stevan Ridley had a fumbling problem.

PREDICTION, OR GET THE HATS AND T-SHIRTS READY
I suppose the argument could be made that the gauntlet — the just-concluded stretch of six games of presumed difficulty in which the Patriots went 5-1 — isn’t quite over yet. The Dolphins did beat the Patriots in the season-opener at their place, and actually own a two-game winning streak in the series. Now let me counter that suggestion with this: the gauntlet is over. The Patriots are much better than they were in Week 1. The Dolphins are not. Miami has something to play for — it’s playoff hopes. But the Patriots have something to play for too: they want their 11th AFC Championship hat-and-t-shirt set of the Brady/Belichick era, and they want it today. Patriots, 33-20

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