Before we break down the Patriots' performance, let's give take a moment to congratulate Joey Porter on his incredibly insignificant performance. Nothing like running your mouth non-stop leading up to a game and then posting a row of zeros in the stat column.
|Joey Porter 2009 Game Log|
In order to not be a complete hater, I will give credit to the Dolphins' play callers for keeping the Patriots on their toes. I honestly thought there would be no way that Miami could unleash the wildcat successfully with Bill Belichick coming off a bye week. Early on, it seemed that New England would steam roll the Dolphins. However, the Fins got incredibly creative with their formations to the point where I was sweating a bit in the fourth quarter. There's certainly something to be said for keeping a defense guessing. It lead to some big plays for Miami today. In a must-win game against a superior opponent, it kept the Dolphins alive to the end.
Game Ball: Today's game ball clearly belongs to Randy Moss. His one-handed grab to set up the Pat's first touchdown as well as his stiff-arm TD play were the two highlights of the game. We all know Randy Moss is lightning fast and great at elevating above the defenders to bring down balls, but those two plays today are what makes him special. Sometimes you need to have more than strength and speed. Sometimes you simply need to be a playmaker. When the momentum was shifting towards Miami mid-way through the third quarter, Randy Moss made a play and the Patriots never looked back. I personally can't wait to see what he comes up with agains the Colts' banged up secondary next week.
Time Crisis: At the very end of the first half, deep in Miami's territory, with no timeouts and the clock running down, the Patriots were able to run a quick passing play with five seconds remaining. I was screaming for a spike and field goal as I never thought they'd be able to run the play in time. However, Brady took his shot quickly, and the ball hit the turf with one second left on the clock. Sparano started going nuts, figuring, like myself, that there would simply be no time for a second play. I could already see the headlines in tomorrow's newspaper about how Tom Brady's mind-control powers over the referees had now been extended to involve the clock operators. However, the bottom line is that the clock had continue to run for the last three plays. It wasn't as if the clock operator could have started it late to help out the Pats. The clock had been continuously running, and the ball was clearly on the ground with one second remaining. It will certainly be interesting to see if anything is made of this in tomorrow's post-game quotes.
Also of Note: Each of the Patriots' Super Bowl seasons, they've had a go-to running back. Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon were notorious for being able to chew up yards and help the Patriots keep pace while they were ahead. For the fourth season now, the Patriots are waiting for Laurence Maroney to become that go-to back. At the start of the season, Maroney looked, perhaps, worse than ever. He was good for one or two nice runs to start the game and would then completely disappear. It had gotten to the point where I had completely written off the idea of him being a real contributor to the team. However, with the injuries to Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris, Maroney has been seeing more touches, and he's been using them to the Patriots advantage. Today, Maroney started strong and the Patriots looked like they'd cruise to an easy victory. Towards the middle of the game, he did his usual disappearing act and the Dolphins crept back into it. However, towards the end, Maroney re-emerged and managed to pick up a few first downs to kill the clock. While his performance today wasn't overly extraordinary, he clearly showed his effect on the Patriots' ability to dominate. If Maroney can summon any sort of consistency, New England's Super Bowl chances are that much better.
A Huge Win: Last year's wildcat embarrassment may have actually been a blessing this seson. With last year's debacle fresh in mind, the Patriots avoided the trap of sleeping on the Dolphins and were prepared for Miami's hijinks. If the Fins had somehow been able to achieve victory today, the AFC East playoff race looks entirely different than it does now. The Dolphins would be 4-4, with a 4-1 record in the division. The Patriots would only be a game up at 5-3, would be down a game in the head-to-head tiebreaker, and would hold a 1-2 record in the AFC East. Just like last season, Miami would have all the tie-breakers. With the undefeated Colts and Saints still on the schedule this year, and the Dolphins having a fairly easy road the reast of the way, the playoffs would no longer be a lock. In all liklihood, neither of the Wild Card spots are going to the AFC East.
Thankfully, the Pats prevailed and now hold a commanding two game lead over both the Dolphins and the Jets. I have a hard time seeing the Patriots go worse than 12-4 on the year, and and even harder time seeing Miami or New York win out. With their victory today, the AFC East crown has become less of a worry for New England and getting one of those two first-round byes becomes a priority. The Patriots get their first shot at making their case for a divisional round home game when the roll into Indianapolis next week.