With 5:57 left in the game, the New England Patriots led the Miami Dolphins, 31-17. Quarterback Tom Brady was already having a tremendous game, having thrown for over 400 yards. But now he found himself standing in the middle of his own endzone, barking out orders to his receivers from the shotgun formation. Center Dan Connelly, filling in for an injured Dan Koppen, prepared to snap the ball back to Brady. The ball rested just a few blades of grass away from the goal line.
It’s a situation where many teams would ordinarily run the ball, maybe even quarterback sneak, in order to garner a little bit of breathing room- give the punter some room to get off a kick. But that’s not the way the Patriots operate. Within the blink of an eye, Wes Welker hauled in a perfect strike and dashed down the sideline, stiff arming defensive back Benny Sapp to the ground, and racing 99 yards for a touchdown.
It was the frosting on the cake for what was an impeccable performance by Brady and the offense. Brady threw for a franchise record 517 yards, easily eclipsing the previous mark of 426 set by Drew Bledsoe in 1994. Only four other quarterbacks all-time have thrown for more yards in a game. The offense, as a whole, tallied 622 yards. Four Patriots receivers had at least 6 receptions and 86 yards receiving, led by Welker’s 8 catches for 160 yards.
These kind of statistics happen in video games. They’re not suppose to happen in reality.
Lost in the box score is a single stat line under “receiving.” Chad Ochocinco, the Patriots’ biggest acquisition to the offense, had only one reception for 14 yards. It represented only a small sliver of the pie that Brady was serving. Ochocinco also made a rookie mistake when he drew an illegal formation penalty, negating a 40-yard reception to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Ocho-out-of-sync-o’s continued struggles was one of only a handful of negatives to be taken from the game. One of the first things I noticed, seeing as how Miami scored on the very first drive, was how poor starting outside linebacker Gary Guyton looked. Guyton alternated between either being overmatched or out of position. He was vastly outplayed by his replacement, Dane Fletcher.
The worst news to come out of the game for the Patriots concerned center Dan Koppen. Koppen has been a rock on the offensive line for New England, not having missed a game in the last three years. Now the Patriots will have to prepare to go forward without Koppen anchoring the line for, perhaps, the remainder of the season. Koppen broke his left ankle in the second quarter. Ian Rapoport reports in the Boston Herald that “there is no timetable for his recovery, but the possibility exists Koppen could return this season.”
The other negative to be pointed out is that kicker Stephen Gostkowski badly missed a 48-yard field goal. Gostkowski missed virtually the entire season last year due to a torn quad muscle.
With the exception of the Koppen injury, the good far outweighed the bad Monday night. Two performances to be very excited about were those of rookie offensive lineman Nate Solder and safety Patrick Chung.
Solder did a tremendous job, especially in the first half, of enveloping Dolphins’ pass rush specialist Cameron Wake (14 sacks last year). On at least a couple of occasions, the Pats’ first-round pick pancaked Wake, pinning him to the ground. It was a virtuoso performance for an offensive lineman playing his first game in the NFL.
Patrick Chung has the spotlight focused on him with the departures of last season starting safeties James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather. Chung was everywhere on the field, seemingly involved in every play. He finished with nine solo tackles, including one sack and one huge (legal) hit on Miami’s tight end Anthony Fasano which left the 255-pounder woozy.
The defense as a whole gave up 488 yards. But, most promising, Miami was only 2-for-14 (14.3%) on third down conversions. The Patriots were the worst team in the NFL last year allowing the opposition to convert on 47% of third down conversions.
Monday night’s game was a very good start. It’s always good to win, even better when you show you can win on the road. The Patriots showed they were in better physical condition than the Dolphins. The Dolphins were the ones who were winded playing in their hot, humid weather. The Patriots also showed they were better prepared. They seemed to catch Miami off-guard with their extensive use of the no-huddle offense, exploiting Miami’s lack of conditioning.
Aaron Hernandez (7 catches, 103 yards, 1 TD) and Rob Gronkowski (6 catches, 86 yards, 1 TD) proved they are going to cause matchup nightmares for a lot of teams. Danny Woodhead (14 carries, 69 yards) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (7 carries, 34 yards, 1 TD) ran hard, especially on Green-Ellis’ first quarter 4-yard touchdown when he single handedly juked and ran through three defenders.
It’s an encouraging start, but as Belichick will surely say, there is a lot of work to be done. The New England Patriots next play Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers (1-0) on Sunday at 4:15 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.