REPORT CARD VS. DOLPHINS
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Tom Brady threw four interceptions, the third of which helped lose the game. On third-and-nine from the Patriots 21 with under two minutes remaining, Brady floated a terrible pass while being ripped down by Jason Taylor. Instead of taking the sack, he tried to dump the ball off to Daniel Graham, but instead had the pass intercepted. Four plays later, the Patriots found themselves trailing by a point with 1:23 to go. Brady then sealed New England's fate with his fourth interception on his next pass, ending the game. On the day, he finished 18-for-29 for 171 yards with three touchdowns while being sacked twice. Until the final two possessions, Brady was 10-for-12 for 89 yards in the second half, but two of his final three passes were intercepted while the other was deflected at the line and nearly picked off. It was as ugly a finish to a game as Brady has seen in his career. Miami's rush gave Brady problems as did the tight coverage, which kept the clamps on the New England receivers, who averaged just 9.5 yards per catch.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- The Patriots were strong on the ground once again, rushing for 166 yards on 38 attempts led by Corey Dillon's 26 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown. Kevin Faulk added six carries for 39 yards. They converted three third-and-one situations on the ground with their jumbo package in the game before being stopped on a late-game attempt. Dillon had runs of 18 and 20 yards in the game while Faulk had a 16-yarder.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- Miami used a short, patient passing attack to frustrate a Patriot defense that could not stop A.J. Feeley or make the big game-changing play to disrupt his rhythm and confidence. Feeley completed 22-of-35 passes for 198 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions while being sacked four times. His leading receiver was running back Sammy Morris, a sign that Feeley simply took what the big-play conscious Patriots gave him. But late in the game when he needed to rally his team, Feeley shined before eventually connecting on a 21-yard touchdown throw on fourth-and-10 with the game on the line. The Patriots secondary played soft and when the pass rush was held at bay, New England had no chance to stop Miami's inconsistent offense that looked like a world-beating unit Monday night. Ty Law better make a huge difference when he returns or New England could be in trouble.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Miami gained only 52 yards on 20 carries, but did put some solid runs together late in the game while also having its way at the goal line. The Dolphins had 7 carries for 12 yards at halftime and ram 11 times for 52 yards in the second half not counting two quarterback kneels. The Patriots defense presented no fight at the goal line, with Miami rushing three times for three touchdowns in close. It was decent overall, but the final numbers don't paint an entirely accurate picture.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- New England coverage units hurt the team all night. Only a miraculous play by Je'Rod Cherry prevented Wes Welker from returning a punt 73 yards for a touchdown. But all the play did was delay the inevitable. Walker's return in the first quarter set Sammy Morris up for a two-yard touchdown run. New England's kickoff coverage looked slow and old. Welker returned five kickoffs and average of 27.8 yards per return and was never stopped shy of the 30-yard line, which is the line by which coverage teams are measured. Punter Josh Miller was banged up on Welker's long return but remained in the game. With a chance to pin Miami deep in its own end, Miller hit a 35-yard punt that was fair caught at the 19. That's simply not good enough. New England's return game was running in the mud as well with Kevin Faulk and Patrick Pass lacking the explosion to threaten with big-play capabilities.
COACHING: B-minus -- There were no coaching blunders in this one. The defensive players that have found a way to get it done over the past several weeks simply didn't get it done Monday night with the game on the line. The Patriots were prepared and came out with the needed intensity, but didn't execute down the stretch and that cost them a game. There were no head-scratching play calls, but rather a couple head-scratching throws. There were two relative minor, nitpick-type things that could be questioned. With New England set to receive a kickoff with 2:07 to go and leading by five, the coaches should have instructed returner David Patten to try to keep the play alive long enough to take the clock to the 2:00 warning. Instead, he ran straight out of bounds with 2:03 left, which essentially gave Miami an extra timeout. New England then threw on first down and took the clock to the 2:00 warning. Had Patten kept the kickoff return alive for another three seconds, New England could have run the ball on first down and made Miami burn a timeout after each of the first two plays. Secondly, it seemed like the Patriots were a little impatient on their last possession. Down by one with 1:17 to go, Brady held the ball looking downfield too long on first down before being sacked with only one outlet receiver running a short route (he was well covered). On second down, it was the same and Brady lofted a poor pass downfield into double coverage that was intercepted to end the game. New England had time and two timeouts needing just a field goal to win. It's rare to see Brady and the offense fail in that situation.
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