Every year under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have played their best football at the end of the season. That is, until now. New England was fortunate to squeak by the Bears and Lions at home in Weeks 12 and 13 despite turning the football over four times in each game. The Patriots' luck finally ran out on Sunday, as the Dolphins whacked them 21-0.
Tom Brady and the offense had a miserable performance. Since becoming a starting quarterback in 2001, Brady has passed for fewer than 100 yards four times. All four of his poor outings have come at the hands of Miami, including Sunday's 78-yard effort. Overall, the Patriots finished the day with just 189 yards of total offense, gave up five sacks and turned the ball over three times.
"I don't think it was anything he did," Dolphins coach Nick Saban said referring to Brady's tough afternoon. "I think you have to give our players a lot of credit for the way they played. They stepped up and met the challenge."
The story of the game was the Miami defense. They were in Brady's face all afternoon and wouldn't allow the Patriots receivers to get off the line of scrimmage. The Dolphins' physical, aggressive defense gave New England trouble in the teams' first meeting of the year when they only allowed 213 yards. However, Miami was more dominant this time around. The Patriots' deepest penetration was the Miami 38-yard line.
One of the big reasons Miami was able to put so much heat on Brady was the play of Jason Taylor. Known as a Patriots killer, Taylor did nothing to hurt that reputation Sunday. The defensive end finished with six tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. Those statistics don't begin to tell the whole story because Taylor was in the quarterback's face virtually every time Brady dropped back to pass.
"Like we said earlier in the week, he's one of the best players in the league," Brady said. "He's relentless out there. He's a relentless pass rusher. He has a great knack for the ball."
Yeremiah Bell had a big strip-sack on Brady in the fourth quarter when he hit the quarterback's arm just as he was about to throw the football, causing him to fumble. It was just one of many times Brady was knocked around. In the Dolphins locker room after the game, all the talk was about how the Miami defense frustrated Brady to the point where he let that frustration show.
"He was frustrated out there for sure," Bell said. "There was no doubt about it. We kept showing him different looks, and at times he started yelling at his offensive linemen. That was it. We knew we had him shaken once he started to get on those guys."
Linebacker Channing Crowder agreed with his teammate and said the best way to beat the Patriots is to put pressure on Brady. Now that Miami has uncovered the blueprint, it will be interesting to see if other teams around the league follow its lead and try to play the Patriots the same way on defense.
"If you rattle Brady, that's pretty much it," Crowder said. "Put heat on Brady and be aggressive with their receivers. That's the way to beat the New England Patriots."
The Patriots will try and rebound from one of their worst losses in years when they host the Texans this week. They still have a strong hold on the AFC East. The Jets blew an opportunity to close the gap by losing to the Bills at home on Sunday. Still, if the Patriots don't fix what's wrong soon, they won't last long in the postseason even if they do win their division.