Chung and Tate Lead Way as Special Teams Dominate Dolphins

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall bailed out on his rout, but quarterback Chad Henne still threw it to where he thought Marshall would be. Instead, Patrick Chung was there, and he ran the ball back 51 yards for the touchdown. The interception capped off a brilliant night from Chung, who blocked both a punt and a field goal attempt in Monday night’s 41-14 New England Patriots victory over the Miami Dolphins in Miami. Both of Chung’s blocks led to touchdowns, as BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for a 13-yard score after the blocked punt, and Kyle Arrington returned the blocked field goal 35 yards for the touchdown.

On both blocks, Chung easily broke through the Miami blockers and got to the ball. He was quick to credit preparation as the primary reason for the dominating victory, pointing out that every play they had run so successfully had been diagrammed and practiced repeatedly in the week leading up to Monday night’s game. “When the opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare,” Chung said.

Miami’s defense, in particular linebacker Cameron Wake, dominated the Patriots early on, keeping New England off the scoreboard until midway through the second quarter. However, with 2:47 left in the half Tom Brady orchestrated a drive that led to a 30-yard field goal, cutting the score to 7-6 going into halftime, with the Patriots receiving the second-half kickoff. On that drive, Wes Welker caught four passes for 27 yards and Brandon Tate caught two for 22 yards. However, Tate was told the Patriots would need a bigger contribution, and he simply replied, “I got you.”

Tate received the second-half kickoff in the end zone, then sprinted towards the right side. Sammy Morris leveled an oncoming Dolphin, leaving Tate more than enough room to outrun the remaining tacklers. He returned the kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown, his second in four games, giving the Patriots a 13-7 lead which they never relinquished.

So dominating was the Patriots special teams Monday that it had Bill Belichick joking. “Ah, they were all right,” the coach said with a smile.

Boosted by Tate’s momentum-swinging touchdown, the second-half Patriots defense finally stepped up. They allowed the Dolphins just one touchdown after halftime, intercepted Henne and replacement quarterback Tyler Thigpen, and stopped the Dolphins on a fourth-and-2 pass play from the Miami 45-yard line early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots defense also held the Dolphins running backs to just 83 combined rushing yards through the game.

While Chung was the star of the second half, the first half belonged to former Miami practice-squad member Rob Ninkovich. Intercepting two Henne passes in the first half, the latter on a dive, Ninkovich kept the score low enough to allow the special teams to work their second-half magic. Ninkovich also sacked Henne in the fourth quarter, pushing Miami’s field goal attempt to a more difficult 53 yards and making it easier for Chung to penetrate the line and block the attempt.

The defense did suffer at cornerback once again, allowing Dolphins receivers to rack up 317 yards via the pass. However, as the game wore on the defensive more and more backs kept pace with their assignments. Though the Miami wide receivers and tight ends still caught passes, there were far fewer missed tackles or yards-after-catch than there had been in previous games. This did not prevent the Dolphins from converting 10 third downs, but the bend-but-don’t break defensive strategy held the Dolphins to just 14 points, the lowest any team has scored against New England this year. And once they had built up a 27-14 lead in the third quarter, the New England defensive strategy shifted to trade short-yardage gains for clock time. The Dolphins held the ball for 13 of the final 19 minutes of the game, but they came away with no points and had just four players for greater than 10 yards.

For the second straight week, the Patriots rushed for over 100 yards. Green-Ellis was once again the featured back, gaining 76 yards on 16 carries. Newcomer Danny Woodhead also chipped in with 36 rushing yards to compliment his 11-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.

As the game drew to a close, Belichick appeared visibly pleased by his team’s performance. He almost skipped along the defensive bench, giving high-fives to every player he could find. It was a rare show of emotion by the head coach, brought on by an excellent all-around performance by his team. “They were the better team tonight, and they deserved to win.” Belichick said.

Brady, meanwhile, looked fired up about the win, despite only throwing for 153 yards and a touchdown. His team had been frequently maligned for their second-half issues and their inability to win big games on the road. However, Monday night his team did both of those things, becoming the first team in NFL history to pass, rush, return a kickoff, block a field goal, and return an interception all for touchdowns in the same game. Brady agreed that being repeatedly criticized for their defensive and road struggles added more intensity to this game. Referring to their taking offense at such neigh-saying, Brady said, “It’s gonna be there for awhile. We got a lot of chips.”

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