Time and time again, Bill Belichick has shown that he possesses one of the greatest minds in NFL history. But in Sunday’s 38-7 New England Patriots win over the Miami Dolphins in Foxborough, he proved he has a great heart as well. Facing fourth-and-16 from the Miami 19-yard line and already up 38-0 at the start of the fourth quarter, Bill Belichick opted to run the ball instead of kick an easy field goal. His reason: BenJarvus Green-Ellis needed just 2 yards to become the first Patriot to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season since 2004 (the last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl, by the way). Knowing the Dolphins would play their linebackers deeper to prevent the first down, Belichick opted to give up the ball in favor of getting his running back that achievement. Green-Ellis did not let his coach down, rushing for 10 yards on the play, then sitting down for the final quarter. His final numbers: 80 yards and a touchdown for the game, 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns for the season. It was the first 1,000-yard rushing season of his career, and he tied Corey Dillon for third-most rushing touchdowns in a Patriots season (Curtis Martin rushed for 14 in 1995 and 1996).
Brady Unstoppable… as Usual
Tom Brady exited the game with 11:30 left in the third quarter, but by that point he’d done more than enough damage to the hapless Dolphins defense. In one half plus one drive, Brady completed 62.5 percent of his throws for 199 yards and two touchdowns. His first came on the Patriots first drive of the game, which started at the Miami 47 after Devin McCourty’s seventh interception of the season. On third-and-2 from the Miami 13, Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on a fade route to the back-left corner of the end zone for the 13-yard touchdown pass. Gronkowski’s 10th touchdown set a new record for touchdown receptions by a Patriots rookie and put the Patriots up 7-0 early in the first quarter. The touchdown pass also gave Brady the honor of being only the sixth player (seventh occurrence) to throw a touchdown reception in all 16 games of the regular season.
Brady finished his first drive against the Dolphins with a touchdown, and he finished his last with the same style. He began by taking his team from their 22 to midfield in four plays, including a 26-yard pass to Gronkwoski on second-and-15 from the New England 17. Then, Brady found Brandon Tate for a 40-yard completion in which Tate dodged three Dolphins trying to tackle him at the same time. Brady capped the drive by hitting Alge Crumpler on a delayed route on second-and-goal from the 10. Crumpler caught the ball and beat his man to the right pylon for his second score in two games, extending the Patriots lead to 31-0 early in the second half.
Brady’s performance extended his record-setting home wins streak to 28, his record-setting interception-free passing streak to 335, and his record-setting two-touchdown, zero-interception games streak nine. Brady hasn’t thrown a pick since Week Six against the Baltimore Ravens. He is now tied for 10th all time in touchdown passes. This has unequivocally been Brady’s second-best statistical season of his career. Considering the vast difference in the talent-level of his receivers between 2007 and 2010, Brady’s performance this season might be even more impressive than his MVP season’s. And this season should end with another MVP award, too.
Backups Finish Strong
Brady is an incredible weapon at the Patriots disposal, but he’s not the only one, not by a long shot. For example, take Julian Edelman. With 40 seconds left in the half, Edelman fielded a Miami punt at the New England 6-yard line. Edelman immediately broke through a tackle by Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, then dodged another tackle while moving laterally across the hash marks. Edelman beat one more man as he turned down-field, then broke for daylight. The punter had no chance to catch him, and Edelman cruised into the end zone before jumping into the stands to celebrate. The 94-yard touchdown punt return gave the Patriots a 24-0 lead heading into halftime. It was the longest punt return in Patriots history, tying a franchise record as the ninth non-offensive touchdown of the season.
Despite the record-setting nature of Edelman’s return, it wasn’t even the most exciting play of the game. That belonged to backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. On his first drive of the game, Hoyer led the Patriots from their 15 to the Miami 42-yard line, throwing for 27 yards. Then, on first-and-10, Hoyer ran a double play-action. He faked a handoff to the running back, then faked an end-around to the wide receiver before dropping back to pass. Moments before getting hit, Hoyer unleashed a Brady-esque pass, launching the ball 42 yards into the hands of the diving Tate for the touchdown.
It was Hoyer’s first ever touchdown pass in the regular season, extending the Patriots lead to 38-0 in the third quarter. Hoyer finished the game 7/13 for 122 yards and a touchdown. His QB 111.7 quarterback rating was better than either of Miami’s quarterbacks’.
Closing the Season in Style
For the fourth time in 10 years, the Patriots closed the season with at least 14 wins. They came through their meaningless final regular-season game relatively unscathed (Danny Woodhead left in the first quarter after suffering a head injury on a fumbled run, but appeared to be alright along the sideline in the second half, though he kept his helmet off and did not return to the game), and they set an NFL record with just 10 turnovers all season. The team many wrote off before the season as in a “rebuilding year” will go into the postseason with the best offense and the best turnover differential in the NFL. With the Kansas City Chiefs’ loss today, their road to the Super Bowl has gotten easier, no longer needing to beet both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts to get to Dallas. All they’ll have to do next week is sit back and see who they’ll face in the divisional round of the playoffs. Patriots fans can do the same.