The 2011 New England Patriots season kicks off with a trip to Sun Life Stadium to play the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. The Patriots have played 10 games in Miami during the Tom Brady era (including the 2008 season in which Brady played just one game), so how could we not do a Top 10 as part of our pre-game festivities?
Here’s how the last 10 Patriots-Dolphins road games stack up against each other:
10. Dolphins 21, Patriots 0 – Dec. 10, 2006
The Patriots’ 2006 game in Miami was one of just two Patriots shutouts that Brady has ever played, and Brady went 12-for-25 for just 78 yards in this one. He threw no interceptions, but he fumbled the ball twice, one of which the Dolphins recovered. The Patriots fumbled away three possessions total. The offensive line also couldn’t stop the Dolphins’ elite pass-rush, allowing five sacks and keeping the Patriots offense from ever developing any rhythm. Future-Patriot Sammy Morris rushed for 123 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that gave the Dolphins a three-possession lead with less than a quarter to play.
The 2-1 New England Patriots will finish their preseason Thursday night at Gillette against the 2-0 New York Giants. It will be the seventh consecutive Patriots preseason concluded with the Giants. The Giants beat the Patriots 20-17 last season at the New Meadowlands Stadium.
It’s been a Jekyll and Hyde preseason for the Patriots. They looked fantastic in their first two games, crushing the Jaguars with their reserves and the Buccaneers with their starters. Against the Lions – a team that ranks first in the league in passing and total yards per game, and second in the NFC in points allowed per game – they looked dreadful. Which team will show up Thursday?
Giants Not as Scary as Lions
The Giants do not pack quite the same punch the Lions did. Their defense is mediocre, ranking them in the nebulous middle of the pack in most categories. They’ve only recorded five sacks, lacking the dynamic pass rush that helped them derail the Patriots’ undefeated season in Super Bowl XLII.
Evans played 10 full seasons in the NFL with four separate teams. The Patriots signed him on Nov. 1, 2005, after the Miami Dolphins released him a week earlier. Evans stayed with the Patriots through 2008, never missing a game.
Evans played his last two seasons with the New Orleans Saints but was rarely used. He earned a Super Bowl ring with the Saints after the 2009 season, though a knee injury ended that season for him in an October 25 game against the Dolphins.
Evans finished his rushing career with 579 yards, a 3.5 yards-per-carry average and four touchdowns. He recorded 439 receiving yards, posting a 7.7 yards-per-catch average and four receiving touchdowns. He also returned for 247 yards, bring his all-purpose total to 1,265.
Before the Dolphins, Evans spent four years with the Seattle Seahawks.
Evans in Foxboro
Evans’ best years unquestionably were with the Patriots. Over three quarters (453) of his career rushing yards were gained with the Patriots, as were over half (229) his receiving yards. Evans finished his career with eight career touchdowns, and half came with the Patriots (three rushing, one receiving).
As a fullback, Evans struggled to carve out a niche in a league that is quickly moving away from the position. Quicker and stronger running backs no longer need fullbacks to clear out blocks. Shooting the gap and turning the corner are requisite skills for RBs now, so players with the bulk to clear space aren’t as crucial.
The emergence of Kevin Faulk as Bill Belichick’s go-to third-down back in the last few seasons further diminished Evans’ usefulness to the Patriots, and the Saints never found a way to work him into their system.
Knowing When to Call it Quits
Faulk caught just seven passes and rushed only twice in 2010, and with the new kickoff rules for 2011 killing the need for quality special teams players, Evans likely saw his chances of ever getting serious playing time again (even by his standards) fading.
Evans had the chance to retire healthy and handsome. He had already established himself as a good quote-man in the locker room, and now he could go on t.v. and make some decent money without leaving football entirely. Totally sensible move.
A Measure of Revenge
Evans played 54 regular-season games with the Patriots. His best came on Nov. 13, 2005. Though it came against the Dolphins, the team who had cut him less than three weeks earlier, it was also Evans’ first with the Patriots, and the only 100-yard game of his career, rushing for 84 yards on 17 carries while adding 18 receiving yards on three catches. Evans may have set the bar too high too early.
The Patriots beat the Dolphins 23-16 that game, with Evans running in the two-point conversion with just over two minutes to play to put the Patriots up a touchdown.
After the game, Tom Brady said, “I remember the first day at practice when we thought, `Why did somebody release [Evans]?’ We thank the Dolphins very much for letting him go.”
The Memory of Evans Will Likely Fade Away
Evans missed by a year the Patriots’ three-title dynasty. From 2005-2008, the Patriots lost in each successive round of the playoffs (divisional round after ’05 season, AFC Championship after ’06, Super Bowl after ’07) until missing them entirely in 2008.
Other than a minor contributing role on the 18-1 2007 Patriots (in which he rushed for all three of his Patriots rushing touchdowns), Evans leaves virtually no mark in the annals of Patriots history. There won’t be a statue, a parade or even a discussion of his greatness. Evans simply didn’t do enough to merit any of that.
Evans legacy will be only that he played three and half of his 10 seasons in New England. He could very easily leave a far more indelible mark as a broadcaster, if only because his time as a player was so nondescript as to make a less memorable broadcasting career virtually impossible.
Sports of Boston will be previewing the 2011 position-by-position over the next few weeks, and I volunteered to preview the quarterbacks. The previews are publishing it reverse order of importance, so my piece will be published last. If you want to read my preview now, read on.
Not every great NFL quarterback won a Super Bowl, and not every Super Bowl champion team had a great quarterback. Quarterbacks need quality receivers, and teams can structure themselves around a running game or even a defense. However, in a league built to protect its marquee players from even minor hits, the easiest way to build a winning football team is to start with the quarterback. So let’s look at the Patriots’.
Really, what still needs to be said about Tom Brady? Three-time Super Bowl champion. Two-time Super Bowl MVP, two-time regular season MVP. Six time Pro Bowler. A surefire Hall of Famer when it’s all over. Brady is quite possibly the single best quarterback in the NFL. The only knock against him has been his two first-round playoff losses in the last two seasons, and the 2010 loss had far more to do with a lack of pass rushers.
Brady is coming off his second MVP season, in which he passed for 3,900 yards, 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He completed 65.9 percent of his passes and finished with a 111.0 QB rating. All of these numbers put 2010 behind only his 2007 season, in which he broke the single-season touchdown passes record.
Brady accomplished all of this with a recovering Wes Welker and no deep threat once Randy Moss was traded. Welker should be even stronger in 2011, and the Patriots added Chad Ochocinco to a receiving corps that already has Deion Branch and two very promising tight ends. Ochocinco doesn’t quite have Moss’s raw athleticism, but Ochocinco can still stretch a defense out and keep the safeties from cheating up. He also doesn’t have Moss’s selfishness and lack of team spirit.
Brady loves to have four or five options for the 7-yard pass, and the 2011 receivers look even better suited to Brady’s style. Expect more big numbers from Brady in 2011.
Brian Hoyer impressed Bill Belichick enough as Brady’s backup in 2009 that the Patriots began the 2010 season with Hoyer as their only other quarterback. Hoyer did not get any extended playing time until the final game of ’10 season, but he made that final game count. He took over for Brady up 31-0 against the Dolphins midway through the third and connected with Brandon Tate on a Brady-like 42-yard bomb for his first career touchdown pass. He finished the game 7-for-13 for 122 yards and a 111.7 QB rating.
It’s unlikely that Belichick ever envisioned Hoyer as an actual eventual replacement for Brady. Nor is it likely Hoyer will ever be Matt Cassell or Matt Hasselbeck – backup quarterbacks that became superstars for other teams. Hoyer will likely play out his entire NFL career as a backup, only seeing action in blowouts or after injury. Backup quarterbacks don’t have to do much to stay in the NFL, and Hoyer seems to do what little he has to competently enough to keep his job.
The Patriots signed Jonathan Crompton to their practice squad in November 2010 after the Chargers released him in September. Crompton saw no action with the Patriots in 2010 but was signed for 2011.
It’s difficult to say what exactly Crompton – a fifth-round draft pick – brings to the table. He did nothing at Tennessee before earning the starting spot in his senior year in 2009, when he passed for 2,500 yards and 27 touchdowns, which ranks third all-time among Tennessee quarterbacks. He also went 142 passing attempts without an interception, one shy of the school record and reminiscent of Brady’s still-active streak of 338 interception-free attempts.
Crompton is only 24 years old, so in all likelihood his best years are ahead of him. He might eventually become the primary backup quarterback on a team (not necessarily the Patriots), but becoming an NFL starter seems unlikely. He might also bounce around practice squads until he quietly washes out of the NFL. At this point, there’s no way to be sure.
The Patriots seem far more interested in rookie Ryan Mallett, whom they drafted 74th overall and signed to a four-year deal on July 29.
Mallett brings a far more impressive pedigree to the Patriots than Crompton. As a junior at Arkansas, Mallett led the Razorbacks all the way to the BCS Allstate Sugar Bowl, where they lost to Ohio State. It was the first BCS bowl appearance in Arkansas history. Mallett broke multiple Arkansas single-season passing records in 2010, including completions (266), passing yards (3,869) and touchdowns (32).
Mallett may have the most potential of any of Brady’s backups, and at 23 he’d enter his prime just as Brady would finish his career. Mallett may very well be the quarterback of the future, but it remains to be seen how the new collective bargaining agreement will affect his longevity with the Patriots.