This is my favorite week of the season. Sure, the Jets will always be among the most anticipated games of every season because of the intense (dislike) nature of the rivalry. And it’s always nice to beat the Bills because, well, they are the Bills.
But the Patriots? Coming to South Florida? It really doesn’t get any better than this.
If you are looking for a true challenge, this is it. If you are looking for the ultimate physical test, look no further. If your game is mental warfare and you want to match wits with the best, then welcome to Bill Belichick’s world.
So many intriguing subplots. So much at stake. Do we have to be reminded what happened when the Patriots opened our season here a year ago September? A 99-yard touchdown pass? It was a night we would all just as soon forget.
Well, this is no longer yesterday’s Dolphins and this team is looking ahead to the upcoming game, not back at what happened last year. This is a Dolphins team brimming with confidence after a fourth-quarter comeback over a talented Seattle team. This is a Dolphins team looking for another signature victory, knowing all too well that a win over the Patriots would provide exactly that.
Joe Philbin doesn’t like to talk about the future. It’s all in the present for him and that is certainly understandable. But, with all due respect to Philbin, imagine what a victory this Sunday could mean for this season. It would improve the Dolphins to 6-6 and it would set a clear tone for the final four games. As Philbin has told his team in the past, each win makes the next game even more important.
I know that’s looking ahead. But a small peak into the future can be excused when the opponent is the Patriots.
Can the Dolphins win this game? Sure they can. What they need to do most is take all the good they have shown at various times this season – the rushing defense, an efficient ground game, a smart, resourceful performance by
Translation: Play their best game of the season. Unfortunately, nothing else against the Patriots usually suffices.
I’m sure Philbin has been looking forward to this game, his first chance as a head coach to match wits with Belichick. See, Philbin is a pretty smart guy too. Knew he’d be playing the Patriots twice a year when he took the job. Seemed genuinely excited about the challenge. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
There was talk earlier this season that this would be a down year for the Patriots. But is it ever a down year when Tom Brady is your quarterback? The Patriots have been scoring points at a pinball machine pace (190 in their last four games alone) and their defense continues to force crucial turnovers. It is a formula that has put them at the top of the AFC East and just about a sure thing to graduate to the playoffs.
But of all the things I am anxious to see this Sunday, two stand out above the rest:
• Ryan Tannehill against the New England defense: You know Belichick will spend this week searching for a flaw in Tannehill, some avenue to travel in order to get into Tannehill’s mind or to shake his confidence. Fake blitzes. Real blitzes. Zone blitzes. Nickel packages. Dime packages. Fifty cent packages. You just know that Tannehill will be tested over and over.
Truth is, that really doesn’t concern me. What hasn’t Tannehill seen this season? Sure, he has made his share of poor throws. But that also means he has a canvas of work that he can learn from and, if nothing else, Tannehill is one smart young man who is coming off his finest quarter as a pro.
The Dolphins can score on New England; Tannehill can have a big game. It is important that they show up with the same mindset they had in the fourth quarter of the Seattle game. Be aggressive. Play with confidence. Play with an urgency. Eliminate turnovers. Forget WHO you are playing; it’s more about HOW you are playing.
• Brady against the Dolphins defense: It usually comes down to this. The master coach and quarterback exploiting a defense, finding a weak link and trying to capitalize on it over and over again.
Nobody shuts out Brady. But you can slow him down. The first key for this Dolphins defense is to force Brady to become one-dimensional. In other words, stop the run early and often. Wipe that out of their game plan. The Dolphins certainly have the ability to do that. This will allow the pass rush to focus on Brady and the defensive backs to focus on staying with a very talented and diverse group of receivers.
New defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has added some nice wrinkles this season. His players clearly believe in his system. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with to slow down an offense that, truthfully, hasn’t been slowed down in weeks.
So here we are in Week 12 and these two teams are facing each other for the first time. We’re done with the Jets and haven’t seen the Patriots yet? A weird quirk. An imposing challenge getting them twice in the last five games.
But why not? If the Dolphins know one thing, it is that their path to long-term success always has to go through New England. They have been the dominant team in this division for most of the past decade. They have set the bar. Hall of Fame coach. Hall of Fame quarterback. So much to prepare for. So much to consider.
And now they come to Sun Life Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Yes, this is about as good as it gets.