Six Sundays have passed since the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots last met on October 27th at Gillette Stadium and neither team really resembles its former self.
When the final whistle blew that day, the Patriots had come back from a 17-3 halftime deficit to hand the Dolphins their fourth straight loss after a 3-0 start. That began a six-game stretch that saw them go 5-1 with three dramatic comeback victories, all with tight end Rob Gronkowski in the lineup.
Gronkowski was lost for the season last week to a knee injury, but Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin knows there is still plenty to be concerned about this Sunday when the two teams meet again at Sun Life Stadium at 1 p.m. The proof is on video for all to see.
“They are a team that typically gets better as the season goes along. That’s I think been their history. This year is no different,” Philbin said. “Their production has improved since we last played them and their statistical measures can indicate they are getting better. When you throw the tape on, the tape is the best indicator. They are playing good football. Again they are a hard team. You have to go out there and beat them. This team doesn’t beat themselves. They are too well coached, too many good players. They are smart. We are going to have to play our tails off. The film says they are getting better and better and better.”
Miami was in a state of flux immediately following that loss in New England, losing two starting offensive linemen – left guard
Four days later, the Dolphins upset the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime and have gone 4-2 during their six-game stretch with their fair share of peaks and valleys. Tough losses at Tampa Bay on a Monday night and to the Carolina Panthers at home in the closing minute tested the team’s mettle, but back-to-back wins at the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers have them positioned well for a shot at the playoffs.
“They’ve had a couple changes there since we played them but it looks like it’s coming together a little bit better each week with more continuity,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who has three Super Bowl wins to his credit. “I thought they played well against Pittsburgh. That was a crazy game, wild finish, but Pittsburgh’s a tough football team, especially at home. I thought they played them well. They’ve won four of the last six. I think Coach Philbin and his staff have done a real good job of just keep grinding away, getting better every week, improving over the course of the season. I think they’ve just gotten better in each area all the way through the year.”
New England has won the last seven games between the two teams going back to December 6th, 2009 when Miami pulled out a 22-21 win at home. This is the first time wide receiver
Wallace was the leading receiver for the Dolphins in the first meeting with three catches for 41 yards, including a 25-yarder, and saw just how effective the offense under quarterback
“We feel we matchup with anybody well, no matter who it is,” Wallace said. “But obviously they’re a well-coached team and they have a lot of great players, but I think we have the same in our own right. It’s a home game and we’re battling and trying to make a playoff push, so whoever gets in our way we’ve got to shoot them down.”
Miami’s defense was able to get quite a bit of pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the first game and sacked him three times while holding him to a pedestrian 13-of-22 for 116 yards, one touchdown and one interception. That was Gronkowski’s first game of the season after missing the first six recovering from back and arm surgery, but he only caught two passes for 27 yards.
Now that he is out of the lineup, it takes away one of Brady’s favorite weapons and forces him and Belichick to draw up different plans against Miami’s defense. Some might see that as an advantage for the Dolphins but defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is fully aware of what Brady has accomplished before without some of his best receivers.
“It makes it difficult as a coach preparing for them now that (Gronkowski’s) not there,” Coyle said. “Sometimes where you know what you are going against, it’s not easy to stop it, but at least you can kind of develop a plan that way. I’m sure there are going to be some things that we haven’t seen, but yet we’ve played them enough to know we are going to have our hands full. But we’ve played them well too. I think everyone saw that the last time we played them. Our team is going to be confident to go out there and play our best game of the year. That’s what we are going to need to beat them.”
Belichick and his staff are probably sending a similar message to their players this week.