Needing a win to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the New England Patriots stormed into Hard Rock Stadium with plenty to play for. The Miami Dolphins, back in the playoffs for just the third time since 2001, looked to beat the visiting Patriots for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Thanks to ball control, late defensive stands and a breakout day from newly-acquired wide receiver Michael Floyd, the Patriots triumphed by a comfortable score of 35-14.
New England Patriots Week 17 Takeaways
Controlling the Ball Early
Keeping the ball in quarterback Tom Brady’s hands was a focal point coming in, and was stressed throughout the game.
The Patriots possessed the ball for more than 21 minutes in the first half, which included a seven minute, 32 second touchdown opening drive. Brady’s offense tallied 18 first downs in the first half to Miami’s six, and accumulated 265 total yards. New England used a healthy mix of run and pass to control the tempo for much of the game. The Patriots ran 27 plays in Miami territory in the first two quarters.
The Patriots defense forced two punts and an interception on Miami’s first three drives. Backup quarterback Matt Moore, filling in for the injured Ryan Tannehill, had few opportunities to spread the field thanks to blanketing coverage by New England’s defensive backs.
Stuffing Miami’s offense and wearing down the defense early in the game proved to be the difference. The Dolphins were never able to spur significant momentum on either side of the ball.
Floyd Here to Stay
Floyd may still have to prove himself off the field, but he showed today why his skills on the field can be a perfect fit in the Patriots offense.
His final stat-line of three catches, 36 yards and one touchdown is hardly glamorous, but the numbers fail to reflect Floyd’s true impact on the game.
The six-foot, three-inch, 225 pound receiver made a splash early with a first-quarter touchdown, his first as a Patriot. He caught a slant from Brady 10 yards from the end-zone, and was wrapped up at the five. However, he dragged four Dolphins defenders to the goal line for seven points.
Even without the ball, Floyd made an impact. Midway through the third quarter, Miami had scored 14 unanswered points, and was on the verge of forcing a punt on third down deep in New England territory. It only took one play to swing the momentum back in New England’s favor.
On third and seven, wide receiver Julian Edelman caught a curl route right at the first down marker, and immediately turned up-field. He went untouched 77 yards for a touchdown, mainly because Floyd came off his route and laid a massive block on Dolphins defensive back Tony Lippett to clear the way. The score destroyed any chance for a Dolphins comeback.
Floyd’s determination to score and succeed was evident, from big-time blocks to sharp routes and soft-handed catches. If he continues his motivated play, he could be a vital part of the Patriots offense going forward.
Closing it Out
At this time last year, the New England Patriots were reeling. Due to untimely injuries and unforced errors, New England lost three of their final five regular season games in 2015. These mistakes squandered home-field advantage, and ultimately led to an AFC Championship loss in Denver.
2016 has been a different story.
After falling short in three of their last four trips to Miami, the Patriots were in control from the get-go. The offense dominated the first half, as did the defense, aside from a late Jarvis Landry touchdown. The second half opened with another Dolphins touchdown, but from then on, it was all New England once again. The defense found itself after surrendering back-to-back touchdowns, highlighted by a forced fumble in the red zone and subsequent 69-yard recovery return, which set up a LeGarrette Blount touchdown six plays later.
Coming off his third 200-yard rushing performance of the season, Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi was effectively shut down against New England, rushing 16 times for just 59 yards and zero scores.
Brady was efficient, completing 25 of 33 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns. He bolstered his case for MVP once again, and set the record for best single-season touchdown to interception ratio by any quarterback in NFL history.
It was mostly fun and games for the Patriots in their regular season finale. Now, the real work begins. At 14-2 and winners of their last seven, the Patriots playoff season opens two weeks from now in the AFC Divisional round. They will face the winner of next week’s third-sixth seed first round match-up.