Week 14 of the NFL regular season offers the New England Patriots a chance to clinch their 9th consecutive AFC East division title. They can do so with either a loss by the Buffalo Bills or with a victory against the Miami Dolphins (5-7) in Miami on Monday Night Football. Unfortunately, the Patriots will be without Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski due to a one-game suspension. Obviously, this leaves a huge void in the offense, but Vegas odds-makers don’t seem to think it will affect the outcome all that much. The Pats remain an 11 point favorite on the road.
Despite the 35-17 rout of the Dolphins in week 12 at Gillette Stadium, head coach Bill Belichick warned fans that they should expect a different game this time around. “They always play well down there against us, so I think we know it’s going to be a different game and environment. It’s not a continuation of the last game. We’re starting all over again and that’s what we have to be ready to do. It is not going to be the same game. It will play out differently.” Some fans may forget that the Dolphins were within striking distance in the fourth quarter of the week 12 matchup.
Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels also talked about some the challenges of facing the Dolphins in Miami on Monday night. “Playing down there is always different, especially now this time of the year. We’re used to a little colder weather. It’s nice to be down there in some heat and it’ll certainly be a different climate for us. It’s a tough place to play.”
Taking Their Talents to South Beach
The most glaring differences personnel wise will be having to face Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler, who missed the week 12 game due to an injury, and also the emergence of Dolphins’ running back Kenyan Drake. Drake exploded with 120 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown run, in week 13 against a stout Broncos defense. When Asked about Drake, Belichick replied “I thought Drake did a great job for them. He showed a lot of patience on that touchdown run, and we know he’s a very fast and explosive player.”
Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia touched on the challenges of facing the same team twice in three weeks. “Teams change week to week. The games are different week to week. Playing home and away is different. All those factors have to come into effect for us defensively. The quarterback position will be something a little bit different here. The running back position we’re going to have to wait and see. Obviously, Kenyan Drake had a great day against Denver.” The ‘wait and see’ Patricia is referencing is the possible return of Miami’s other running back Damien Williams who suffered an injury early in the week 12 game.
Coach McDaniels offered some additional thoughts about the Monday Night rematch. “They do a lot of different things defensively, so this is always a challenge when you’re looking at the game certainly in the rear view mirror that you just played and you’ve got to try to figure out how much to change and how much to do the same understanding that both teams are going to change some things. There’s going to be some things they look at and maybe do differently and vice versa. Part of that is trying to be careful to not out-think yourself and do too much. And the other thing is, you’re probably going to have to get into the game, feel out what adjustments they have made and be ready to adjust on the fly during the course of the game on Monday night, because that always seems to play a factor in the second game of a division series.”
Most people will probably just chalk all this up to the Patriots coaches doing what they typically do, talking up the opponent in an effort to remain humble. However, fans should realize that this will not be a cakewalk on Monday night. Playing on the road in a hostile environment with a difficult climate and a facing a division rival with its playoff hopes on the line is never an easy task. Overall it sounds like the Patriots coaching staff is fully aware of this potential trap. They will do everything possible to prevent a let down from their players.
–Sam Puran is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @S_Pats21.