Despite the ugly loss in Miami, the Patriots are still in the driver’s seat for the first overall seed. Yes, the loss raised some red flags. Especially if they are without Rob Gronkowski for an extended period of time. In addition, the defensive depth is dangerously thin with the absence of Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers. With all that said, if the Patriots win their next three games, the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will go through Foxborough.
In hindsight, the loss to Miami shouldn’t have surprised many. Historically, the Patriots have played poorly in Miami, often watching this very same scenario play out. The Patriots come in as one of the best teams in the league, late in the year, and stumble against a Miami team who has likely played their biggest game of the year. Combined that with the fact on their best day, the Dolphins have the personnel to execute the only gameplan that consistently beats Tom Brady. Rush no more than four and play tight man-to-man coverage. Simple, right?
Not so much. Only a few teams have the players to effectively execute the gameplan. (Think the Ravens and Jets teams in their respective Rex Ryan eras). With the likes of Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake forming the core of the Dolphins defensive line, they were able to pull it off on Monday. It helped that cornerback, Xavian Howard, had perhaps the best game of his career. Howard locked down Brandin Cooks and make two incredible interceptions of Tom Brady.
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On the other side of the ball, Dolphins running back Kenyon Drake gashed the Patriots for over 100 yards. At times, he made highlight reel juke moves to make the Patriots defenders look foolish. His dominance on the ground helped Miami control the clock. Another key factor in beating a Brady-led Patriots team. Although the Dolphins did everything in their power to give the Patriots chances at the end, the early dominance was enough to secure the win.
Now, in a short week, the Patriots will travel to Pittsburgh to face off against the 11-2 Steelers. The winner will have sole possession of first place in the AFC with just two games remaining. Despite having a talented defense, the Steelers are not equipped to play the same style the Dolphins pulled off in South Florida on Monday. Perhaps they would have a better chance with the likes of Joe Haden and Ryan Shazier in the lineup. However, with both players absent, Brady and the Patriots should continue to dominate the Steelers defense. Just as they have for the past 15 years.
In the end, the Dolphins game wasn’t quite meaningless. In fact, for the team, it was a stark reminder of why the phrase “Any Given Sunday” isn’t just a cliche. The loss could end up being meaningless in the long run if they win their remaining three games. However, getting exposed on National television could be that timely piece of ‘humble pie’ the team, at times, so desperately needs.