When the 2014 schedule was released this past summer, one of the most notable games for the Dolphins was the week-15 trip to New England to face the Patriots. While no one knew at the time Miami would be sitting at 7-6 with a remote shot at the playoffs, most expected the Patriots would be contenders, and rightfully so.
New England is playing for home-field advantage as Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady can attempt to win that elusive fourth Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Dolphins must win-out, despite any nagging injuries, to get a shot at a postseason berth and that may not be enough. Realistically, key players will need big performances to keep their jobs and that includes Head Coach Joe Philbin.
One thing is certain − this will not be the same Patriots team the Phins saw in South Beach in September.
“They’re doing well right now,” Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes said. “They started off a little slow, everybody jumped on them. I didn’t doubt that they would bounce back and they’re doing what they have to do to win games.”
Whether it’s Jonas Gray rushing for 4 touchdowns in his first career game or Tom Brady lighting up a scoreboard, New England has seen different heroes in nearly every game. With their starting running back Stevan Ridley out for the season with a torn ACL and MCL, the Patriots have used a backfield by committee this year and it’s worked. Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden have shared the workload for a group that ranks 19th in the NFL in rushing this season. That makes it tough for opposing defenses to limit their strengths.
“I don’t know, I just think they’re good at playing their game,” continued Grimes. “Not every play is going to be perfect. They stick to what they’ve got planned and it usually works out for them.”
While some teams have their bread and butter plays, the Patriots embrace an effective and balanced attack, mixing in the run and pass based off what the defense gives them.
“They have their things, just like any offense,” Grimes said. “They have their things that they carry over week to week. Just like any offense too, when they’re playing certain teams, they bring out certain things. They might have a plan that they want to use this week and then the next week they try something else. You always have your staple plays or plays that you like to do and they run them well.”
Despite his ups and downs, Brady has had a magical season in what will inevitably be a Hall of Fame career. Right now, he's on track for the fourth-best passer rating (100.2) and the third-best interception percentage (1.4%) of his career. He’s thrown for 3,560 yards and 30 touchdowns with a 64.7 completion percentage.
“He’s Tom Brady. It’s not like he’s not been doing this for a long time,” Grimes said sarcastically. “He’s one of the best. No, it’s not surprising that he’s having a good year.”
Every move, every throw, every side-step or scramble seems calculated from the 37-year-old quarterback.
“He plays the quarterback position very well,” Grimes sustained. “He can make every throw, knows how to read defenses, and make good decisions. That’s what a good quarterback has to do. Everything a good quarterback does, that’s what he does.”
But even Brady can’t do it all. Not all the time at least.
The Dolphins hold a two-game win streak against the Pats, thanks to a 33-20 win earlier this year and a 24-20 victory in New England almost a year ago. Both of those contests give this team confidence heading into Foxboro this week.
“It just shows that we can compete with the team,” Grimes admitted. “We can give any team a hard time, just pressuring the quarterback and things like that, covering guys. We just have to carry it out for four quarters and it shows that we can do that.”
This story was written by Steven Wilson. Follow him on Twitter: @stevenjwilson11