Sunday, March 9, 2014
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. —Tom Brady said he didn’t hear the boos at the end of the first half.
Brady took a knee on the last play of the first half and trotted to the tunnel leading to the New England Patriots locker room. The visiting Miami Dolphins led 17-3 after 30 of the most atrocious minutes of Brady’s career.
He was 6-for-8 passing — yeah, as one Tweet suggested, it was a good percentage — for 25 yards and the Patriots looked defeated.
Instead, as we’ve seen dozens of times in the past, they regrouped. Spurred by a defense that sacked Miami quarterback six times in the second half, intercepted him twice and forced and recovered a fumble, the Patriots rallied past the reeling Dolphins 27-17.
Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised, but we were. Nothing the Patriots did in the first half suggested they had anything left in the second. They were listless and were being manhandled by the Dolphins, who came in with three consecutive losses.
Nothing the Patriots had done in the season’s first seven games — save for that miracle drive at the end of the Saints’ game that produced a victory — indicated they would turn it around.
New England had been out-scored 44-9 in the third quarter of games this season. That’s three field goals over 105 minutes.
Sunday, the Patriots put up 17 points in the third quarter. Sunday they shut out Miami 24-0 in the second half.
“You got to forget about the first half,’’ said linebacker/defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who had a sack and a huge fumble recovery in the second half. “What we put out there was not the best football that we could have played. So, you know, just forget about it and start a new game.’’
There were no rah-rah speeches, no screaming and yelling. Chandler Jones, the talented defensive end, said Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patrica simply came in and made the necessary adjustments.
“It was all football,’’ said cornerback Marquice Cole, whose fourth-quarter interception preceded the clinching 12-play, 82-yard scoring drive. “We came in, made some corrections, then went back out and executed the game plan.’’
Across the board, the defense whitewashed the Dolphins. Miami rushed for 103 yards in the first half, 53 in the second. The Dolphins converted 6-of-10 third down plays in the first half, 2-of-7 in the second.
Ryan Tannehill was 11-for-18 passing with two touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks in the first half. He was 11-for-24 with no touchdowns, two interceptions and six sacks in the second.
“We came in at the half and the one good thing is, we have guys here that have been in that situation, at home, down a couple of scores, and the game is not over,’’ said safety Devin McCourty. “Guys came in and the first thing (said) was, ‘Hey, we’ve got a lot of football left to be played.’ And it’s the same thing when we come in here and we’re up.’’
After Brady and Co. went three-and-out to start the third quarter — again, to boos — the defense came out and got things going. Miami moved from its 43 to the Patriots 19, on a third-and-2, when Ninkovich flushed Tannehill out of the pocket and into the arms of Dont’a Hightower, who sacked him for a nine-yard loss. On came Caleb Sturgis to attempt a 46-yard field goal into the wind. His kick hit the right goal post and the Patriots took over at their 36.
First down Brady hits Aaron Dobson for 23 yards. Two plays later, he hits Rob Gronkowski for another 23. Finally, Brady connects with Dobson for a 14-yard touchdown and the Patriots are back in the game.
Two plays later, rookie Logan Ryan blitzes from Tannehill’s blindside, sacks him and forces a fumble which Ninkovich recovers at the Dolphins 13. Three plays later, the game is tied after a Brandon Bolden touchdown and Stephen Gostkowski PAT.
The defense forces two punts and the Patriots move in to get a go-ahead 48-yard field goal from Gostkowski with eight seconds left in the third. The Dolphins are stunned.
Five plays into the fourth quarter, McCourty leaps high to tip a Tannehill pass back to Cole for an interception. Brady drives the Patriots 82 yards for a Stevan Ridley touchdown and this game is over.
“You know, we dug a big hole for ourselves there at halftime and really haven’t played good in the third quarter all year,’’ said Bill Belichick. “But we did today. We got it from all three phases of the game. We got contributions from everybody in the second half.
“I thought the team showed a lot of character, a lot of mental toughness.’’
And that, even without their injured stars like Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Aqib Talib, they still know how to win.