This is my favorite part of the NFL season, in part because I get a certain thrill out of watching teams that roar off to surprisingly hot starts being put ruthlessly back into their places. I feel like I’ve lived through seven or eight NFL seasons that began with, like, the Buffalo Bills going 3-0, and then losing five of the next six right after everyone started to say, “Hey, maybe the Bills are good this year?” This process is always fun and often also funny to me. This is why I enjoyed Sunday’s game between the Dolphins and Patriots.
In came the Dolphins, sporting a 3-0 record, to meet a 1-2 Patriots team that had looked straight-up pathetic in its first three games. Perhaps this game ending in a 38-7 victory for the Patriots doesn’t surprise you—you can count on the Dolphins to lose in Foxboro no matter the context—and it wasn’t all that surprising in that it reaffirmed what you and everyone else already knew: the Dolphins are not really that good. What has earned Miami this week’s Ass Team of the Week distinction is not that they lost to the Patriots, but how they lost. It would be one thing if the Pats had suddenly snapped back into form and steamrolled the Dolphins behind a barrage of perfect Tom Brady throws woven into an immaculate game plan, but that’s not really what happened. The Dolphins were so bad in this game that they lost by 31 points and I’m still not sure if the team that beat them is actually any good.
Brady’s final stat line was respectable—23-for-35 for 274 yards, three touchdowns, and two picks—but he spent most of the game throwing uninspiring balls to even less inspiring receivers. He had some nice moments, but this wasn’t one of those classic Brady games, in which he dotted perfect short passes all over the field and then uncorked a few deep beauties down the seams.
The Dolphins could have easily been in this game if they were worth even half a shit. The Pats’ first drive stalled out and ended in a field goal, and their second ended with an ugly interception from Brady. The Dolphins could do nothing but punt in response, and then fell behind 10-0 after allowing a big play to Cordarrelle Patterson, something no truly competent football team has done in years:
Even after that play, the Dolphins still had a chance. They punted on their next drive, but then the defense stood tall and forced the Patriots into a punt of their own. So there Miami was, down 10-0 with the ball at their own 31-yard line, more than half of the second quarter still to play, and a chance to grab hold of the game. Here’s how that went:
The Pats would score on the very next play, a 22-yard run by James White, and that was pretty much the end of things.
The Dolphins were lucky enough to catch the Patriots at their most vulnerable spot in years, and all they could do was stake them a 17-0 lead while producing five punts and a fumble on their first six drives of the game. The worst part of all is that it wasn’t even Brady or Rob Gronkowski that did them in, but Sony Michel and James White.
Michel carried the ball 25 times for 112 yards and a score, while White chipped in 44 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. The Patriots, a team that has about as much interest in consistently running the ball as I do in getting repeatedly stung by bees, have given a running back 25 or more carries in a single game just 11 times since 2008. It’s frankly embarrassing to get steamrolled by the Pats on the ground, no matter the context. It’s like getting knocked out by Conor McGregor in a boxing match.
Worse still, the Dolphins couldn’t even be bothered to throw a counter punch. Nine of their 11 drives ended in a punt or a turnover; another ended with the expiration of the first half, and their last drive of the game, when the score was 38-0, ended with a touchdown. Ryan Tannehill got yanked for Brock Osweiler in the second half, but not before completing 11 of 20 passes for a cool 100 yards and an interception. I could show you any number of his overthrown balls, but I think his day is best represented by this moment, which followed his interception:
So, the Dolphins aren’t very good, but they are still 3-1 and they have what looks to be a pretty soft schedule the rest of the way. They get the Lions and Jets at home, the Bills two more times, and the Texans and Colts on the road. If this really is the year the Patriots finally meet their doom, it’s not impossible to imagine the Dolphins edging into the playoffs with something like a 9-7 record. If that happens, please remember this game, and rest assured in the knowledge that they will get the shit kicked out of them in the first round.