Well, first things first, the Patriots are now 2-0 after beating the Miami Dolphins at home 31-24. Now, for the second thing;
The victory ended up coming at a potentially steep price as the Patriots backup-become-starter Jimmy Garopollo ended up leaving the game in the second quarter after a stellar first half which had most of New England getting ready to call a doctor after four hours. In an emotional roller coaster that would’ve had the most stalwart of thrill seekers turning green, Garopollo was taken down by Dolphins LB Kiko Alonso and landed hard on his throwing shoulder. Clearly shaken up, Garopollo struggled to get off the field but ended up going down onto one knee as trainers examined him on the field and Patriots fans everywhere opted out of their next beer for something a bit stronger.
Prior to his injury Garopollo looked fantastic with a stat line reading 18 of 27 for 234 yds and 3 TDs with no turnovers. He seemed to have command of the offense, was throwing rockets all over the field and carving up the Dolphins defense to the tune of a 24-3 lead as the 2nd quarter was winding down. It was then, on a designed roll out to the right which ended in a strike to rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell (on a successful 3rd down conversion no less) that Garopollo was injured. Talk about a buzzkill. Truth be told, I thought it was a broken collarbone so the fact that it ended up only being a sprained AC joint was lucky. Having your next game be on a short week? Not so lucky. Even though Garopollo was a limited at practice on Tuesday, I’m anticipating the Patriots playing it safe and starting Jacoby Brissett with Garopollo playing the role of walking wounded for Thursday night’s matchup against the Texans. It appears he will be ready to go against the Bills in Week 4 before, of course, giving way to the return of TFB against the Browns in Week 5.
It is a bit of a bummer though that we won’t get to see a fully healthy Garopollo perform for 4 games in what is essentially a tryout for the Patriots and the other 20 or so NFL teams looking for a franchise QB. That said, he couldn’t have looked much better. Through 2 games (1.5 really) Handsome Jim is rocking a 70% completion percentage, 498 yds passing, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, and a 90.8 QBR. Translation? Jimmy has probably driven his value up to at least one, if not two, 1st rd picks. I guess my only concern if I was another teams GM is do Eastern Illinois QBs just love landing square on their shoulders?
All right, well now that we’ve gotten the lamentation of Jimmy’s shoulder out of the way, how did the rest of the game shake out? Meh. Predictably, with a big lead and a rookie QB under center with Brissett’s entry, the Patriots offense went very conservative and a healthy dose of LeGarrette Blount force trauma was on the docket. Blount looked good and was able to hammer the Dolphins and tack on a score to expand the lead in the early 3rd to 31-3. He ended up finishing the day a 100-yd rusher (123 yds on 29 carries, 4.2 YPC) and being a tremendous part of the offense’s role in closing out the game. Other than Blount, other notable offensive performers were Martellus Bennet (5 rec, 114 yds, 1 TD) and Danny Amendola (4 rec, 50 yds, 2 TD) though Amendola’s performance also came with a fumble. Also, with only giving up 2 sacks and having a 100 yd rusher, tip of the cap to the offensive line as well who saw Nate Solder return to the lineup. I continue to be impressed with the play of rookie G Joe Thuney as well.
The big issue with the game was with the offense crippled by injury the Patriots vaunted defense did not really show up. I’m not sure if it was a product of play calling or a lack of focus caused by being up 31-3 but after Blount’s TD in the 3rd quarter the Dolphins came roaring back, scoring 21 unanswered points and closing the gap to one score. Particularly concerning was the Dolphins ability to rack up yards throwing at Malcolm Butler, the presumptive lockdown corner in New England’s secondary. Butler never gets torched but seems to have games where he’s right there but just misses breaking up that pass. That was the case on Sunday. Even with causing 4 turnovers (2 INTs, 2 Fumbles) the Patriots defense seemed incapable of putting the Dolphins away with Tannehill throwing for nearly 400 yds and two scores himself. The outcome was not settled until the Dolphins final drive as Tannehill sought the game tying score in the back corner of the end zone on a throw that ended up being a Jamie Collins pick to ice the game.
Given the huge lead and the injury to Garopollo I, as well as I’m sure Belichick, Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia, and most of New England was expecting the Patriots defense, a supposed strength this year, to stamp out resistance to put the game away. It didn’t happen. That’s two games in a row now where the Patriots D just hasn’t performed to the lofty expectations established in the preseason and the truth may end up being we aren’t looking at a top 5 defense but more like a top 15.
The Patriots stay home this week as they’ll be hosting the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football. Garopollo, as mentioned, was limited at practice on Tuesday and the team is reportedly saying he could play on Thursday but I’m willing to bet this is more deception on Belichick’s part. The same can be said for Gronkowski. I just don’t see the Patriots rushing either of those guys back on a short week, already 2-0, and facing a non-division opponent. I’d rather see them return with another week of rest against Rex and the Bills. Not only that but I think the lack of tape on Brissett may actually be an asset and hopefully Josh McDaniels, the Patriots Offensive Coordinator, can draw up some plays which showcase Brissett’s abilities and catch the Texans off guard. I still expect a HEAVY dose of Blount and a more aggressive defensive gameplan to try and dominate time of possession.
We’re on to Houston.
P.S. Fuck you Roger