Tuesday September 13th, 2011

Wes Welker caught 8 passes for 160 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Dolphins, including this 99-yard score. (Hans Deryk/Reuters)

By the third quarter Monday night, the Dolphins defense had hit the wall.

Vontae Davis limped off with cramps. A few minutes later, his defensive back partner, Sean Smith, could barely muster enough energy to reach down and touch a diving Aaron Hernandez's foot after Hernandez had smoked Smith on a deep route.

Calling New England's attack a "hurry-up offense" doesn't even do it justice. This was warp speed, Superman flying around the Earth to turn back time. It was rapid fire.

When it was over, Tom Brady had thrown for a New England record 517 yards, with four touchdowns and completions to eight different receivers. And we have to use the term "receivers" loosely too, because tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski combined for 13 catches, 189 yards and two scores.

Entering the fourth quarter down a manageable 28-17, the Miami defense somehow held New England to a field goal in the red zone, then stopped the Pats' next possession. That gave the Dolphins, trailing 31-17, a chance to get back in the game. But a fourth-and-goal from the New England 1 came up empty.

And then Brady drove home the dagger, going shotgun and four-wide -- from his own 1 -- and connecting with Wes Welker on a 99-yard touchdown.

How do you stop this offense? There isn't another team in the NFL that challenges defenses in ways that the Patriots do.

Brady threw for more than 500 yards and the team's biggest offseason acquisition, wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, finished with just 14. After being the star in Cincinnati, he's now just another weapon in Brady's arsenal. The Hernandez-Gronkowski duo creates matchup problems that are almost unprecedented in the NFL.

New England already has Welker, arguably the game's best slot receiver, the reliable Deion Branch, Ochocinco, plus running backs Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Add in Hernandez and Gronkowski, who run and catch like wide receivers but with the physical size tight ends are supposed to have, and there's just no way to deal with everyone.

Oh yea, and that loaded group also happens to have the league's best QB directing traffic.

On Welker's first touchdown grab, a 2-yarder in the third quarter, Miami showed a heavy blitz. Brady walked to the line, called an audible, picked out his matchup, then just tossed an easy ball out to Welker for the score. On a third-and-4 in the third quarter, Miami again showed blitz. Brady adjusted the play and hit Branch for a 24-yard slant that couldn't have been any simpler.

It's hard even to say that Miami played poorly -- Chad Henne, in fact, threw for 416 yards himself, giving this game the highest combined passing total in NFL history. But sometimes, teams just have to accept that they've been beaten by a superior foe. There is no doubting that New England was better Monday.

There should be no doubting that the Patriots are one of the NFL's best teams, either.

Heading into Monday night, the most yards that any team had put up in Week 1 was 477, shared by Carolina and New Orleans (both in losing efforts, by the way). New England went for 622.

Twice during the 2010 season, the Jets slowed New England -- in a Week 2 win and in a playoff upset. Cleveland also somehow pulled the trick, holding the Patriots to 14 points in Week 7. The Patriots cannot possibly maintain Monday night's pace over a full season. Some team at some point will find a way to slow them down. Good luck trying to figure out how.

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