Three thoughts from the Dolphins' shocking 27-20 upset win over the Patriots on Monday night:
1. Tom Brady still leads the race for MVP. Yet, his human performance on Monday night against the Dolphins stood out. Brady entered the fourth quarter with a quarterback rating hovering in the 30s. It was his first multi-interception game since last year’s playoffs. It was just the second time this season that he finished with a quarterback rating under 80. What was especially mind-boggling is that the Patriots didn’t convert any of their 11 third-down attempts. The last time New England did not convert a third down in an entire game was the 1991 season, so Monday night’s 0-fer was a first in the Brady era.
The formula for beating the Patriots has always been pressure, and the Dolphins hit Brady six times on Monday. He was also sacked twice. According to NFL's Next Gen Stats, Brady completed only about half his passes (7-of-13) when pressured. The loss of Rob Gronkowski forced him to spend more time in the pocket, which is an unfortunate tradeoff when facing Ndamukong Suh and that Dolphins front. Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan caught just two passes on a combined 12 targets. It’s so bizarre though, even after all this time, to see Brady flailing around in the pocket making desperation throws while the clock runs out. Give him credit that, in a relatively meaningless game, he was still exposing himself to huge hits and breaking jersey tackles in attempt to extend the play. Most quarterbacks his age have perfected the quick flop by now. Brady is not most quarterbacks his age.
2. The only person capable of catching Brady in MVP voting might be Steelers wideout Antonio Brown—and guess where New England goes next with a pair of cornerbacks that seem to be struggling once again? Jarvis Landry caught all eight of his targets against New England's secondary while Jakeem Grant (5-7) was winning big-time 50-50 balls in the back corner of the end zone. Kenyan Drake had five catches for 79 yards. Now, plug in Pittsburgh's troika of skill-position threats. Undoubtedly the most sought-after regular-season matchup of the season is now five days away. Let the hype commence. The NFL needs this in the worst way. If nothing else, the down-to-earth loss of the Patriots timed with the optimization of Pittsburgh’s high-scoring offense makes for a thrill ride in the making next week.
3. The AFC playoffs may not be bad enough to allow Miami to sneak in, but this was an incredibly fun performance by Adam Gase’s team across the board. They have thrilling players at some of the league’s most watchable positions—wide receiver, pass rusher, cornerback—and almost nothing to show for it. That changed with an energized performance from Jay Cutler, who tossed three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 112.1 passer rating. When he isn't pressured and playing free, Cutler can command a game like few quarterbacks of his time. Watching him on the sideline smiling and fist-bumping a few teammates showed him at his casual best. It makes us wonder what a soon-to-be 35-year-old gunslinger is planning to do next year.