It seemed like the perfect week for the Patriots dynasty to come crashing down. We’ve all been expecting it, acting as if the team weren’t on its way to winning a sixth Super Bowl title in February.
New England was 1–2 heading into the division tilt with the Dolphins. Just barely a week earlier, a new book excerpt on Bill Belichick reported that Tom Brady wasn’t sure if he wanted to play for the legendary coach anymore. A loss to the Dolphins would have placed the Patriots 3.5 games back in the AFC East four games into the season.
But the greatest dynasty the modern NFL has ever seen put a halt to the speculation of whether or not the kingdom is crumbling this week. The Patriots, at home, manhandled the Dolphins in a 38–7 win, evening up their season record and reminding everyone that they are still the kings of the AFC East. Brady finished with 274 passing yards and three touchdowns but two picks, including one in the first quarter when he threw straight to Bobby McCain with Robert Quinn barreling down on him. New England sacked QB Ryan Tannehill twice and held Miami to just 56 rushing yards. In return the Dolphins never sacked Brady and gave up 175 rushing yards. Tannehill mustered 100 passing yards on 20 attempts for a 47.9 passer rating.
This game was an obvious opportunity for the Dolphins to make a statement. Instead backup QB Brock Osweiler was playing in place of Tannehill for most of the fourth quarter. Here’s a very quick look at the Dolphins’ possessions: punt, punt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, end of the half, punt, interception, punt, touchdown.
It would not yet be accurate to call the Dolphins pretenders. Surely no one thought them to be on an elite level despite their undefeated record heading into Sunday, but Miami has been lethal on offense through the first four weeks of the season. However it’s crucial to look at the Dolphins’ opponents: they were 3–0 by virtue of beating the Jets, Raiders and Titans—all within a one-possession margin. By the end of Sunday’s game, the Dolphins were 3–1 with a negative point differential.
Is this victory enough to say the Patriots have shaken off their early season issues, though? The team was thoroughly defeated by Blake Bortles and Matthew Stafford in consecutive weeks in games where it was clear Brady didn’t have enough offensive weapons—and certainly not enough to make a deep run into January.
What changed was the emergence of Sony Michel and activating Josh Gordon. The first-round rookie running back is heating up. After being inactive in Week 1, Michel had just 34 yards in Week 2 and 50 rushing yards in Week 3. Sunday served as a coming-out party of sorts for the former Georgia Bulldog, rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown. Gordon had two catches for 32 yards, including a 13-yard slant in the red zone, to give the Patriots another element to an offense that looked flat the previous week in Detroit. Even with a bum hamstring, Gordon’s presence on the field forces the defense to account for a player who, at his peak, is a top-five receiver in the NFL. And you don’t want to be the team against which Gordon returns to 2013 form.
(A strange tangential narrative is afoot in New England: Brady is back to wearing the new helmet. After wearing the older model for his entire career, he switched to the new style during the preseason and for the first two weeks of the regular season. He reverted back to the old helmet in Week 3. Brady has gone back and forth like a Cameo song.)
The Patriots get the 1–3 Colts this Thursday on a short week before turning their attention to what will surely be the marquee matchup of Week 6: a Sunday night showdown in Foxboro against the Chiefs.
We don’t have enough to definitively say New England is back, but we know for certain that the end is not now for these Patriots.