Throughout his 13-year career, Tom Brady hasn't had too many truly horrible games. The future Hall-of-Famer has managed to be efficient through injuries, different offensive systems and against all sorts of defenses. But the circumstances that took his five top receivers away from him at the start of the 2013 season have led to a relatively poor start, and the hand injury he suffered at some point in the recent past had him starting off very poorly against the Miami Dolphins.
At the half, Miami led, 17-3, and Brady had completed 6-of-8 passes for 25 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. The pick went to cornerback Dimitri Patterson on a throw intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski on New England's first offensive play of the game, and Brady was able to do little after that. Brady's right (throwing) hand was clearly affected -- it was swollen, and during sideline catches with backup Ryan Mallett, Brady would catch the ball with his left hand. The 25 first-half yards were the third-lowest of his career, behind the seven yards he managed against the New York Giants in 2003, and 19 against the Bills that same year.
Of course, Brady found a way to make it work in the end -- that seems to be what he does to the exclusion of all available logic. He threw a pretty back-door fade to Aaron Dobson halfway through the third quarter for New England's first touchdown of the day, and that was the start of a 24-point second-half run that gave New England a 27-17 win. Brady completed 13-of-22 passes for 116 yards overall -- not spectacular, but he didn't have to be. Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley each scored a rushing touchdown, and the Patriots' defense racked up six quarterback sacks -- all in the second half.
After the game, Brady said that his hand was "perfect. For the eighth week of the year, I feel awesome."
"We started with the great job there in the third quarter and got the lead, had some really big momentum plays. The strip-sack was big and then the long drive there to start the fourth quarter was great, too. It was a good team effort. It wasn’t easy. Like I said, we’re still grinding away. We obviously have a long way to go, but it feels good."
Maybe not awesome, but good enough. The Pats moved up to 6-2, while the Dolphins dropped to 3-4 on the season.
"I mean, you start slow and you just try to grind it out," Brady concluded. "It wasn't the way we wanted to start. I mean, there are other times where we've gotten off to great starts and played poorly in the second half, but it’s a 60-minute game and you try to make adjustments if you can. ... I mean, we’re 6-2. We’re at a decent place in our division. Would we love to be 8-0? Sure. So would every other team in the NFL. We’re 6-2. We’re fighting through it. We’ve got another big one this week and then we’ve got a bye week after that, so we’ve got to put everything we can into this week and try to get to 7-2."
Miami will have questions about one particular play, though. With 9:09 left in the game, Dolphins safety Jimmy Wilson strip-sacked Brady, and lineman Olivier Vernon tried to retrieve the loose ball. Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder recovered the ball at the Miami 45-yard line, but Vernon was penalized 10 yards for an illegal bat. The penalty was enforced at the Miami 23-yard line, which gave the Patriots the ball with 1st-and-10 at the Miami 13. Four plays later, Ridley ran into the end zone for the game's final score.
"You know, our stance was we thought he was trying to recover it and they said he illegally batted it," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said after the game.
Sometimes, it's that simple. Miami's collapse in the second half was tougher for Philbin to stomach.