Before the Dolphins faced the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Week 1 of the 2021 regular season, we examined five key storylines heading into the game.
We revisit those storylines and examine how they played out in the aftermath of the Dolphins' 17-16 victory.
1. TUA vs. MAC
BEFORE THE GAME: We have to start here, don't we? I mean, how many times do you have a matchup of starting quarterbacks who were college teammates and then were selected in the first round of the NFL draft in back-to-back years. As Tua Tagovailoa pointed out, the two former University of Alabama stars won't be competing against each other, but who has the better game should go a long way toward determining which team ends up winning.
IN THE GAME: There's room for debate as to which quarterback had the better performance in this game. On the one hand, Tagovailoa led the Dolphins to two touchdown drives to only one for Jones, whose Patriots were 1-for-4 in the red zone. On the other hand, Jones didn't turn the ball over, while Tagovailoa threw a bad pick that could have cost the Dolphins the game if not for Xavien Howard coming up with his key forced fumble/fumble recovery. In the final analysis, it's fair to say that the outcome in this game wasn't determined by the quarterback battle.
2. THE DOLPHINS OFFENSIVE LINE
BEFORE THE GAME: The last time the teams faced each other, the Dolphins rushed for 250 yards on their way to a 22-12 victory and the offensive had a big role in that performance. This time, however, there are a lot of question marks up front for the Dolphins after an uneven preseason showing and then starting left tackle Austin Jackson's sudden appearance on the COVID-19 list. New England beefed up its front seven in the offseason, and the Dolphins offensive line will need to do its part again.
IN THE GAME: It certainly wasn't a perfect performance by the Dolphins offensive line, which allowed two sacks and was called for three penalties (although one holding call against Liam Eichenberg was bogus), but it also wasn't bad at all. For starters, the Patriots were credited with only four quarterback hits, way fewer than the Dolphins' nine. And in the run game, while the Dolphins averaged only 3.2 yards per attempt, we need to point out that the total includes two QB sneaks by Jacoby Brissett and three victory kneel-downs by Tua. Take those away, and the average becomes 4.1 yards per attempt. And, yes, the New England front seven is much improved. Put it all together, and it was a solid outing for the O-line.
3. FAMILIAR FACES EVERYWHERE
BEFORE THE GAME: The Dolphins have their share of former Patriots players, and the Patriots have their share of former Dolphins, including two longtime New England players who took a one-year detour in Miami before heading back up north: Kyle Van Noy and Ted Karras. What is it they say about familiarity breeding contempt? It might not be a factor in the outcome, but it does make things interesting to see a lot of guys like Davon Godchaux lining up on the other side. But if we're talking about familiar faces, it's tough to surpass twin brothers Jason and Devin McCourty, who will be going against each other for the first time in four years after playing the past three seasons together in New England.
IN THE GAME: Of all the players facing their former team, the one who made the splashiest play was Van Noy, who had a 10-yard sack in the first quarter. By all accounts, Godchaux and the McCourty twins both had their moments, but the one who ended up with the biggest impact just might have been quarterback Jacoby Brissett, thanks to his two quarterback sneaks for the first down, the second of which clinched the Dolphins victory at the two-minute warning.
4. ROOKIES ON THE SPOT
BEFORE THE GAME: Mac Jones isn't the only rookie who'll be in the spotlight Sunday because the Dolphins' chances of winning could be greatly enhanced if they could get significant contributions from rookie first-round picks Jaylen Waddle and Jaelan Phillips, and even possibly second-round selections Jevon Holland and Liam Eichenberg (if he ends up being used on the offensive line because of Jackson's expected absence). It's clearly Jones who'll have the biggest impact on the outcome, and it'll be up to the Dolphins defense to make his life difficult.
IN THE GAME: The Dolphins certainly got mileage out of their 2021 draft class in the opener, with their top four picks all playing at least 20 snaps. Waddle clearly was the standout, finishing with four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown, plus a 17-yard gain on the first offensive snap of the season and a 36-yard gain to set up Jason Sanders' field goal right before halftime. Eichenberg started and played the whole game at left tackle and, outside of a couple of hiccups, was pretty solid. Phillips didn't make much of an impact, but Holland forced a fumble with a shoulder hit against Jonnu Smith, though New England recovered the loose ball. All in all, it was a good start for the Draft Class of 2021.
5. THE FLORES-BELICHICK BATTLE
BEFORE THE GAME: Dolphins head coach Brian Flores was quick to downplay his return to New England, but there will always be something special about those games when he goes up against his former boss, future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick. The two have split their four meetings the past two years, but a win here could be significant for Flores beyond taking the lead in that battle because it could signal that the Dolphins have clearly established themselves as the biggest threat to Buffalo in the AFC East.
IN THE GAME: Mission accomplished for Flores, who is now 3-2 against his former boss, including two victories in three trips to Gillette Stadium. If you link penalties to coaching (which absolutely should be done at least to some degree), it's definitely worth noting that New England had eight penalties for 84 yards Sunday, while Miami had five for 28 yards. Regardless of that, Flores has the Dolphins in first place in the AFC East as he continues to prove without a doubt that he flat-out can coach (in case that wasn't already obvious).