MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - In the South Florida humidity, the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player posted a franchise-record 517 passing yards and he and his offensive teammates totaled a team-record 622 yards despite starting a rookie at right tackle, a veteran who was signed little more than a week earlier at right guard, and losing their center midway through the game.
And it was done against a Miami Dolphins defense that has more than its share of good players.
In the words of receiver Chad Ochocinco, “that’s some video game [expletive].’’
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed 32 of 48 pass attempts to eight receivers, and threw for four touchdowns last night in a 38-24 victory.
But while the numbers certainly are those often seen in Madden, not even in the ever-popular video game could one see the type of high-paced no-huddle offense the Patriots ran.
In Madden, you pause between each play, scroll through pages of options, and decide the next one to run; with Brady, when he’s on like last night, there seems to be no pause at all.
For New England, it was go, go, go and good luck to the Dolphins trying to keep up.
“It was effective,’’ Brian Waters, the veteran who started at right guard, said of the hurry-up, tongue firmly in cheek. “[Tonight] was phenomenal. There’s still things we can do to get better at, and that’s scary.’’
Of course, while Brady made things look easy, after the game he downplayed his performance and credited the Dolphins’ defense with making things difficult.
“It was a good night in the sense that I thought we executed pretty well at times,’’ he said. “It’s a team sport and those guys were catching the ball and making some great plays. There were a lot of tough looks out there that we got and guys really stayed aware of the situation. We made enough plays to win and that’s the goal. We were coming down here to win and this is always a tough place to play.’’
Coach Bill Belichick said, “It was no one-man band out there,’’ making sure to credit the offensive line, receivers, and running backs for contributing to Brady’s stellar night, but it’s difficult to say that Brady was not the guiding force behind the Patriot offense’s tour de force.
“That’s a tough responsibility with the humidity and heat,’’ receiver Matthew Slater said of running the no-huddle. “He did a great job of getting us to the ball and getting the play called. It’s tough for us, too.
“I’m honored and thrilled to be on his side, and glad I was able to contribute to the effort tonight. But that guy’s good - make no mistake.’’
While the no-huddle was meant to gas the Dolphins and prevent them from making many substitutions, it still hurt the Patriots. Receiver Wes Welker said, “There were times I was definitely hurting out there. We pushed through.’’
Brady didn’t start the fireworks right off the bat: New England’s retooled defense was on the field first, and Miami quarterback Chad Henne (30 of 49, 416 yards), displaying a newfound confidence, led his team to a touchdown in 12 plays. It was not the way the defense wanted to start the season.
It settled down and had its moments the rest of the night, and did a good job of checking dangerous back Reggie Bush. The most encouraging stat? The Patriots allowed the Dolphins to convert just 2 of 14 third-down chances, including a second-half shutout in five opportunities.
The Patriots’ offensive line held up well despite new faces and forced moves. Waters, signed little more than a week ago, started at right guard, rookie Nate Solder started at right tackle because of Sebastian Vollmer’s ailing back, and center Dan Koppen was carted off the field in the first half with an ankle injury, forcing Dan Connolly to slide into that spot.
The Patriots were ahead, 14-7, at halftime, though to look at the stat sheet it looked as if they should have been up by more. New England converted 5 of 7 third-down tries to 2 of 7 for Miami, picked up 13 first downs to eight for the hosts, and outgained the Dolphins, 263 yards to 168.
But the scoreboard is all that matters, and when the third quarter began, New England set about to increase its lead.
The first drive of the quarter got off to a promising enough start: Julian Edelman, who appears to be the primary returner for kickoffs and punts, took the half’s opening kickoff out to the 36, and Brady quickly found Welker for a 21-yard gain.
Already in Miami territory, BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a short gain, and on second down Brady’s pass attempt was batted by Benny Sapp. Jared Odrick plucked it out of the air and took off, believing he had a clear path to the end zone. But Patriots receiver Deion Branch tracked him down, stopping him at the 9-yard line. It was Brady’s first interception since Oct. 17, and ended his NFL-record regular-season streak of 358 passes without a pick.
Two plays later, Henne found Brian Hartline for a touchdown to make it 14-14.
The Patriots didn’t let the tie stand for long. A 10-play, 73-yard TD drive followed, during which Brady relied heavily on his Old Reliable, Branch. Branch had catches of 6, 13, and 20 yards, the last of which gave New England first and goal at the 6.
Brady immediately looked to Branch again, trying to reward him with a TD, but Branch couldn’t come down with the quick pass to the front left corner of the end zone inbounds.
There was concern that perhaps Branch wouldn’t be a big part of the offense this season after he went without a catch and was targeted just twice during the preseason.
Last week, Branch declared that he wasn’t worried and that “as long as Tom’s good, I’m good.’’
Clearly Branch is still all good with Brady.
Welker pulled in the 2-yard touchdown on third down and it was 21-14.
The piece de resistance came in the fourth quarter. Backed up to their 1 after the Dolphins couldn’t convert on fourth and goal, Brady put a perfect pass over Welker’s shoulder. Welker broke a tackle from Sapp and had nothing but open field in front of him.
The 99-yard TD was another line in the record book on a night with more than a couple of them. The 906 net yards passing by both teams was an NFL record.
“I wouldn’t say that I knew I would [score], but when I saw the coverage I knew there was probably some possibility,’’ Welker said. “I just wanted to make the most of the opportunity.’’
It’s tough to argue that any of the Patriots’ offensive players didn’t take advantage of their opportunities last night.