1. Well, the first of three straight against AFC East opponents is in the books, and unless you are Jarvis Landry and claimed the Dolphins were going to sweep the Patriots this season, it went pretty much according to expectation. The Patriots prevailed, 35-17, for their seventh straight victory, while the Dolphins lost their fifth straight. Same old story, same old song and dance. It wasn’t a hat-and-T-shirt game, but it might as well have been. The AFC East is, as usual, the Patriots and everyone else.
2. That final score might suggest there was some suspense in the outcome, but there really wasn’t. The Patriots scored 14 points in the first 10 minutes and more or less controlled the game from beginning to end. The Dolphins couldn’t make the play they needed to pull within single digits and make it interesting. While the offense stagnated somewhat in the second half, the only real suspense was whether they’d escape without some dirty Dolphin executing a cheap shot on a key Patriot.
3. The Dolphins have the name pass-rushers such as Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. But it was the Patriots who piled up the sacks, collecting seven on Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore, who was filling in for Jay Cutler. Elandon Roberts and Trey Flowers each had two, while Kyle Van Noy, Jonathan Jones, and newcomer Eric Lee contributed to what I interpreted as a team-wide impromptu tribute to Andre Tippett.
4. Still, for a game that was never really in doubt, Belichick isn’t going to lack for grievances when the team watches film. Ted Karras snapped the ball too early, leading directly to the Dolphins’ first touchdown. Brady threw his third interception of the season. Danny Amendola nearly lost a punt. And Brady took at least a half-dozen hard hits, including a shot early in the fourth quarter from Wake on a fumbled snap that he seemed unaware was coming.
5. All right, that’s not that much. It’s pretty much two series’ worth of blunders for the Dolphins. But it’s enough for Belichick to keep his team humble, on the small chance that they even need such reminders. This much is true: The Patriots won with relative ease. But it should have been even easier, given how it started, and it would have been nice to get Brady out of the game early in the fourth quarter.
6. Brady had a fine day by most any quarterback’s measure (18 of 28, 222 yards, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception), but the best work might have been done by the running backs, who totaled 199 yards on the ground. Dion Lewis, a highly-skilled three-down back despite perceptions otherwise, had 115 yards on 12 carries, including a 25-yarder to start the second half. He’s not just about the shimmy; he breaks more tackles than he gets credit for.
7. Rex Burkhead, meanwhile, had 50 yards on 13 carries and scored a touchdown rushing and receiving. He’s a terrific all-around back who seems to be cutting into James White’s chances to some degree. White had just 15 total yards on four touches. But you know how that goes — it’s all about matchups. White will probably have 10 catches against the Bills next week.
8. Brandin Cooks had his usual explosive-when-needed performance, catching a 39-yard-pass en route to a six-catch, 83-yard day. The long catch — a leaping snag with his hands across the middle — reminded me of a vintage Troy Brown grab, sort of like the 25-yarder that set up the winning kick in Super Bowl XXXVI. He also had a touchdown on a jet-sweep, putting the Patriots up 35-17 with just under 7 minutes left. Man, can he turn the corner in a hurry. He’s been as advertised.
9. The injury report is going to require plenty of monitoring this week. Van Noy, who has become close to indispensable in his second season as a Patriot, hobbled off in the fourth quarter with an injury. He was down on the field for a while. Trey Flowers also departed in the second half with an injury and didn’t return. LaAdrian Waddle had to give way to Cam Fleming in the second half. And Nate Ebner suffered a knee injury on the game’s first series. No team in the NFL is as capable as the Patriots of handling attrition. But this is getting to be a little much.
10. When is a 3-and-out not a 3-and-out? When the Patriots run an effective fake punt on fourth down, of course. I have no statistics to support this, but it seems to me the Patriots in the Belichick era have been more conservative than most teams when it comes to fake punts and field goals. So this one — an Ebner 14-yard-run on a fake punt on the game’s first series — surprised me as much as it surprised the Dolphins.
11. The clever play came at a cost, unfortunately. Ebner’s knee buckled while making a slight cut at the end of the run. I’m not going to play a doctor on the internet, but it would be a pleasant surprise to see him on the field anytime soon.
12. The Dolphins did ratchet up the loathsomeness after halftime. Suh hauled Dion Lewis down by the facemask without drawing a flag. That came one play after Bobby McCain was ejected — or disqualified, as they apparently call it now — for punching Danny Amendola while both were on the ground.
13. If you had McCain as the Dolphin to get ejected/disqualified/kicked-out-for-being-a-clown, congratulations. The defensive back would have been pretty far down my depth chart of Dolphins liable to to do moronic things as the game got out of hand.
14. The Dolphins won 10 games last year. They were a playoff team. It seemed Adam Gase was one of the ascending coaches in the league. I thought they were the most likely team to give the Patriots a battle in the AFC East this year.
15. But now? They’re a mess, and I have no idea if Gase is a competent coach or not. Some of their issues are certainly due to losing Ryan Tannehill to a season-ending injury in preseason. That’s a tough blow to overcome.
16. But it doesn’t explain why they’re so undisciplined. They lead the league in pre-snap penalties. They traded standout running back Jay Ajayi to send a message. The message clearly has not been received. Or it’s unclear what it’s supposed to be.
17. But hey, at least none of their coaches have been caught snorting any substances on video since early October. I suppose that counts as progress.
18. You don’t necessarily want him starting for you for any length of time, but Matt Moore isn’t bad as far as backup quarterbacks go. The best backup situation in the league right now, though, is probably in San Francisco, which is amusing given that it’s probably the worst non-Cleveland situation when it comes to starting quarterbacks.
19. Ian Eagle reported in the early moments of the broadcast that Brady said there was “0.0 percent” reason to worry about the Achilles ache that kept him out of practice Wednesday. But when he missed badly on two of his first three throws – both aimed in Gronk’s direction – I admit I wondered whether there was something off mechanically because of the sore heel. Turns out he was just getting warmed up.
20. Biggest concern before the game was not whether the Patriots would win — that seemed certain — but whether the dirty Dolphins would exact any losses. Ndamukong Suh and Kiko Alonso are two of the most accomplished cheap-shot artists in the league. And with Marcus Cannon and David Andrews still missing from the Patriots regular offensive line, it was reasonable to wonder whether they would get more chances to inflict harm on Brady.
21. Brady was sacked just once, but he did endure a number of hard hits. Alonso got him high right after he released a pass late in the second quarter. He also took a shot in the midsection that nearly folded him in half. There were a couple of times where you held your breath after he released a pass with the rush bearing down, waiting for the camera to pan back to him to make sure he was getting up.
22. Andrews’s absence was notable beyond the issues protecting Brady. Karras, who played so well filling in at center against the Raiders last Sunday, basically handed the Dolphins 7 points with a poorly timed snap in the second quarter. He let it fly while Brady was still calling out signals.
23. Rashad Jones pounced on the fumble and took it back 14 yards for the touchdown, cutting the lead to 14-7. Brady took a pretty good lick while chasing the snap, though somehow 267-pound Dolphins defensive lineman Terrence Fede was the one slow to get up on the play.
24. The Patriots’ second possession might as well have been called the Say Let’s Unleash Gronk On ‘Em drive. Not a catchy title, but an effective approach. The drive covered 88 yards on nine plays, but three of the final four plays — culminating with a 5-yard-touchdown pass — went to Gronk for 45 yards.
25. Gronk finished with 5 catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots are so much more fun when he’s healthy.
26. Not that this one looked over early, but with 5 minutes and 41 seconds left in the first quarter, the Patriots had 14 points and the Dolphins had 9 yards.
27. The Dolphins did hover around longer than expected, and were deep in Patriots territory late in the second quarter with a chance to cut into the 21-10 deficit. But Moore threw an alley-oop to an oblivious Davante Parker in the corner of the end zone, Stephon Gilmore stepped in and made what must have been one of the easiest interceptions of his career, and the Patriots went into the break up 11.
28. Gilmore appeared to have his second interception late in the fourth, but Duron Harmon got ahold of it at the same moment, and Gilmore appeared to cede the pick to his teammate. Harmon, who has become the Patriots closer in recent seasons with his habit of late-game interceptions, wasn’t giving that one up.
29. I was reminded of Dan Marino while watching this one. Not because of anything a Dolphins quarterback achieved, obviously. Marino is 56 years old, has been retired for 18 years and you get the sense he’d have been Dolphins fans’ first choice to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill this season.
30. No, the Marino flashback came from Brady. Marino was never accused of being fast, but his footwork in the pocket was impeccable. Brady is the same way, as he proved in particular on the 20-yard dart to Gronkowski on their second scoring drive. His ability to avoid a rush coming from multiple angles is uncanny.
31. If you don’t already consider Gronk a mortal-lock Hall of Famer, consider this. He passed Kellen Winslow Sr. to crack the all-time top-10 in receiving yards among tight ends Sunday. Winslow was one my favorite players as a kid, but he was basically a large wide receiver that lined up at tight end. Gronk is a far more complete player.
32. Interesting to hear Eagle and Fouts talk about how Belichick found the trip to Mexico “beneficial.” When we heard Belichick talk about it during his Monday appearance on WEEI, it sounded more like a nuisance and a logistical pain-in-the-butt than anything else. It’s definitely beneficial to the league if there’s the appearance that the teams enjoy it, though.
33. Phillip Dorsett had a 39-yard catch on the Patriots’ first possession. Had he been able to catch the pass in stride rather than at a standstill he might have taken it all the way. Dorsett hasn’t done much lately — that was just his third catch in the last seven games, the other two coming against the Broncos two weeks ago — but with his speed he’s not a bad backup plan.
34. Still not sure why the Patriots traded Jacoby Brissett for him, presuming they had an inkling then that they wouldn’t be able to sign Jimmy Garoppolo long term. But that’s a small bewilderment. I suppose they just liked one player better than the other.
35. Burkhead beat Dolphins linebacker Chase Allen for the Patriots’ third touchdown and a 21-7 lead. When CBS showed the replay of the rookie getting toasted, CBS analyst Dan Fouts said, “Chase is a good name for Chase Allen.” Still can’t decide if that’s a good line or not. Leaning toward yes.