FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots had several old-timers on hand Sunday to support Matt Light in his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame. But the 38-7 win over the Dolphins turned out to be “Newcomers Day.”
Rob Gronkowski had a tough day against constant double coverage, and Chris Hogan didn’t see a pass come his way until the fourth quarter. But several new faces stepped up and contributed to Sunday’s big win.
Rookie running back Sony Michel put the offense on his back, rushing 25 times for 112 yards and a touchdown. Cordarrelle Patterson flashed that world-class speed on a 55-yard touchdown catch-and-run. And Josh Gordon caught two passes for 32 yards, tantalizing Patriots fans with a glimpse at his elite size and ability.
“That’s what you need,” said Tom Brady, who threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. “If you lose guys, you’ve got to get the guys coming in to make plays and impact the game. They did that. It’s a long season, everyone’s going to have to play a big role.”
Michel, the 31st overall pick in last April’s draft, had the biggest role on Sunday. He gashed the Dolphins for 80 yards and a 5.3-yard average in the first half, then slogged it out in the second half as the Patriots ran out the clock, adding a 10-yard touchdown run in garbage time.
Michel averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in a couple of tough performances against the Jaguars and Lions, but had consecutive runs of 9, 13, and 14 yards on Sunday, and averaged 4.5 yards for the afternoon.
James White, who added two touchdowns and 112 total yards, said Michel is still getting up to speed after missing most of training camp with a knee injury.
“He’s a tough runner, can catch the ball, can block, can pretty much do it all,” White said. “And he missed the preseason, so he didn’t get a lot of reps. The more he plays the better he’ll get.”
The Patriots are going to need Michel to carry a heavy workload moving forward, with Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill on injured reserve. White had eight carries for 44 yards, but Michel, at 5 feet 11 inches and 215 pounds, is the only true between-the-tackles runner on the team.
“He may not look like the biggest guy, but he runs with his pads down and he gets those extra yards,” White said.
The Patriots also need Michel to bring balance to the offense, since the passing attack is still a bit of a work in progress. Michel and the Patriots set the tone on the opening drive Sunday with 46 rushing yards, their most on an opening drive since a win over the Rams in 2016.
“That’s a stout defense,” Brady said of the Dolphins. “We needed the run game to break some of those. The line did a great job up front making some holes. It was a great day.”
It was also a great day for Patterson, who finally provided that big-play element for the Patriots’ offense. While Patterson will never be a heavy-volume receiver, he can provide instant offense with his size (6-2, 228) and speed.
“He’s a dynamic guy. We know that,” fellow receiver Phillip Dorsett said. “He’s a threat every time he touches the ball.”
He certainly was a threat on Sunday. On third and 6 early in the second quarter, Patterson ran a wheel route to the outside and found himself wide open thanks to a perfect (and legal) pick from White. Patterson hauled in the catch, made one cut to the middle, and raced 55 yards for his first touchdown as a Patriot. The 55-yarder was also the second-longest play of Patterson’s six-year career.
“He’s fast and big, and once you get the ball in his hands he’s even harder to tackle,” said cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who played against Patterson in high school in South Carolina. “I’ve been seeing that plenty of times. When he gets the ball in his hands, it’s over.”
And then there’s Gordon, the enigmatic new receiver who was very much an unknown quantity heading into Sunday’s game. How much does Gordon have left in the tank after missing most of the last four seasons? And how quickly can he work his way into the offense?
Gordon answered those questions definitively against the Dolphins. It took him two weeks to get into the lineup, but Gordon’s impact was immediate. On the Patriots’ first drive, he caught a slant pass for 13 yards on third and 6, drawing a roar from the Gillette Stadium crowd. He also caught a 19-yard pass on the outside on third and 3 late in the third quarter.
Both times, Gordon used his 6-3, 225-pound frame to drag defenders and pick up extra yards. The only other offensive weapon who can do that consistently is Gronkowski.
“He’s an unbelievable talent, unbelievable player. We all know that,” safety Duron Harmon said of Gordon.
Gordon’s teammates were impressed with how he dedicated himself to learning the Patriots’ offense over the last two weeks.
“He’s a really smart guy, honestly,” Dorsett said. “He really dug into the playbook. He sits right next to me and I see him studying all the time. He’s really into it, and I think he had a good debut.”
The Patriots used Gordon both on the outside and in the slot, and Brady threw his way four times (two plays were negated by defensive penalties). Gordon also delivered a crucial block on White’s 22-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
“He’s put in a lot of work, a lot of time trying to understand where to line up and what to do, and came up with some big plays today,” Brady said.
Cornerback Jason McCourty was Gordon’s teammate in Cleveland last year and knows how impactful he can be, especially when he becomes more comfortable in the offense.
“When he came back last year we were getting ready to play Cincinnati, and his first week there he wasn’t active, he was on the scout team. And I remember I texted my brother, ‘This dude is a beast,’ ” McCourty said. “Really talented receiver. He’s done everything well here. He showed up here just ready to work, put stuff behind him, and I think he’s just focused on what the team is asking him to do.”