For Tom Brady, Miami is his house of horrors
FOXBOROUGH — When you’ve been with the same team, under the same head coach, and in the same division for your entire NFL career, you get used to the way certain things are done. For Tom Brady, yearly trips to Buffalo (to play the Bills), New Jersey (to play the Jets), and Miami (to play the Dolphins) have been on his calendar since 2001, bringing a sense of predictability as well as familiarity.
But in this week’s lead-up to New England’s annual AFC East game in Florida, the longtime Patriots’ quarterback made an admission that spoke to just how difficult this particular road game has been, both for him personally and for his team as a whole. In revealing how coach Bill Belichick has mixed it up for Miami more than he has for any road game on the schedule, Brady spoke to the one small hole in the notion that the Patriots have completely and utterly dominated the division since the dawn of the Brady/Belichick era.
“Yeah, we’ve done a bunch of different things over the years. We’ve gone down there on Friday, Thursday nights and practice is on a Friday, gone down there on Friday night after practice and stayed there Saturday,” Brady said Friday, when the first question he faced in his weekly news conference was about his team’s struggles down south. He elicited laughter by saying, “That’s a great way to start,” but there’s no hiding from the numbers. They are uncharacteristically bad for a team that can clinch its 10th straight division title with a victory Sunday, 1-4 in the last five visits, including last year’s Monday night Gronk-less disaster when Jay Cutler came out of retirement to shred the Patriots’ secondary.
Yet as often as the statistical oddity was brought up at Patriot Place this week, there was no consensus to explain it other than the obvious: The Dolphins have played better. There were no real concessions to the heat or humidity in Florida, no special consideration given to the atmosphere or crowd noise, no mention of a Dan Marino-type talent to play capable counterpart to Brady. Brady’s 7-9 record in Miami represents the only losing record he has on the road, his unexpected house of horrors against a team he has been so consistent beating at home.
“It’s just really about playing good when it comes down to it, and there’s no magic formula for that,” Brady said. “It’s just going to take us playing a great game of football. There’s a lot on the line for both teams. It’s a tough place to play obviously, but it’s a good challenge for us, too.”
That it’s one of those hat and T-shirt games for New England, where a victory clinches the division and gets the Patriots one step closer to the home-field advantage still up for grabs in the AFC, only makes it a better time to change the narrative.
“Yeah, that’d be pretty sweet,” Brady said. “Obviously, trying to win the division is a great step and this will really allow us to do that. They’re going to really challenge us. It’s going to be a physical game — they’ve been talking about that. I know we’re prepared for just having the right mind-set to go down there and play a real great complementary game. There’s no one phase of our team that’s going to win it. They’ve got a good offense, they play well defensively down there and we’re going to have to do a good job taking care of the ball and see if we can go make a bunch of good plays, string together a bunch of those and move the ball down the field and score some points.”
The 2018 season has certainly had an odd rhythm to it, with the Patriots beating the best teams on their schedule (Chicago, Minnesota, Kansas City) while struggling against some of the worst ones (Detroit, Jacksonville, Tennessee), but as the schedule hurtles toward its final quarter, they do seem to be hitting their stride in the same fashion that has defined their dominance since 2001, when Brady and Belichick won their first of five titles together. Last weekend’s home game against the Vikings was its own kind of test, bringing a team that had come within a hair’s breadth of the Super Bowl a season ago into town. The Patriots handled that one well, but barely had time to enjoy it before facing this week’s test, a road game into a very unfriendly stadium.
“They just play hard man,” safety Patrick Chung said. “The fans are there obviously and they’re chirping at us and stuff, but they play hard, play hard regardless. They’ve had some bad breaks on the road but it’s a totally different team at home. We haven’t done good there, hopefully we can turn it around.”
Veteran defensive back Devin McCourty chalked up the recent losses to the intensity and familiarity of division foes, noting that every team is extra motivated to protect its home field, insisting that winning a game in Miami is about one thing and one thing only: execution. As he sees it, the fact that Brady has his only losing record there could be seen as a positive.
“Does he have a winning record everywhere else?” McCourty asked. “I feel like that’s more surprising. That means there are 30 places where he wins.”