NFL - Football

Not the same old Dolphins

A woman looks at sheep grazing in Ghent, western Belgium, Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. About 60 sheep, belonging to the city of Ghent, graze daily in the city’s parks and along the canal banks as an ecological alternative to lawn mowers.
A woman looks at sheep grazing in Ghent, western Belgium, Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. About 60 sheep, belonging to the city of Ghent, graze daily in the city’s parks and along the canal banks as an ecological alternative to lawn mowers. AP

Chris McCain, like many of the Miami’s 13 rookies, doesn’t have a clue about New England’s recent dominance of the Dolphins.

Like this fun fact: Entering Sunday, the Dolphins had overcome a double-digit deficit to beat the Patriots just one time in the past five years.

“I'm not really interested in all of that,” McCain said with a shrug.

Why talk about the past when the present is so much more fun — a come-from-behind 33-20 Dolphins romp of the five-time division champs that was as thorough as it was remarkable. Click here for the Dolphins page.

New England had won its previous 10 season openers. On Sunday, the Dolphins dominated the line of scrimmage in the second half.

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Down 10 at the break after three first-half turnovers, the Dolphins absolutely crushed New England on both sides of the ball the rest of the way, routing the Patriots 23-0 after halftime.

“This is a resilient group,” Dennis Hickey said after his first victory as an NFL general manager. “They’re tough-minded. They’re mentally tough.”

Added McCain, who blocked a punt and had a sack in his NFL debut: “We made a statement today as a team.”

The message: This is not the same old Dolphins — and might not be the same old Patriots, either.

The Patriots sacked Ryan Tannehill 10 times in two games last year. They got to him just once Sunday, allowing the third-year quarterback to complete 18 of 32 passes for 178 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Plus it’s now fair to say that if Knowshon Moreno doesn’t own the Patriots outright, he has some significant equity in a time share.

Moreno brutalized New England for 134 yards and a game-sealing touchdown on 24 carries — giving him 417 yards (a 5.6 yards-per-rush average) in his last three meetings against the Patriots, dating back to his time with the Broncos.

His physicality — and enthusiasm — was contagious. As a team, the Dolphins ran for 191 yards on Sunday — more than they did in any game in 2013.

“We feed off each other as a team, defensively, offensively,” Moreno said. “At the end of the day, that’s all there is.”

Once again, defensive end Cam Wake was the spark. The Dolphins had already cut a 10-point deficit to seven when Wake helped ensure Miami would not trail again. Midway through the third quarter, he raced around the right side of the offensive line and stripped the ball from Tom Brady’s hands.

The Dolphins recovered, and four plays later were in the end zone — a 14-yard touchdown strike from Tannehill to Mike Wallace, who out-muscled Darrelle Revis for the ball.

Then things really started snowballing. Four Patriots punts were sandwiched by two Brady fumbles. In all, the Dolphins sacked the surefire Hall of Famer four times in the second half.

“They just kept playing, they kept coming,” said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin.

And kept dominating. The stats don’t tell the whole story, but they help. Miami out-gained the Patriots 223-67 after halftime. New England converted just one of nine third downs in the final two quarters.

After leading the Patriots on four scoring drives in the first half, Brady passed for 62 yards in the second. Julian Edelman had six catches for 95 yards before halftime; the Dolphins shut him out after it.

Why the reversal? The easy answer is, the Dolphins got out of their own way and stopped making egregious errors.

But there’s more to it than that. The Dolphins were in a different class physically in the second half.

Maybe it was the pace of the game (the Dolphins snapped the ball in an average of 25.7 seconds on each offensive play). Maybe it was the South Florida sun (the heat index was near 100 degrees at kickoff). Or maybe, the Dolphins were simply the better team — even without all of their starting linebackers, none of whom were healthy enough to finish the game.

“You saw it when we went up-tempo, play six, play seven on drives like that. That’s when it took effect,” said Ja’Wuan James, the Dolphins’ rookie right tackle.

The result: the Dolphins’ biggest beat-down of the Patriots since the Wildcat game in 2008 (38-13 Miami win), and arguably the finest win in Philbin’s career. The Dolphins’ third-year coach let loose in the locker room after the game.

“It was geeked up now,” said Wallace, who led the team in catches (7) and yards (81). “It was turned up in here.”

And yet, with perspective.

“We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” Wallace added. “It’s just one win. Remember what happened after the Patriots game last year, we lost two in a row and missed the playoffs. We don’t want to get too high or too low on this win. We've got a long way to go.”

This story was originally published September 8, 2014 7:00 AM.

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