Dad hates the Dolphins. He remembers the Don Shula days and the original Squish the Fish. For me the Dolphins have more frequently been on the receiving end of some of the Patriots' more magical moments -- Tedy Bruschi sliding like Bruce Springsteen into the end zone, capping off an interception and touchdown with some showmanship in the snow; Troy Brown speeding along the sideline, catching Brady's deep pass for a walkoff touchdown, prompting Bill Belichick to toss his headset into the air in celebration; and this afternoon, in one of the better Brady-to-Moss plays we've seen yet.
The game first got going in its early minutes with a spectacular play from one of the Dolphins' rookie defensive backs, Vontae Davis. He timed his leap perfectly with the much taller Randy Moss's jump for the ball, which happened to be slightly underthrown, and snatched it away for an interception the Dolphins would convert into three points.
On their next possession, Brady and Moss took the field with Davis clearly in their sights. After a run from Maroney, Brady heaved a bomb downfield for Moss again, wasting almost no time in creating a rematch with Davis. This time, Moss big-leagued the rookie with a one-handed circus catch just hovering at the comprehensible limits of human ability. Jump that route, kid.
Back to Maroney again, who executed another crisp run off tackle, his third in as many handoffs, into the end zone for a 7-3 Patriots lead.
The offensive line, which last week committed 9 of 10 Patriots penalties, played most of the first half like a well-oiled machine, until Dan Koppen left the game with what looked like a right leg injury. After that, Brady found himself with a few more grass stains than might've happened otherwise, and an offense that put on a laser show at times during a roller-coaster first half had to settle for field goals more frequently than they otherwise might have.
The Dolphins, unlike the Buccaneers and Texans, were also formidable opponents, on both sides of the ball. Their first drive of the second quarter, featuring the Wildcat anchored by second quarterback Pat White and a bruising running game featuring Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, was a brilliantly coached, brilliantly executed onslaught you just have to give Miami credit for.
Still, every time the Patriots got smacked in the mouth in this game, they bounced back instantaneously. Moss and Brady's treatment of Vontae Davis would become a parable for the way the rest of the team responded to a series of clever attacks from the Dolphins.
As for Davis, he had a long rest of the afternoon following his early moment of glory, including an absolutely savage stiffarm from Moss in the third quarter that served the dual purpose of ridding the sprinting wide receiver of the rookie's coverage and propelling him forward toward the end zone.
Meanwhile, by halftime, the core that's emerging at the heart of this defense, Brandon Meriweather, Jerod Mayo and Adalius Thomas, was beginning to clamp down on the Dolphins' running game. At which point the Dolphins took to the air, keeping the score within a touchdown until the final seconds of the fourth quarter ticked down.
In the end, though, Henne and his receivers were no match for the Brady / Moss show, especially once Brady started mixing in the seemingly indestructible Wes Welker the way a pitcher mixes in an off-speed pitch after establishing his fastball. With a fatigued and shortstaffed offensive line, the running game also didn't look quite as sharp as in the first half, but Maroney remained mostly effective heading into the later minutes.
After the Wildcat and the running game overwhelmed the Patriots defense, Belichick hunkered down with his defenders on the sideline, scribbling on his whiteboard and talking a mile a minute. Slowly, the Patriots began to contain the running game. After Chad Henne and his receivers beat the Patriots deep, the New England defensive backs retook the field with a fixation on creating a turnover, which they very nearly did, and for a touchdown, no less, were it not for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Henne by rookie Patrick Chung.
In the end, though, that particular touchdown didn't matter. What mattered was the aggression and redoubled determination the defense was playing with, and the quickness with which they were adapting. By the time the Dolphins were running an attempted double-reverse at the end of the third quarter, Adalius Thomas was there to stop Chad Henne cold--for a loss. At third down and a train ride, there was Thomas again, right beside Davone Bess, thwarting an attempted screen.
This is the Bill Belichick New England fans focus on, the Bill Belichick standing among his defensemen on the sideline with a whiteboard. A man who so commands their respect, loyalty and trust, and who does it with such discipline, that his team responds immediately, elegantly, with an almost religious zeal.