There’s nothing better than the weekend after a horrible loss. You can finally get the bad taste out of your mouth, turn the momentum upwards, and find some redemption. One win can can change a whole lot. If the Patriots can find a way to walk out of Miami with a convincing victory, they’ll be 8-4, have the division all but wrapped up, and suddenly last week’s embarrassment becomes the abberation, not the rule. They can begin to set their sights on playoff positioning as their remaining four more games are against mediocre-at-best teams. They can focus on getting healthy and making adjustments for what’s going to be a very difficult playoff run. You give Bill Belichick four solid weeks to prepare, and I like the Patriots’ chances. But first, the Patriots need to take care of business in Miami, and if you know New England’s history, that’s easier said than done.
1st Down: Dynamic Duo. If there’s one thing that continues to eat at me following the Saints game, it’s not the blown coverages on defense. I feel fairly confident that we won’t again see the mental meltdown of Jonathan Wilhite and Brandon Merriweather letting a receiver run past them uncontested. What does give me some pause is the way the Saints were able to shut down both Randy Moss and Wes Welker by a series of double teams. If the Patriots aren’t effective on the ground and Miami starts throwing heavy pressure on both Welker and Moss, it’s going to be up to New England’s 3rd receiver to be able to make plays in single coverage. Can the team rely on Sam Aiken to do this? That’s a scary thought.
This is a copy-cat league so you know that Miami will absolutely be deploying some of the Saints schemes. On the flip side, Belichick’s had a week to prepare for it and should have a few tricks up his sleeve to exploit it. Football is a game of checks and balances. You only have 11 men on the field at a given time, so if you’re throwing four at Wes and Randy, there’s going to be holes somewhere. In the air game, it’s going to be mostly up to Aiken, but look for Kevin Faulk, Maroney, and Ben Watson to throw some wrinkles into the game plan as well. The Patriots have gotten exteremly one-dimensional over the course of this season. Tomorrow’s game could be the one where we finally see a return to the Patriots’ patented method of spreading the ball around.
2nd Down: Miami isn’t very Breesy this time of year. Going from a Drew Brees-led offense to one captained by Chad Henne, is like getting to face Count Chocula after you’ve tussled with Edward Cullen. And yes, I do realize how lame that New Moon reference was for those of you shaking your heads. Last week, about half the Saints big plays were due to gaffes by the Patriots, but the other half were the result of Brees making incredible throws that were simply unguardable. The Dolphins defense may have some success employing New Orleans’ double-team scheme, but if they plan on Henne assaulting the Patriots through the air like Brees did, it’s going to be a loooooong afternoon for them. Instead, we can expect more trickery from Miami as well as a heavy dose of Ricky Williams. As long as the Patriots can stay on top of the multitude of looks the Dolphins are bound to throw at them, this game should provide the perfect chance for the D to bounce back. They can throw a oversized portion of Vince Wilfork at Williams and force Henne to beat them with the passing game. I, for one, don’t see that happening. The Patriots defense may have been carved up last week, but throughout the majority of the season, they’ve managed to hold their own, and they’re certainly good enough to handle Henne and the Dolphins’ receiving corps.
3rd Down: Off the Mat. Everyone, including myself, was ready to throw the Patriots from the halls of the NFL’s elite after last week’s game, and with good reason. Great teams don’t get decimated like that in a big game. That being said, it was only one game. Not only that, but it was a game that held absolutely no additional signficance outside of the acutal standings being that it was an NFC game. The Patriots have a young defense who played an extremely good team, in a loud building on the road, and allowed themselves to get rattled. If anything, you can chalk it up as a learning experience with very minimal consequence. Maybe next time, when there’s more on the line, they stand their ground. People can talk about how New England’s not championship material all they want. If this franchise has proven anything over this past decade, it’s that “talk” doesn’t mean a thing. The sky is only going to fall as far as this team lets it. If they let the Dolphins back into the AFC East race with another poor showing tomorrow, you can guarantee it will continue to rain in Boston. But if they go into the house of horrors that Miami has been, and come out with a dominating and definitive win, those mouths will start to close. Even the best of Patriots teams have stumbled badly in South Florida. The 2004 Patriots may have risen to the occasion and beaten a team like the Saints on Monday Night, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that they blew an important late-season game in Miami on four Brady picks. There’s actually far more on the line tomorrow afternoon than there ever was in New Orleans. It’s time for the Patriots to pick themselves off teh mat, clean their cuts, and knock out the AFC East once and for all.
Patriots 27, Miami 7