FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ defense played up to its potential Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately it was just for one half.
The Patriots got out to a 21-0 lead over the Miami Dolphins before Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a shoulder injury. Then New England’s defense quickly let the Dolphins back into the game and wound up winning 31-24 in a nail-biter that should have been a blowout.
So, what happened? How did a defense that let up 12 total yards in the first quarter wind up allowing 459 yards and 24 points before it was all over?
“We’ve got to coach better, and we’ve got to play better,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “We’ve just got to do a better job.”
The message was similar from safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty.
“You come out, you go up big. After winning a tough one on the road, you might get a little ahead of yourself,” McCourty said. “That second half was definitely humbling as a defense to not play well, and for them to just move the ball up and down the field. We got a stop when we needed it, but a couple stops in the second half would have changed the game.”
The Patriots only allowed 70 yards on the ground, though it helped that Dolphins starting running back Arian Foster suffered a groin injury after just three carries and didn’t return. So, most of the damage — 389 yards, to be exact — came through the air.
“Those guys made some great catches and some great plays,” cornerback Logan Ryan said. “They sparked them and played with more energy at times than we did. We personally, me individually, have to continue to bring that energy and attention to detail. At this position, at this level, it can turn quick. … It’s our division. Everybody plays each other tough, and you have to be grateful for the wins.”
The Patriots did win. And it won’t matter how many yards or points they allowed in Week 2 when the season concludes in January. But we’re not being unnecessarily harsh in saying the defense must play better. Garoppolo reportedly won’t play Thursday after injuring his shoulder, so it will be up to the defense for the Patriots to beat the Houston Texans on a short turnaround.
Will they feel more pressure?
“It’s pretty up there high enough,” Ryan said. “We’re an extremely competitive defense. We feel like we’re capable of being great. We want to do great things, and we hold ourselves to that standard.”
They didn’t live up to it Sunday despite the win. Cornerback Malcolm Butler let up 132 yards on six catches and 10 targets. Ryan allowed 58 yards on five catches and six targets with a defensive pass interference penalty. Cornerback Justin Coleman and safety Patrick Chung let up touchdowns. Jamie Collins intercepted a pass but let up 48 yards through the air. The Patriots didn’t sack Ryan Tannehill once and rarely pressured the Dolphins quarterback.
In the end, safety Duron Harmon came up with an interception, and New England won the turnover battle and the game. But it has the potential to play all season like it did in that first quarter with players like Butler, Collins, Chung, Ryan, McCourty, Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Brown and Chris Long. The Patriots’ defense is ultra talented. Now New England must put it all together to win the next two games with its quarterback situation in the air.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images