FOXBORO, Mass — Some notes and nuggets from the New England Patriots’ 35-17 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Gillette Stadium:
— This easily was the best game of the season for the Patriots’ pass rush, which exploded for seven sacks after averaging just 1.7 per game over the first 11 weeks of the season.
Linebackers Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy both finished with two sacks, while defensive ends Trey Flowers and Eric Lee and cornerback Jonathan Jones each notched one apiece.
Roberts, Jones and Lee — signed earlier this week off the Buffalo Bills practice squad — all entered the game with zero career sacks.
“It all starts in practice with us,” Roberts said after the game. “We just keep working and working and working. That’s it. When you get plays like that, it’s just work, work, work, and that all comes out of practice.”
The Patriots’ defense also excelled at creating turnovers. They forced two fumbles, recovered one and intercepted two Matt Moore passes. Stephon Gilmore had an interception in the end zone in the final minute of the first half, and Duron Harmon had another as time wound down in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
“It was a good mesh today between coverage and rush,” safety Devin McCourty said. “There were times I think they might’ve had guys open and we got there in a hurry in the front and then other times where we covered well, gave those guys an extra second or two to get back there and they were able to make plays getting them down. So that’s big for us. E-Rob making some big plays, and we’re getting sacks. That’s always good for the defense to start getting to the quarterback. It just helps us overall.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was sure to note, however, that pressuring the quarterback is easier with a big lead. New England scored touchdowns on its first two drives and led by 10 points or more for the majority of the game.
Six of the Patriots’ sacks came in the second half, with the other coming in the final minute of the second quarter.
“Well, you know, I think the score had a lot to do with that,” Belichick said. “Anytime you can get ahead in the game, most of the second half, probably middle of the third quarter, the last third of the game was a lot of passing, a lot of pass rush with the lead, so it gives you an opportunity to rush the passer better.
“Guys did a good job. We had contributions from a lot of different players, got some pressure from our linebackers, from our secondary and from our defensive linemen. But yeah, I think being ahead in the game certainly helps the pass rush.”
— The Patriots’ defense as a whole has been highly impressive throughout the team’s seven-game winning streak. They allowed just 10 points against Miami (the other seven came on a fumble return for a touchdown) and haven’t surrendered more than 17 points since Week 4.
According to Kevin Duffy of MassLive.com, New England is the just the fourth team in the last decade to hold opponents to 17 or fewer points in seven consecutive games. The 2014 Seattle Seahawks, 2013 Kansas City Chiefs and 2009 New York Jets are the others.
— Tom Brady tossed four touchdown passes Sunday, but the strength of the Patriots’ offense was the running game. New England’s 196 yards on the ground were its most since Week 11 of the 2014 season — the game in which Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts.
Dion Lewis didn’t come close to matching Gray’s mark, but he did surpass the 100-yard plateau for the first time in his career, finishing with 112 yards on 15 carries.
“My job is to protect the ball and make plays,” Lewis said. “That’s my job in the offense, and that’s what I try to do every game. Just protect the ball and make plays when I get the opportunity.”
— Tight end Rob Gronkowski repped another Boston sports star after the win, rocking a pair of Kyrie Irving’s signature Nike shoes in his postgame news conference.