After losing back-to-back games by double digits for the first time since 2002, the 1-2 New England Patriots will return home Sunday to face one of the NFL’s most surprising teams in their first divisional game of the season.
Here are five things to about the Miami Dolphins:
1. They’re undefeated and sit atop the AFC East standings
The Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams are the only NFL teams that have yet to lose a game this season. Miami knocked off the Tennessee Titans, New York Jets and Oakland Raiders to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2013, with all three of those wins coming by eight points or fewer.
On Sunday against the Raiders, the Dolphins trailed by 10 late in the third quarter before outscoring Oakland 21-3 over the final 16 minutes to win 28-20. Wide receiver Albert Wilson played a prominent role in the comeback, throwing a 52-yard touchdown pass to fellow wideout Jakeem Grant and scoring a 74-yarder of his own on a shovel pass from quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
2. Ryan Tannehill is doing “pretty much everything” well
Those were the words of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who’s long been a fan of the Dolphins quarterback. Tannehill has come back strong from the torn ACL that cost him all of last season and forced the Dolphins to drag a disinterested Jay Cutler out of retirement.
Now fully healthy, Tannehill has been one of the NFL’s most efficient passers this season, ranking fourth in the league in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating while throwing seven touchdowns with two interceptions. He also has scrambling ability, ripping off runs of 20, 18 and 14 yards over the last two games.
Tannehill’s workload has been relatively light — no NFL team has attempted fewer passes than Miami’s 75 — but he’s been everything the Dolphins need behind center. And he’s winning: Incredibly, the Dolphins are 10-1 in Tannehill’s last 11 starts dating back to 2016.
3. Xavien Howard is legit
Patriots fans should remember Howard from these teams’ second meeting last season when he erased Brandin Cooks and hauled in two interceptions in a 27-20 Dolphins win. The 25-year-old cornerback put on a similar performance against the Raiders — shutting down Amari Cooper (two catches, 17 yards) and picking off two passes, including one in the end zone late in the fourth quarter — and is emerging as a top-tier cover man.
After Sunday’s game, a headline in the Palm Beach Post read: “Meet the next great NFL cornerback: Dolphins’ star Xavien Howard.” His presence could cause more problems for a Patriots receiving corps that’s struggled to create separation this season.
4. Expect to see a lot of Danny Amendola
The Dolphins run more than 70 percent of their offensive plays out of 11 personnel (three wide receivers), which results in a ton of playing time for Amendola, the ex-Patriots slot man. In fact, he’s played the second-most snaps (72.3 percent) of any Dolphins wideout this season behind Kenny Stills (93.4 percent).
Amendola, who left New England when Miami offered him a two-year, $12 million contract this past spring, quickly has become a reliable underneath target for Tannehill, catching a team-high 11 passes on 13 targets through three games.
5. It’s been forever since the Dolphins won in Foxboro
For all the struggles the Patriots have endured down in South Florida, the Dolphins have been incapable of winning games at Gillette Stadium. Their last road victory over the Pats came over a decade ago: the famed Wildcat game in Week 2 of the 2008 season. Since then, Miami is 5-5 against the Patriots at home and 0-9 against them on the road. That dichotomy is reflected in Tannehill’s home/road splits, as well:
Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images