The Miami Dolphins opened the 2018 NFL season with three consecutive wins. Then they took a trip to Foxboro, Mass.
The New England Patriots put a swift end to their AFC rivals’ hot start, pummeling the Dolphins 38-7 at Gillette Stadium. The 31-point margin of victory remains New England’s largest of the season, and the blowout kicked off a stretch of six losses in eight games for Miami.
With a rematch set for Sunday afternoon in Miami, let’s take a look at what’s changed for the Dolphins (and what hasn’t) since the teams’ Week 4 meeting.
1. They’re still in playoff contention
Despite their downward trajectory, the Dolphins still have a chance of nabbing a wild-card spot in the wide-open AFC. At 6-6, they currently sit just one game back of the Baltimore Ravens in the battle for the conference’s sixth and final playoff berth.
Miami kept pace Sunday by defeating the Buffalo Bills 21-17 in a game in which they allowed 135 rushing yards to quarterback Josh Allen and were outgained 415 yards to 175. Allen had tight end Charles Clay open for what would have been a go-ahead touchdown in the final minute, but the two could not connect.
2. Danny Amendola might be unavailable
The former Patriots slot receiver didn’t play against the Bills after suffering an ankle injury in the previous game, and head coach Adam Gase said he won’t know until later this week whether Amendola, who leads the team in receiving yards, will be healthy enough to play against his old club.
“I?m sure Danny is going to want to do everything he can to be ready to go,” Gase told reporters Monday. “I don?t know how realistic anything is until Thursday, maybe even Friday.?
Amendola caught two passes on three targets for 21 yards in his return to Gillette Stadium — a game in which quarterback Ryan Tannehill finished with just 100 passing yards. Amendola had been receiving more targets of late following season-ending injuries to fellow wideouts Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant.
3. Xavien Howard is turning heads
With four interceptions in his last two games and a league-high seven this season, the Dolphins’ No. 1 cornerback is generating considerable Pro Bowl buzz. He declared himself the best corner in the league after picking off two Allen passes in Sunday’s narrow win over Buffalo.
“Howard?s having a Pro Bowl year at corner,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday.
New England saw a very different Howard back in Week 4, however. The 25-year-old had easily his worst game of the season in Miami’s visit to Foxboro, allowing three catches on three targets for 73 yards and two touchdowns to a Patriots team that didn’t yet have Julian Edelman and was just beginning to integrate Josh Gordon. Tom Brady had a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeting Howard, who also committed two penalties.
McDaniels also noted the Dolphins didn’t have Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones in the teams’ first meeting and that rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick, who started at safety in that game, now primarily plays as a boundary corner.
4. The Miami factor
The biggest change to account for in this weekend’s matchup is the venue. The Patriots are 1-4 in their last five visits to Hard Rock Stadium, including a 27-20 loss to Jay Cutler in Week 14 last season.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is 7-9 in 16 career starts in Miami and has thrown 15 interceptions in those games.
“Certainly, it?s a tremendous, tremendous challenge to go down there and play them in Miami, where they?re 5-1 this year and have historically been very difficult to deal with down there in South Florida,” McDaniels said.