MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — One-hundred eighty-six minutes and 5 seconds.
That’s how long it’s been, in game time, since the New England Patriots’ defense last allowed a touchdown.
That score came courtesy of Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams late in the fourth quarter of the 2018 AFC Championship Game. Since then, the Patriots have held the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers to three points apiece in Super Bowl LIII and the 2019 season opener, respectively, and shut out the Miami Dolphins, rolling to a 46-0 victory Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
Miami’s current offense would look more at home in the Sun Belt than the NFL, but New England’s latest defensive performance was superb regardless.
The Patriots intercepted four passes, returning two of them for touchdowns; tallied seven additional pass breakups; sacked quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen seven times; allowed the Dolphins to convert just 2 of 15 third downs and forced three-and-outs on seven of Miami’s first eight possessions.
“If you don’t let them score,” head coach Bill Belichick said after the game, “you can’t lose.”
Here’s a closer look at each of the biggest defensive plays from Sunday’s rout, with insight from Belichick and the players involved:
SACK 1: ADAM BUTLER
The Patriots rushed four on third-and-9 during the Dolphins’ second possession, with linebacker Jamie Collins showing blitz before backing off into coverage. Chase Winovich beat left tackle Jesse Davis around the edge, forcing Fitzpatrick to climb the pocket. As the QB stepped up, he ran straight into Butler, who’d twisted around a rushing Dont’a Hightower to evade center Daniel Kilgore.
“Everybody’s just doing what they’re coached to do,” Butler said. “Nobody’s really being selfish, in my personal opinion, and when you’ve got guys that come together and do their job collectively, these are the results.”
INTERCEPTION NO. 1: DEVIN McCOURTY’S TIP DRILL
DeVante Parker gained a few yards of separation from Stephon Gilmore as he crossed the field on a 15-yard dig route early in the third quarter, but Gilmore went airborne to prevent the wide receiver from converting on third-and-10. The cornerback elevated and, with his outstretched right hand, tipped the ball directly over Parker’s head and into the waiting arms of McCourty.
“I undercut the ball,” Gilmore explained. “I kind of jumped too early, but I was able to get my hand on the ball, and Devin made a great play. I’m just happy we were able to make that play.”
SACK NO. 2: DANNY SHELTON
On Miami’s next offensive snap after McCourty’s pick, Shelton rampaged straight through the Dolphins’ O-line to drop Fitzpatrick for a 7-yard loss.
The Patriots brought seven rushers on the play, with Hightower’s blitz through the A-gap prompting Kilgore to pick him up and leave Shelton free. Showing excellent quickness for a 345-pound defensive tackle, Shelton was in the backfield before Fitzpatrick finished executing his play fake. He brushed past fullback Chandler Cox before enveloping the journeyman QB, with linebackers Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy arriving on the scene moments later.
SACK NO. 3: ADAM BUTLER
Butler’s second sack looked quite similar to his first. On this one, it was safety Patrick Chung providing edge pressure to move Fitzpatrick off his spot. Butler beat left guard Michael Deiter with a swim move to clear his path to Fitzpatrick.
This was the first multi-sack outing for Butler, who’d tallied five sacks total over the first 33 games of his Patriots career. He also added a pass breakup.
SACK NO. 4: CHASE WINOVICH/JAMIE COLLINS
The Patriots’ next sack came just two plays later. While the Dolphins were lining up, Winovich switched places with Butler, bumping the latter outside. At the snap, Winovich took three quick steps toward Deiter, then wheeled around the edge, with Butler setting a de facto pick to occupy the left guard and tackle. He and Collins, who lined up in a two-point stance over the center and split the gap between Kilgore and right guard Danny Isidora, shared the sack.
INTERCEPTION NO. 2: STEPHON GILMORE’S PICK-SIX
Gilmore and Belichick both gave props to Van Noy for this one. As Fitzpatrick rolled out to his right on third-and-2, the linebacker leveled running back Kenyan Drake, robbing the QB of his safety valve. Fitzpatrick tried to force a pass to Parker, and Gilmore capitalized, undercutting the route and sprinting 54 yards untouched for his first career touchdown.
Gilmore: “Kyle Van Noy kind of hit (Drake), made (Fitzpatrick) throw it quick, and I was able to break on the ball and make a good play and get the ball in the end zone.”
Fitzpatrick: “(Drake) kind of got hit by the defensive end, and it was 3rd-and-shorter. We were definitely going to go for it on fourth down, just in the situation that it was in the game. I tried to jam one in to DeVante rather than maybe just trying to run and get a yard, but being 3rd-and-short, I thought that I had to try to make some sort of play, and it didn’t work out.”
Belichick: “(Van Noy) broke down the play and kind of broke down the timing of it and then Steph made a real good break on the ball and finished it off. It was a good play. It was a similar play to (the one) he had in the Super Bowl.”
Gilmore and the rest of the Patriots’ cornerbacks blanketed Parker throughout the afternoon. The Dolphins’ top wideout finished with zero catches on seven targets.
INTERCEPTION NO. 3: JAMIE COLLINS’ PICK-SIX
Sometimes, you’re just in the right place at the right time. A fortuitous bounce off running back Kalen Ballage’s hands resulted in an interception that Collins returned 69 yards for a touchdown.
“We talked about it last week of just getting around the ball, and you saw today,” McCourty said. “I had an interception off a tip. Jamie had an interception off a tip. Two interceptions off a tip. Just getting to the ball, being around the ball as much as possible. When we do those things, turnovers will come.”
SACK NO. 5: CHASE WINOVICH
Josh Rosen replaced Fitzpatrick after Collins’ pick-six. The backup fared no better.
On Rosen’s first snap, Winovich engaged Davis, feigned an inside stunt and then blazed around the edge, leaving the tackle in the dust as he notched the first solo sack of his NFL career.
“I’m trying to think of whether I can comment on that or not without giving anything away,” Winovich said. “Honestly, it was just one of those things where I felt it out, felt him go inside, worked the outside move and it worked out.”
SACK NO. 6: MICHAEL BENNETT
The sacks began to pile up as the fourth quarter wore on, with Rosen being taken down on three of his first 12 dropbacks. Bennett did the honors on No. 6, swatting Isidora’s hands aside before beating right tackle J’Marcus Webb with a bull rush.
“Those boys are just getting after the quarterback,” safety Duron Harmon said. “Steve (Belichick) and (Jerod) Mayo did a good job of calling the defense today, getting the matchups we wanted up front. The secondary did a good job covering their guys and just making it hard for Fitzpatrick and Rosen back there.”
SACK NO. 7: JOHN SIMON
Interior pressure from Bennett forced Rosen out of the pocket, and Simon chased him down from behind as the QB tucked the ball and ran toward the sideline.
INTERCEPTION NO. 4: COLLINS’ CLINCHER
The Dolphins nearly spoiled the Patriots’ shutout bid, driving to New England’s 8-yard line in the final seconds. Harmon ensured his team’s goose egg would remain uncracked.
In a play reminiscent of Gilmore’s Super Bowl interception, Harmon blitzed from his safety spot and came in untouched, forcing Rosen to let fly a panicked and off-target pass. Harmon tipped the ball as it fluttered over his head, resulting in another easy interception for Collins, who proceeded to run straight down the tunnel toward the Patriots’ locker room.
“Jamie owes me $100 for that,” Harmon joked.
The shutout was New England’s first since Week 3 of the 2016 season.
“(A shutout) is always good,” Harmon said. “We were close last week. But it’s always good. It’s just a testament to how hard we work.”
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images