FOXBORO, Mass. — Facing a second-and-10 early in the second quarter Sunday, Tom Brady took the snap from center, faked a handoff to Sony Michel and bounced in the pocket, searching for an open receiver.
Unable to find one downfield, Brady lofted a pass into the flat toward wide receiver Julian Edelman, his go-to target all season.
He found Eric Rowe instead.
Rowe, the former Patriots cornerback-turned-Miami Dolphins safety, intercepted Brady’s throw and sprinted untouched into the end zone for a 35-yard pick-six.
The defensive touchdown gave the Dolphins an early 10-point lead. They would go on to win 27-24 at Gillette Stadium as 16 1/2-point underdogs, dropping New England to third place in the AFC standings on the final day of the regular season.
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) December 29, 2019
Rowe, who played in New England from 2016 through 2018, said once he saw New England’s deep options were covered, he had a very good idea of where Brady would throw the ball.
“We were in a Cover 3 concept,” Rowe told NESN.com after the game, “And I knew from film study that Brady, when he doesn’t have his first couple targets, he likes to just blindly go back to his last option, whatever his read progression is. Edelman was over here, and I was like, ‘Obviously, that’s his go-to guy.’ So I was like, ‘He might just turn around and just blindly throw it. I’m going to just sit right here.’ And what do you know, he just turned and threw it. And I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a ball.'”
Rowe practiced against Brady for three seasons, but he said he gleaned this particular pearl of knowledge by watching the 42-year-old quarterback on film this year.
“That was just film study,” he said. “He’s done it a lot. I specifically remember the Texans game. I think Edelman was doubled on a pick play. He was doubled, and (Brady) looked and just went backside and just threw it. So we all knew, if he’s just sitting there, just be ready for the backside (pass). Whoever the last option is, just stay on your toes.”
Brady had a simpler explanation for his miscue.
“It was just a bad throw,” the QB said. “It was just a bad throw.”
Rowe was one of several ex-Patriots who followed first-year head coach Brian Flores to Miami last offseason. The Dolphins’ coaching staff is stacked with Pats alums — including Flores, offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham — and four of their defensive starters Sunday came over from New England: Rowe, cornerback Nate Brooks, linebacker Calvin Munson and edge rusher Trent Harris, who tallied a sack in the win.
After beginning the season 0-7, the Dolphins rattled off five wins in their final nine games.
“I can’t even explain it,” Rowe, who played more than 95 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps this season, said of Sunday’s stunning result. “Even just to get a win here, being on the other side, I know it’s not easy. We knew we had to fight all 60 minutes. They’re going to make plays, and we can’t down about it, because obviously, they’re a great team. And to have that, the pick-six, the win — we’re all amped up.”
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images