Spoiler Alert: Grades from Miami’s 20-10 Upset Win Over New England
This will make the next eight months a little bit sweeter.
The Dolphins welcomed the AFC-East champions into Sun Life Stadium, in what most expected to be a non-competitive matchup. Miami’s stadium, filled to the brim with New England fans, would end up hosting one of the more unusual games in recent memory.
This week’s game was a glimpse at what could have been. Before 2015 began, many expected this Week 17 divisional showdown to have playoff implications for both teams, and to be a very entertaining game. However, as the Dolphins’ hopes plummeted, and the Patriots continued their usual assault on the rest of the league, many realized that this would be a disappointing meeting between division rivals.
On the contrary, the Dolphins came out with the fire that most only expect from teams that have a substantial prize in the near future. They did not have an immediate prize, other than the sweet taste of victory, arising from a game that nobody gave them a chance to win.
No, it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things for the Dolphins. However, the team will enter the offseason without the bitter taste of defeat lingering for months. Yes, 2015 is still a disappointment, but the team provided fans with a consolation prize in their 20-10 win over the Patriots.
Ryan Tannehill: A
This was the game that we needed to see from Tannehill. The team was facing a subpar pass rush (given the number of injured players on the Patriots), and the offensive line took advantage of it. This allowed Tannehill to show us what he is truly capable of.
He used his legs when necessary to pick up a huge first down. He used his legs to buy time to allow receivers to come open in order to deliver big passes. He cut loose on deep balls.
This game was everything we needed to see from Ryan Tannehill. Had he been provided with the support necessary to perform at that level earlier this year, the 2015 season might have unfolded in an entirely different manner.
Running Backs: B
The Dolphins ran the ball early and often in Sunday’s game, and transitioned throughout the afternoon towards a more pass heavy attack. They were able to burn clock on the final drive, but that was mostly thanks to plays in the passing game, and a long run by Tannehill.
Lamar Miller averaged just over three yards per carry, but was given the ball 19 times. Damien Williams had a bigger impact in the passing game than he did in the running game, hauling in three catches for 38 yards. Jay Ajayi was given the ball seven times, only gaining 2 yards.
The run game was used to set up the passing game today. The team finally realized the importance of creating positive situations for the offense on third down, and was able to contribute on the ground to extending drives. Today was not a jaw-dropping performance by the ball carriers, but they did more than their fair share in helping the team to a victory.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends: A+
This is where the biggest difference in coaching was seen in Week 17.
The play calls allowed Ryan Tannehill to take chances with his receivers downfield, which allowed for the big plays to DeVante Parker. Parker has come on late in the season, and is showing that he will be an incredibly dynamic weapon in Miami for years.
The team used Jarvis Landry more than enough, allowing Tannehill to look to his most reliable receiver in key situations. Landry delivered whenever he was called upon.
Even Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims, very inconsistent options this season, made contributions in this game.
The ball was spread around beautifully, and the Dolphins’ play calling allowed for pass catchers to play to their strengths and get open using their unique abilities. This is an element of coaching that we have been waiting a full season to see, and it finally appeared in the Week 17 game plan.
The team’s receivers also fought for extra yards and worked well after the catch, helping to sustain drives and add yards to the ends of already substantial gains.
Offensive Line: B
The Dolphins’ linemen were lucky today. They did not have to play against Chandler Jones, one of the league’s premier pass rushers. They were instead faced with what was truly a shell of the usual New England front.
Miami’s line did a fantastic job of protecting Tannehill. Upon initial viewing, it appeared that Billy Turner showed a great deal of potential in holding off the Patriots’ defensive tackles, and that Branden Albert continued to play well despite injuries.
Dallas Thomas avoided any major embarrassments, but Jason Fox still allowed plenty of pressure. Almost every time Tannehill was hit, it came from the right side of the line.
The offensive line play was not perfect, but it was by far the best Miami has had since the Houston and Tennessee games.
Defensive Line: B-
Penalties plagued this unit once again.
Olivier Vernon picked up one of the most blatant roughing the passer calls we have seen this season, as he once again showed a lack of self-control by spearing Brady after he released the ball.
This unit also had multiple offside and illegal contact fouls, which helped extend New England drives.
Ndamukong Suh did his job, occupying extra blockers and penetrating the New England backfield, but those around him appeared to struggle at times.
This unit did not have an awful day by any means, but they put a less than outstanding final notch on their 2015 track record.
This group provided the biggest surprise in today’s game. Last time these two teams met, Belichick attacked Miami’s linebackers and exposed the unit as one of the league’s worst. On Sunday, Neville Hewitt looked like a star.
Really, Hewitt had an outstanding day. He played well in coverage, read Brady effectively, and attacked the ball with tenacity. He blew up several plays, and appeared ready to show off his abilities prior to the offseason.
The rest of the team’s linebackers also played well, as Kelvin Sheppard and Zach Vigil managed to avoid being embarrassed again by the Patriots’ dynamic offense. Sheppard has improved exponentially throughout the season, and has actually had a few decent games to close out 2015. Vigil is clearly a project, but has showed flashes thus far.
The Miami Dolphins, while still most likely planning to reconstruct the group, have to be happy with the performance of some of their linebackers in Sunday’s game.
Defensive Backs: A
The Dolphins’ secondary managed to work well enough on Gronk to almost entirely eliminate him from the passing game. Reshad Jones played well in coverage, and was a renaissance man for Miami once again, covering almost everybody at some point.
Brady was only able to complete six passes to receivers in this game. The Dolphins’ cornerbacks had an outstanding game, and Brent Grimes showed that he still has some gas left in the tank.
The Dolphins’ secondary did a good job of stopping the Patriots from gaining yards after the catch, which was a huge factor in their earlier game.
This unit has struggled lately but, much like the rest of the team, decided to save their best for last. We saw flashes of what makes Grimes so special, and got to see some of the potential that Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain hold going forward.
Special Teams: A+
The Dolphins had good field position all day, as Jarvis Landry was able to gain solid yards in the punt return game.
Andrew Franks made two field goals, one of which sealed the game for Miami.
Matt Darr had another stellar performance to add to an already stacked rookie resume. The undrafted punter has showed that he could be a force in Miami for years. New England was constantly pinned back deep thanks to Darr’s efforts, which helped stop the Patriots create consistent drives.
Kick coverage was also good, as New England was not able to make many plays in that area.
Dan Campbell knew that he had nothing to lose, and he and his coordinators showed that they truly wanted to win Sunday’s game.
After the highly conservative playcalling and decision making against the Colts, the Dolphins’ coaches let loose against the Patriots. They called deep passes, and allowed Tannehill to put his receivers in a position to make plays. They even used the run to set up the pass, and created sustained drives.
The defense seemed highly prepared, and almost completely shut down Tom Brady’s passing game. They knew where receivers would be, and how to beat New England both before and after the snap.
Overall, it was a very good day for Campbell and company.
What a day in Miami.
The team welcomed in the youth movement for the last week of the 2015-16 season, and saw huge results. The younger players performed well under the lights, and were able to help propel Miami to a much-needed morale-boosting win.
While it probably was too little too late, fans have to be excited to see what this team is capable of.
The offense ran smoothly. The defense was prepared. Special teams excelled.
Those three forces combined to allow the Dolphins to beat the New England Patriots, and close out 2015 in a way that instills optimism going forward for fans in South Florida.
We saw flashes. Now, can we hire someone that can turn those flashes into consistent beams of hope? That remains to be seen.