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Sunday, 14 December 2014

Miami Caves To New England: 3 Things We Learned

What do you think of when you hear "Division Dominance"? One candidate ought to be the New England Patriots, who showed today why they are the best team in the NFL over the past two decades. A home filletting of the Miami Dolphins proved that in the modern era of the NFL, there is no team that compares to the Bill Belichick-led Patriots.

All three phases of the team contributed to the 41-13 shellacking of the next closest team in the AFC East. New England didn't exactly light-up the scoreboard in the first half, at least with the offense. But it was the defense and special team play that kept the Dolphins at bay.

The second half is when the show really got going, seeing the Patriots completely blank the opposition and run away with the game.

Here's what we learned from the game:

1. Tom Brady doesn't have to be perfect to win.

As for stats, Brady was a decent 21/35 for 287 yards, a 60% completion rate, and two TDs against 1 INT. Those aren't great numbers for one of the greatest QBs ever to play the game. But this team has never been about one guy; it's a team effort all the way. What he does is to motivate everybody else to work and play harder. That is more important for the Patriots to win than mind-boggling numbers.

2. The Dolphins don't have what it takes to finish.

Ryan Tannehill is a pretty good QB, and they have other great pieces in the puzzle. But compared to the great teams, like the Patriots, they are far from a complete team. Tannehill had some success throwing the ball (29/47 346 yds.) but threw two INTs vs. just one TD and some really bad misses when it counted.

He also had no run support, which really hurts him, allowing the rush to get to him several times, including four sacks; but he also has a long way to go in reading defenses and finishing drives. His only TD was questionable even after watching the replay several times, requiring a reversal of the incomplete call on the field. Their third-down efficiency was a horrendous 18%, leaving them to attempt fourth down five times while playing from behind.

3. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have won the most division titles together of any coach/QB combo in the modern era.

Some may say the dynasty is over because the big game has eluded them for 10 years, but a winning record and the division titles say enough to keep them in the discussion. It's hard to find a quarterback in any decade that has led his team the way Brady has. Few players at any position have come back from as severe an injury to dominate for as long as he has.

And keep in mind that Brady's Patriots were a bogus penalty away from the Super Bowl after the '06 season, and a miracle-catch away from a trophy in the '07 contest with the Giants. After recovery from the ACL tear and surgery that ended his '08 campaign before it started, he came within a drive of another title in '11.

How many team even go to the Super Bowl with that kind of regularity and have had relatively little resistance within their own division and conference?

The Patriots have had their hiccups, but this game is a snapshot of a pattern of winning that is unprecedented in recent history. Few teams recover so quickly from a poor start, or finish as strongly as the Patriots do, year-in and year-out.

The Patriots can now cruise into the post-season with relative ease, although no game is truly a "gimme", and maintaining their edge is always a concern. The real test is always keeping the playing level up into the playoffs.

Miami can only go back to the drawing board and try to figure out what went wrong and what they need to do to really compete in the East. Amid questions of players disrespecting the team, and coaches on the hotseat, focus will have to be on improving every aspect of the game.


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