What's one way to take the pressure off a much-maligned defensive unit? Score 14 points on special teams.
Many people, including every "expert" in the Patriots-owned publication "Patriots Football Weekly," predicted a Dolphins victory in a shootout on Monday night. With a Pats defense that had been the worst in the Bill Belichick era through three games, combined with a potent Dolphins passing attack that came alive in a Week Three loss to the Jets, all signs pointed in that direction. And the Patriots came out Monday night clearly playing with a chip on their shoulder.
Special teams was the story in a 41-14 thrashing of the 'Fins, a statement victory in front of a national audience heading into New England's bye week. The Patriots became the first team in NFL history to score a TD rushing, passing, on kick return, field-goal return and interception return. More importantly, they didn't need Tom Brady chucking it all over the field to collect the win.
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The defense looked unimproved on the Dolphins' TD drive in the first half but later came up with big plays in crucial situations. The "D" did take Brandon Marshall out of the game using double-coverage looks, but Dolphins slot WR Davone Bess burned the Pats over and over again, including a first-quarter 19-yard TD catch.
The defense was opportunistic, mainly OLB Rob Ninkovich, who read Dolphins QB Chad Henne and his receivers' routes perfectly while collecting two interceptions. FS Patrick Chung, who blocked a punt and a field goal, also returned an interception for a touchdown.
The Patriots did collect two sacks on defense but still allowed Henne plenty of time to throw. Their game plan seemed to force Henne to dink-and-dunk. Henne had the upper hand on the TD drive, but forcing him to throw underneath led to his mistakes, and the Patriots capitalized.
Even if the problems with the defense aren't completely solved and there are question marks remaining, it was a huge victory for the Patriots. They have used their offense to carry them to victory all season and finally won a big game where they didn't need to rely on Brady's arm. Will they have game-changing special-teams plays consistently? Probably not, but they showed another way to win. Now the question is: If they needed it, could the defense ever lead them to victory?