It was a one-sided game from the very beginning, and the pressure didn’t let up until they put in the second string with the game well in hand in the third quarter.
The only way you’d know that this game was meaningless to the Patriots, who had already locked up the top seed in the playoffs, was by their inactives list. Having half the receiving corps on the bench didn’t seem to effect Tom Brady much.
Targeting primarily big tight end Rob Gronkowski, number 12 picked up 199 yards and a pair of touchdown passes while attempting just 16 passes and leaving the game early. He took a few hits, but left the game healthy as he entered it. Gronkowski finished with 102 yards and his 10th touchdown.
Brian Hoyer came in and had a little less success, but still looked strong, finding Brandon Tate for a pair of big gains including a 42-yard touchdown bomb, and giving Taylor Price his first three career receptions. Both receivers looked very strong in the second half, beating coverage and laying out to make some impressive grabs.
Also of note was the resurgence of Julian Edelman, who may only play well when Wes Welker is out of the game. Edelman turned an early screen pass into 40 yards, and then returned a punt 96 yards for a touchdown—a team record. He finished with 72 yards receiving on just three catches.
On the ground, it was all about getting BenJarvus Green-Ellis his 1,000 yards on the season. The Patriots gave the ball to him consistently in the second half, pausing only to pick up the occasional long 3rd down, before giving him a 4th-and-long run to push him over the mark.
The defense, meanwhile, came up with the kind of big performance that has become the norm this past month. Devin McCourty picked up his seventh pick of the season, and Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, and Vince Wilfork practically lived in the Miami backfield. It was only when the starters were pulled that the Dolphins managed to pull off a long, sustained drive, capped off by an athletic touchdown catch by Davone Bess.
If there was one blemish in today’s game, it was Danny Woodhead, who coughed up the Patriots’ first turnover in seven games, and left with a head injury. He was up, walking, and talking on the sidelines later in the game, however, so there’s likely not much to that.
The Patriots will take a much-deserved bye week, and then the real work starts.