Jay Cutler and the Miami Dolphins (6-7) put together their best performance of the season, stuffing the New England Patriots (10-3) in South Beach yet again, 27-20, on Monday Night Football in Week 14. Here’s what we learned:
1. The New England Patriots will have to wait another week to assume their rightful place on the AFC East throne. Monday evening was Miami’s night. From start to finish, the Dolphins were the better team, the faster team, the team that capitalized on its opportunities and played better situational football. Down 17 points at one point in the second half, its worst deficit all season, New England mounted a deliberate comeback, but could only cut Miami’s lead to seven before the clock ran out.
Speaking of clocks, Jay Cutler (263 yards, three TDs) turned back his to the Denver days, relying on his elusiveness and arm strength to tear apart New England’s defense, which has steadily improved since the season’s first quarter. Cutler’s big day secured his first career win over the Patriots in four tries. With Damien Williams out, Miami relied for the second week in a row on a century-mark outing from Kenyan Drake. The Alabama product burned the Patriots‘ injury-riddled defensive line — missing Trey Flowers and Alan Branch — inside and outside, rolling for 193 total yards and becoming the first ‘Fin since Ronnie Brown in 2007 to have at least 100 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards in a single game.
2. Miami beat up Tom Brady every chance it got on Monday night. The future Hall of Famer was hit six times and sacked twice by Miami’s front seven. As a result, the Patriots struggled mightily on third down, converting none of their 11 attempts. New England went three-and-out five times, including four in the second half.
“That was pretty bad,” Brady admitted to reporters. “You can’t get any worse than that. We couldn’t stay on the field and just didn’t make enough plays. Just a bad night. We’ve had a lot of good nights this year and this was a bad night.”
Brady’s throws were noticeably errant — he underthrew Brandin Cooks on both of his interceptions — and constant pressure brought by Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Phillips and a blitzing T.J. McDonald against a Pats O-line missing its starting right tackle, Marcus Cannon, made life more difficult as the game wore on. In becoming the third team to top New England this season, the Dolphins successfully executed a tried and true formula: Hit Brady early, and hit him often.
Brady’s health has to be a concern going forward. The 40-year-old has been dealing with an Achilles injury, or at least listed on the injury report with one, for at least the past two weeks and is coming off a stretch during which Suh and the Dolphins mauled him twice in three weeks.
3. Up next for the Pats is the Game of the Century against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who now sit all alone atop the conference at 11-2 and who are coming off two emotional divisional victories. New England is limping into this all-important contest — a Patriots loss clinches home-field for the Steelers throughout the playoffs — and looks as vulnerable on offense as it has all season. The return of Rob Gronkowski from suspension should help, as should another week of practice for Chris Hogan, but there is ample cause for concern in Foxborough as the Patriots‘ march to Minneapolis, which at one point looked like a walk, grows thornier by the week.
4. Give it up for second-year corner Xavien Howard, who shut down Patriots game-wrecker Brandin Cooks and picked off Brady twice. Howard has four interceptions in his last two games after snagging zero picks in his first 18. Howard led all players with three passes defensed. Alongside McDonald, Reshad Jones and Alterraun Verner (two passes defensed), Howard makes up an underrated Miami secondary.