1. Stephen Gostkowski — His finger-tip tackle on Miami kick-returner Clyde Gates in the third, saved a TD, the game and potentially the No. 1 seed. Instead of having a 24-3 lead, Miami fumbles the snap two plays later and the Pats make it a game at 17-10.
2. Wes Welker — Pay this man his money. He's earned it. Another 12 catches for 138 yards, making it 116 for 1,518 on the season.
3. Marcus Cannon/Nate Solder — Two rookies start at the tackles and Tom Brady was only sacked for four times in 50-plus dropbacks? That's a great day.
4. Chad Ochocinco — Another huge catch to make it 15 on the year - staying right on his one-per game pace. NOTE: This is for all of you who think I was too tough on him last week.
1. Devin McCourty — I thought he had a chance to be Ty Law. I was ready to settle for Asante Samuel, and the 2010 first-round pick is well on the road to being Ellis Hobbs III (sans the kick-return ability). Much of Brandon Marshall's 7-catch, 156-yard, 1-TD day came at McCourty's expense.
2. BenJarvus Green-Ellis — Clearly he's a step behind the other backs. Ran three times for 10 yards.
3. Vince Wilfork — I know this is sacrilege in this town, but I'll be the one to say it. Big Vince has lost a step. Do yourself a favor. Watch any replays you can in this game. Wilfork is being pushed back like never before. Again, 0 tackles, with three assists this time. The guy plays every snap hard. I admire that. But he's not the dominating force he once was.
GRADING THE GROUPS
Line (B+) ... All on effort. This is a group that closed with one of the five original starters. Yes, Miami did them a favor by calling off the blitzes in the second half but Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder , Dan Connolly, Donald Thomas and Brian Waters held their own and delivered. Great job for this group.
Receivers (A) ... Deion Branch's contributions are so understated. Yes, he's slowed down. Who cares? He delivers when Tom Brady needs him. Dolphin Jason Taylor marveled at the day Wes Welker had: "Wes is Wes. What more can you say about the guy?" But that's it.
Tight Ends (B+) ... The Dolphins wanted no part of tackling Rob Gronkowski (7-78) and Aaron Hernandez played a nice complementary role with four catches for 36 yards.
Running Backs (C+) ... As a group, the Pats averaged 3.8 yards a carry. But you have to be encouraged by the late running of the rookie, Stevan Ridley, who closed well with 13 carries for 64 yards.
Quarterback (A) ... His will to make this team win is off the charts. Anyone who conceded the NFL MVP to Aaron Rodgers is sorely mistaken. This is the best QB in the game — at least since 2006.
Line (C) ... If Reggie Bush got 35 touches, this football team loses because the Pats' front continues to get manhandled. Bush ran for 5.1 yards a try — an improvement for the Pats over the last two games but still unacceptable. Shaun Ellis — yes, I had the same double-take you did when I heard his name — had a sack but the rest of the front simply has been manhandled.
Linebackers (C) ... On paper, Jerod Mayo's day looks like a monster - 13 total tackles, 2 sacks. The numbers lie. He had four solos, two in the first half, when Reggie Bush ran 16 times for 81 yards. Sorry, that's not good. Dane Fletcher flies around, but he's limited. Gulp, this team needs Brandon Spikes back. Did I just really type those words?
Secondary (C) ... Another day, another spaghetti-armed fraud of a pro QB torching this group for 300.
Coaching (A+) ... Todd Bowles' staff got carved up like the Christmas goose. Big props to Pats offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia for his patchwork job.
Special Teams (C) ... Stephen Gostkowski missed a 51-yarder, but there's been no bigger play than his kick-coverage, finger-tip tackle.
WHY BELICHICK'S BETTER
I liken the Miami Dolphins to the Vegas gambler, who sits down at the black jack table with $200, turns it into $500 and walks away on a roll.
That player, or in this case team, will never, with this strategy, set itself up for the dream game or in Vegas that dream score.
Being conservative killed the Dolphins yesterday. It's a lesson Bill Belichick learned a long time ago, one that Miami neophyte Todd Bowles has yet to endure.
The Dolphins gambled hard early, blitzing and playing man outside. They built a solid bankroll, made it a 17-0 lead. And then they stopped, played coverage and watched it all slip away.
After pummeling Tom Brady (3 first half sacks) early, Bowles stopped gambling. And he handed the Pats a win they didn't deserve.
What happened to the no-safety and one-safety looks, the 10 guys in the box. Instead, he went cover-two - with a four-and five man rush — and that was that.
Congrats on your tiny little achievement, Todd. Remind me never to go to Vegas with you.
LACK OF COORDINATION I
Dear Mike Nolan and Brian Daboll:
I hope you guys are only renting. Miami's two coordinators will soon be looking for new jobs. You guys had New England, 17-0, and reeling.
And you both gagged.
Nolan's switch from an amoeba-look, six and seven-man pass rush to simple cover-two four and five-man rushes changed the game.
Amazing, a longtime, well-respected, ex-head coach (San Francisco 2005-08), 24-year NFL coach got outsmarted by the Pats and first-year offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.
How did the Pats win this game?
They didn't huddle.
Don't believe it? Listen to veteran safety Yeremiah Bell, who had a sack in the first half, but spent the second half pinned to the goal post in Nolan's moronic, two-deep look.
"Where we were getting pressure on them in the first half, they slowed us down by going no-huddle in the second half," said Bell. "We didn't have time to set up our pressure package. We didn't have time to mess around with them."
Youch. They couldn't blitz because the Pats didn't huddle.
Nolan is clearly playing checkers in a league where chess players win Super Bowls.
LACK OF COORDINATION II
And Daboll, the former thoroughly miserable Pats receivers coach, finished the job by choosing to ride Matt Moore over a sizzling Reggie Bush.
Look at Miami's second-half possessions.
Bush rush for 2, incomplete, bad snap/fumble.
Moore sack, Bush for 9, Moore sack.
Moore completion, Bush for 5, Bush for 8, Moore to Bush for 12, Bush for 2, Moore to Hartline for 10, Moore intercepted.
Bush for 10, Moore incomplete. Moore sacked.
And at that point, the Pats went from 17-0 down to 27-17.
Bush, sure he got his. Last time I looked, 22 carries for 113 yards — all while the game was up for grabs — equals 5.1 yards a carry. And those yards came without sacks, holding penalties or turnovers, all which littered the Miami implosion.
In the time the lead went from 0-17 to 27-17, Moore was 3 of 7 with a pick and fumble for 36 yards.
Bush had six rushes for 29 yards (4.8 per carry) with no turnovers.
MAYO THE MAGNIFICENT
Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas combined to run 18 times in the first half for 84 yards. And New England's middle linebacker Jerod Mayo had one solo tackle. That's almost impossible. He did have 8 assists. Congrats, he's a pile-jumper. And he stole the 0-yard "sack" when Matt Moore left the pocket and slid into Mayo's feet.
FIVE THOUGHTS AS THE AFC EAST CHAMPS, CLOSING IN ON A BYE
1. That first-round bye is looking pretty nice for a team with an offensive line in distress. Still, the Pats are going to need to take care of Buffalo — just business as usual — If they want to be sure about the AFC title game at home.
2. Pity the Jets. I am officially off their wagon.
3. Not quitting on Tim Tebow though. All he has to do is win next week and my prediction that he'll be playing in Foxboro in the playoffs comes true.
4. As bad as any of us might think the Pats' defense is, and I think it's one of the worst I've ever laid eyes on for a team that has more wins than losses — they are actually worse.
5. Tom Brady is the NFL's MVP. I agree with Jason Taylor (see my column, please).
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