EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 2, 2012

Two-minute drill

Patriots 23, Dolphins 16


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — BIG SHOWS

1. Trevor Scott – A couple cheapie sacks for two yards lost. Cheap sacks, yet nonetheless sacks. How could you ask for much more than that for Chandler Jones/Jermaine Cunningham’s replacement?

2. Wes Welker – You negative types tend to focus on a drop here or there by Welker, like the one in the end zone yesterday, but when you are open so much and are targeted 18 times in a game, you are going to drop a ball or two. Another monster week with 12 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. He is the pass offense right now.

3. Aaron Hernandez – Again, a couple early drops, but he was extremely productive as things heated up. Finished with eight catches for 97 yards.

4. Vince Wilfork – A couple nice tackles and some steady pressure on the inside. Love his football sense. Reads so well. Pounced on a fumble. Just an active day inside.

NO SHOWS

1. Stephen Gostkowski – Another missed field goal, number six on the year. Do you have confidence in this guy from 35-plus in a close game? I certainly don’t.

2. Rob Ninkovich – The inconsistent Ninkovich returned in which his edged got caved early and often. Marcus Thigpen left him lunging for air once, and Reggie Bush did his best work running this way. No sacks, limited pressure, even though he had the benefit of no Jake Long most of the day.

3. Brandon Lloyd – Any idea where he was Sunday. The play sheet says on the field, and he did have a catch, but the kid was a ghost.

4. Kyle Arrington/Tavon Wilson/Aquib Talib – The coverage was shameful on the outside. A decent QB wouldn’t have underthrown Davone Bess or overthrown Greg Hartline when it mattered. The Pats got away with one here.

5. Nate Solder/Sebastian Vollmer – As strong as this team was opening holes in the fourth quarter for the running game up front, the edge was a problem. Tom Brady was sacked four times and Cameron Wake was trouble all afternoon.

GRADING THE GROUPS

OFFENSE

Line (C+) … Until they inflicted their will on that impressive fourth-quarter drive for the clinching field goal, the front five was enduring a brutal afternoon. To that point, the Pats had 18 for 59 on the ground. Clinching it, the Pats ran 11 times for 54 yards. That was a monster drive, one to build on.

Running backs (B-) … Saved the best for last, running hard. Tough to get a rhythm when you run eight times for 10 yards in the first half. Stevan Ridley’s 19 for 71, earning much of that yardage on his own.

Tight ends (D-) … Remember, I consider Aaron Hernandez a wide out on this team. Nothing out of this position, except for an average blocking effort by Daniel Fells.

Wide receivers (B+) … Bigtime performances out of both Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. Rob Gronkowski’s injury has put serious heat on Welker to produce, especially on third down, and this guy has responded like a champion. Needs to be paid like one. Julian Edelman and Brandon Lloyd were too covered, too often.

Quarterback (B+) … What he lacked in production, hitting on only 24 of 40 for a 74.8 rating, he made back in guts, standing in there while under siege. Compare him to the other QBs in the division, and you will have a smile on your face the entire work day today.

DEFENSE

Line (B-) … At times, they earned their keep, like the entire defense. But Miami just hung around much too long, despite falling all over themselves early and often.

Linebackers (B) … Again, a couple really nice plays. But am I supposed to cheer Jerod Mayo for going unblocked on a blitz? Or am I supposed to laud Brandon Spikes for Tony Fasanorunning a 5-yard stop, right in front of Spikes, who simply swatted the throw away? Sorry, they just pounced on Miami’s ineptitude. By the way, can somebody remind Dont’a Hightower that we are still playing?

Secondary (C-) … I know it’s hard to see when Ryan Tannehill is constantly missing, but there were too many guys running free back there. Nice to see Aqib Talib has learned the cornerback’s mantra on this team, which is: “When beaten, blame the safety.” That is, if you can find them.

Special Teams (C ) ... Hardly special. Gostkowski missed the field goal try. Solid punt return work by Julian Edelman. Nice work in coverage by Matt Slater with two solos.

Coaching (A) … Excellent adjustments at halftime. Got just enough out of the running game late. Didn’t pile it on Brady late. Look, they own this division and lock it up early. Big day, give the coach a T-shirt and hat.

The turning point

Tenuously nursing a 20-13 lead, the Patriots take over with 8:28 left at their own 20.

The Patriots then land the methodical knockout punch, marching 77 yards on 16 plays while chewing up 7:18 on the clock and exhausting all three Dolphins timeouts.

Stephen Gostkowski’s 20-yard field goal puts it away with 1:10 left.

Why Belichick’s better?

It’s a small point, but yet a point to focus on.

With the clock running down in the first quarter, and Miami facing a fourth-and-13 play at the Pats’ 26, Belichick calls a timeout to have the Dolphins kick into the wind. That’s the move a good coach makes. But Belichick attempts to make the better move, asking the officials to reset the game clock to 10 seconds, so the Pats get either a kickoff with the wind, or at least one down to throw with the wind, before switching sides.

The coach didn’t get what he wanted, but the Pats still caught a break as the clock showed :01 after Dan Carpenter’s field goal.

It allowed a run-back for Devin McCourty on the kick, and he took it to the 29 for solid field position.

Bottom line? Belichick covers all the options and all the edges. You think Chan Gailey thinks two plays ahead like that?

Five points to ponder with the AFC East champ Pats at 9-3

1. OK, Tom Brady, you’ve sold me. I officially want a pair of man Uggs for Christmas.

2. The bye, and potentially the No. 1 seed, is in the Pats’ hands, thanks to Baltimore’s pathetic home loss last night to Charlie Batch and the Steelers. Can somebody please tell John Harbaugh, that with the score tied 20-20, you don’t take the ball and heave it deep two of three downs, ignoring the best player on the field, Ray Rice. The Ravens are so beatable right now. Bring them here in the playoffs, please.

New England has it tough, even though the next two are at home. Beat Houston and San Francisco and you know the Ravens will slip again, handing you the inside track on the No. 2 seed. And then the Pats just need some Luck, as in Andrew Luck, to knock off the Texans in one of the two games they play.

3. Aren’t these next two games really the only two you were excited to watch when this season started? This should be a great fortnight.

4. Matt Schaub presents a tad different challenge than Ryan Tannehill, right?

5. If I had to get one Patriot back, it would be Chandler Jones, over Rob Gronkowski or Logan Mankins. Against real teams, this defense needs him most.