By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
“Upon Further Review…” takes a closer look at crucial plays from Patriots games that either went unnoticed or were more important to the outcome than you think. Come here for the biggest plays no one is talking about.
BOSTON (CBS) — Before completely moving on to the Houston Texans, I had to look closer at a play from the Patriots’ win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday that has been severely under-covered. To be fair, that’s probably because the Patriots defense played so poorly in the second half – and also because of that whole Jimmy Garoppolo thing. Bill Belichick is certainly not a doctor, but he IS a football coach, so he had to be happy with how his football players football’d on this one particular play.
Jonathan Freeny forced a fumble from the Dolphins’ Jay Ajayi on Miami’s first drive of the third quarter. The ball rolled into the hands of Trey Flowers for the recovery, after which the Patriots drove right down the field (with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback) for a touchdown to go up 31-3.
Freeny’s huge play, which you can see at NFL.com, could be argued as the moment that decided the game, as Ryan Tannehill spent the rest of the second half shredding the Patriots secondary until the very last play and eventually brought the Dolphins to within a touchdown of the Patriots. There are often plays that gain significance as the game goes along, and this fumble recovery was one of them.
Considering how dismally the second half went for the Patriots defense, you could reasonably assume that if Freeny didn’t get Ajayi to cough up the ball on that play, the Dolphins could very well have scored on that first drive of the third quarter. A 24-10 score is certainly a far cry from 31-3, just as 24-24 would have been way different from 31-17.
Freeny did a great job blowing up the play on Ajayi’s fumble, shedding his one-on-one blocker and getting to Ajayi just past the point of attack. He got juuust enough of his hand on the football to strip it loose and the Patriots got the bounce to go their way. The play becomes even more clutch when you consider that Freeny had the tough task of filling in for the injured Dont’a Hightower.
The Patriots defense clearly had communication issues in Hightower’s absence, but they also simply got beat all over the field in their matchups. With just three or four pass rushers the defensive line couldn’t beat their blockers to get to Tannehill, and in the secondary nobody could cover Jarvis Landry or pretty much any Dolphins receiver. Jamie Collins, who did intercept Tannehill near the end of the second quarter, otherwise had a poor day himself as the fill-in signal-caller of the defense. On Freeny’s forced fumble, Collins could not beat his blocker in time to get to Ajayi.
On what was ultimately a no good, very bad day for the Patriots defense, they had one great moment on Freeny’s forced fumble. And that one play may have turned an L into a W.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.