By Danny Cox
Bill Belichick could have easily let the majority of his starters sit out the 2016 regular season finale. The New England Patriots already had a first-round bye in hand, but they wanted more. With home-field advantage staring them in the face, they needed one more victory to secure it, which meant letting the team go full strength against the Miami Dolphins.
The Patriots put on an impressive display and ended up dominating the Dolphins for a 35-14 win en route to a break before their first playoff game.
Tom Brady completed 25-of-33 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and no sacks. Julian Edelman was the primary target and he simply couldn’t be stopped, as he had eight receptions for 151 yards and one score.
LeGarrette Blount racked up 51 yards and one touchdown, while Dion Lewis had 48 yards of his own. It was just a solid performance overall and one that continues to show the Pats are balanced and dangerous at many positions.
The Miami Dolphins have played and performed well on offense this season and they’re hopeful that Ryan Tannehill will be healthy enough to start in the playoffs next week. For this week, they stayed with Matt Moore who didn’t have a bad game, but hardly ran up big numbers with 205 yards passing, two touchdowns, and one interception.
Making things more impressive was that the Pats practically shut down the strong running game of the Dolphins. Jay Ajayi was held to just 59 yards on the ground, but Miami did have to abandon the running game early on after going down by 20 points in a hurry.
Special Teams: B-
If there was anything that wasn’t completely on point on Sunday, it was special teams for the Patriots. Ryan Allen punted the ball decently, but it wasn’t an overall good day for him. The return game was almost nonexistent again, as a couple of kick returns totaled only 27 yards.
Stephen Gostkowski even had an off day with a rare miss at the end of the first half with a 52-yarder that went wide right. He did hit all of his extra point attempts and both of his other field goal tries, though.
Home-field advantage required one more victory by the New England Patriots and they were not going to let history repeat itself. With that, they went out, took care of business and locked up everything they could have possibly wanted for the playoffs. It was an excellently called game on both sides of the ball and the Dolphins look totally outmatched today.
The Patriots have a break now, as they won’t play another game until the second round of the playoffs. The team is running on all cylinders and look like the best team in the NFL right now.