By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots beat up on the Dolphins in their 35-17 win on Sunday, but the Dolphins also returned the favor on a number of occasions.
In the end the Patriots walked off the field with their seventh straight win to improve to 9-2 on the season, sitting atop the AFC. They set a new NFL record by notching their 17 straight season with a winning record, which is pretty remarkable. But a winning record doesn’t win you much in the NFL, and the Patriots know there is a lot of room for improvement.
Sunday’s win wasn’t pretty at times, but the Patriots got up early and never looked back. Tom Brady tossed four touchdowns for the 28th time of his career, Rob Gronkowski ended his touchdown drought, and the New England defense continues to impress after a slow start to the season.
The game never felt too comfortable as the Dolphins kept hitting Brady (and shooting their mouths), but the Patriots never let them get back into it. Here are the “Ups and Downs” from Sunday’s victory over the Miami:
Gronk Does Gronk Things
Gronkowski was kept out of the end zone in each of the last two weeks, but hauled in a pair of touchdown grabs on Sunday. It’s the 16th multiple touchdown game for Gronkowski, a new franchise record for a Patriots pass catcher.
He finished the game with five receptions for 82 yards, passing Kellen Winslow for 10th all-time in receiving yards by a tight end. He also gave Brandin Cooks a ride to the sideline after the receiver’s touchdown in the fourth quarter, which was entertaining to say the least.
D Continues To Impress
Yes, it was the Dolphins with Matt Moore at quarterback. But the Patriots D gave up just 10 points on the afternoon and held Miami to 221 total yards. It’s the seventh straight game they’ve kept opponents under 17 points. The Pats have won seven straight — coincidence?
The New England D also recovered a pair of fumbles and picked off two bad passes from Moore. Stephon Gilmore nearly had a two interception game, but Duron Harmon really wanted to seal the victory:
Again, yes, it was the Dolphins with Matt Moore at quarterback. But the Patriots racked up seven sacks on the afternoon, an impressive total for a team that doesn’t put much of an emphasis on their a pass rush.
Trey Flowers and Elandon Roberts both had two sacks while Kyle Van Noy, Jonathan Jones and newcomer Eric Lee each checked in with one.
Lewis Runs Wild
Dion Lewis was back to his video game form, rushing for 112 yards on his 15 carries. The Dolphins had trouble bringing down the crafty back as he recorded his first 100+ rushing yard game of his career.
Baby Dion went over the 100-yard mark with a 25-yard run on third-and-1 midway through the fourth quarter, setting up Cooks’ touchdown.
Overall, New England’s ground attack rushed for 196 yards on the day, their highest output since the 2014 season.
Perfect In Red Zone
Execution in the red zone is something the Patriots have struggled with this season, but they were a perfect five-for-five in their trips inside the Miami 20 on Sunday.
Another Big Special Teams Play
The Patriots were heading off the field following a three-and-out on their first possession of the game, but Nate Ebner executed a fake punt to perfection, picking up 14 yards to move the chains and keep the eventual scoring drive alive.
New England’s special teams unit had been firing on all cylinders lately, though Sunday’s play came at a cost.
So Many Injuries
Ebner suffered a nasty injury after his knee buckled on the fake punt, which will likely cost him the rest of the season. That was just the first of many injuries the Patriots had on the afternoon.
Linebacker/special teamer Trevor Reilly suffered a head injury when he and Miami running back Senorise Perry had a violent helmet-on-helmet collision on a kick return. Both Trey Flowers (ribs) and Marquis Flowers (leg) had to leave the game, and linebacker Kyle Van Noy also left in the second half with a leg injury.
Second string right tackle LaAdrian Waddle suffered an ankle injury, leaving Cameron Fleming to take over for him on the offensive line.
The injuries certainly piled up for the Patriots on Sunday, and all eyes will be on their first injury report of the week come Wednesday.
Brady Under Siege
It wasn’t a particularly good day for the New England offensive line, and Brady will probably be feeling this one all week. He was only sacked once and hit eight times in the box score, but No. 12 was under siege for much of the afternoon and spent way too much time laying on the Gillette Stadium field.
Sloppy Second Quarter
The Patriots had a nice 78-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, but it was sandwiched between a pair of messy possessions.
The Dolphins scored their first touchdown off of a bad snap by Ted Karras, which sailed by an unprepared Brady. Reshad Jones and Brady dove for the ball (leading to audible gasps all around New England) but the Miami safety scooped it up and returned it 14 yards to make it a 14-7 game.
That was a bad miscue by the offense, but it wasn’t the only one that quarter. Brady also threw his first interception since Week 6, a forced pass over the middle to Danny Amendola that Bobby McClain plucked out of the air. Miami didn’t do much with it as Moore was intercepted by Gilmore in the end zone, but it was an ill-advised throw by Brady, who was really feeling the pressure of the Miami pass rush at that point in the game.