It wasn't the blowout that many expected, but Sunday's 23-16, grind-it-out win over the Miami Dolphins may have been exactly what the Patriots needed. Questions lingered from early in the season about the Pats' heart and ability to perform in clutch situations, but it appears those criticisms have been answered.
One of the knocks on the Patriots this season has been that they can't close out games. It's one thing to put a ton of points on the board when the opposition goes down like notorious NBA flopper Manu Ginobili after taking a light flick to the chest. But in close games, with the outcome on the line, the offense failed to deliver in previous weeks. They got away with it wins over Denver and the Jets, but were burned against Arizona, Baltimore and Seattle. So it was nice to see RBs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen combine to eat 7:18 off the clock and put the game away on New England's final drive. So major credit should be given for this team finding its heart in what could be considered a character-building performance, but everything before the last stand was ugly, WR Wes Welker and TE Aaron Hernandez's performances not included. This was one of the worst games of the season for QB Tom Brady (24 of 40, 238 yards, one touchdown, one pick) and did anyone see WR Brandon Lloyd on Sunday? Previous game's grade: A
If the performance didn't come against the Dolphins, we'd be much more impressed by it. The pass rush was particularly strong, with backup DE Trevor Scott (two sacks, forced fumble) and DT Brandon Deaderick really standing out in spots. LB Jarod Mayo may have had the play of the day when he took down Miami QB Ryan Tannehill on third-down, forcing the Dolphins to settle for a field goal before the aforementioned clock-killing drive by the offense. The run defense also came up strong, limiting RBs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas to 74 combined yards. Previous game's grade: A
Special Teams: C-
The Patriots need to take a hard look at K Stephen Gostkowski. He missed his sixth field goal of the season Sunday, and though it didn't play a role in the outcome, it's starting to become a serious cause for concern. There wasn't much to speak of for either team in regards to the return game, and that aspect of New England's attack could be in for a big hit with Julian Edelman suffering a foot injury. Previous game's grade: A
Points are lost here because the Patriots didn't seem properly prepared for Miami's pass rushers, but it seems to hold too much of that against the coaching because injuries struck the unit hard Sunday. G Logan Mankins (calf/ankle) was ruled out before the game, G Dan Connolly (back) was lost early in the contest and OT Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee) clearly wasn't at full strength. Otherwise, there isn't much to speak of. A solid job all around. Previous game's grade: A