- Tedy Bruschi, Columnist, ESPN.com
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1. Wildcat attack: The Patriots defense did a respectable job containing the Wildcat offense as they knew it. When Ronnie Brown lined up in the quarterback position, the Patriots were ready and sent players like safety Brandon McGowan and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain off the edge to force the play back to inside pursuers. The Dolphins countered with a new variation of the offense that utilized quarterback Pat White as an option threat. The Dolphins overloaded one side of the formation with tight ends and running backs to have more blockers than the Patriots had defenders. This put the end-of-the-line defender in a bind. The decision that had to be made was, "Do I have the running back or do I take the quarterback?" This decision was forced on outside linebackers Adalius Thomas and Banta-Cain. When defending the option, responsibilities are normally dictated by declaring who has the pitch and who has the quarterback. However, when the option is coming at you and you also have blockers flashing in front of you, it can become hard to decipher. This is why Thomas and Banta-Cain seemed to be in "no man's land" (the area in between the quarterback and the pitch). This indecision is what created White's big play in the second quarter, which led to a touchdown. When defending the option as an on-the-line defender, if you don't quickly declare whom you have, the defenders behind you don't know whom they should take. Credit sideline adjustments by Patriots defensive coaches for adjusting to this new offense. When the option was attempted again later in the third quarter, McGowan was assigned to the pitch while Thomas and inside linebacker Gary Guyton made the play on White for no gain. Responsibilities defined, problem solved.
2. Unsung hero: Kevin Faulk is one of the most important pieces of the Patriots offense. His statistics may not catch your eye, but every time his number is called he delivers. Against the Dolphins, he had two rushes for 15 yards and also caught four balls for 35 yards. These numbers don't include his biggest contribution to this victory. On Randy Moss' 71-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady, Faulk stepped up into the line of scrimmage and stoned blitzing Dolphins linebacker Akin Ayodele to give Brady the time he needed to deliver the ball to Moss. Ayodele weighs 245 pounds to Faulk's 202. You'd think that Faulk, in giving up nearly 50 pounds, would cut-block the bigger Ayodele. Instead, the undersized running back squared up the blitzing linebacker right down the middle of his chest and protected his quarterback.
3. Gotti the equalizer: Coming into this game, Miami's Ted Ginn Jr. had to be considered the hottest kickoff return man in the NFL. Two kick returns for touchdowns last week against the New York Jets gave the Patriots enough evidence to realize he must be accounted for, and the Patriots countered his explosive ability with the powerful leg of kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Gostkowski kicked off six times and Ginn's longest return reached the Dolphins 34-yard line. Three of Gostkowski's kicks reached the end zone and two were kicked so far they could've been considered field goal attempts. The most impressive display occurred in the third quarter. After a successful 38-yard field goal, Gostkowski blasted his kickoff through the end zone, only to learn that he had to re-kick after safety James Sanders was flagged for being offside. Backed up five more yards, Gostkowski booted his next kick even farther. Ginn could only watch the ball sail over his head for another touchback. What's the best way to neutralize a kickoff return threat? Kick it over his head.
4. Walk the walk: One of the biggest questions going into this game was whether the Patriots' offensive tackle tandem of Sebastian Vollmer and Nick Kaczur could contain Miami rushers Jason Taylor and Joey Porter. It was safe to assume that Porter was highly motivated after all of the trash talking he did during the week. His hate for the Patriots has been well-documented, and he has been a disruptive force against the Patriots in the past. Sunday was a different story. The tandem of Taylor and Porter combined for a total of three tackles. All three tackles were made by Taylor.
5. Hard runnin': With Miami playing without nose tackle Jason Ferguson and linebacker Channing Crowder, the Patriots attacked the middle of the Dolphins defense with the inside running of Laurence Maroney. While his numbers weren't staggering (20 rushes for 82 yards and a touchdown), it was the way Maroney ran that was impressive. He aggressively hit the holes, putting his foot in the ground and making powerful cuts while attacking the line of scrimmage. He put his head down, broke tackles and got the tough yards. Maroney ran with a confidence that hasn't been seen for two seasons.
2hBy Jackie MacMullan