Patriots all smiles after rout at Miami
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- There are victories and there are victories. This was one of the latter, with Bill Belichick's excitable postgame reaction proving that.
The New England Patriots came to South Florida dogged by the question of whether they could win on the road and rise up in the second half. Galvanized by what they felt was disrespect from the media, they banded together and answered with a stunning decisiveness, turning a one-point game at halftime into a 41-14 whipping of the Miami Dolphins.
Much like the 2003 win here, when Belichick threw his headset into the air with jubilation after Troy Brown's overtime 82-yard touchdown catch, the coach was positively giddy afterward.
With good reason.
There are certain checkpoints for teams over the course of a season, and this was one of them for the Patriots. While the 2010 squad might not have the championship pedigree of some past New England squads, it showed Monday night that it most certainly has heart.
This was the same place where last year quarterback Tom Brady had questioned the team's toughness and ability to fight through adversity. Faced with a similar situation this time around, the Patriots charged through it -- their special effort highlighted by special-teams dominance that included a blocked punt, blocked field goal and a kickoff return for a touchdown.
Belichick was so pleased with what unfolded, he told players they had earned the next two days off. He said it was the type of effort in which every player gets a game ball.
"It's real nice to come in here after a game like that," Belichick said. "It was a great team effort, and I am really proud of the players. They really stepped up -- offense, defense, special teams. Tonight was our night."
The Patriots became the first team in NFL history to score a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown, a blocked field goal for a touchdown and return an interception for a touchdown in the same game.
"It was great; we got plays from every phase of the game," Belichick said. "They played unselfishly and we got the win. That's what we came down here for."
The stunning turnaround came at the start of the third quarter, with the Patriots trailing 7-6, when Brandon Tate returned the half's opening kickoff 103 yards by selling an up-the-middle return hard before cutting to his right and picking up a big block from Sammy Morris.
"That's what we've been talking about the whole time: second-half momentum. It's hard to think of a better way to start a second half than get a touchdown," Morris said.
They never looked back, their second-half surge including the blocked punt and blocked field goal, both by safety Patrick Chung.
Asked about the impact of special teams, Belichick played the role of comedian. "They were all right," he deadpanned, before laughing and calling it a "great effort."
In a sign of how this victory was a bit more special than most, Belichick pulled Brady (19-of-24 for 153 yards, 1 TD) for the final kneel-down so teammates could recognize his leadership on the sideline. On his way to the locker room, Belichick also embraced veteran tight end Alge Crumpler, one of the team's emerging leaders, in a moment that seemed to reflect how some of the team's older players helped bring the Patriots together in a time of adversity.
Coaches search for different ways to motivate players over the course of a long season, and Belichick played up the nobody-believes-in-us mantra earlier in the week by posting "expert" predictions from the team-owned Patriots Football Weekly on the bulletin board inside Gillette Stadium.
Each "expert" picked Miami, which raised the ire of players to the point that nose tackle Vince Wilfork wouldn't speak with reporters in the days leading up to the game. Wilfork continued his silence after the win, saying to reporters "I've got nothing for you" as he walked out of the jubilant locker room.
While it's debatable how much the bulletin-board material actually helped on the field, it seemed to bring players closer together and perhaps sharpened their focus. It was what they needed to come into a hostile environment and overcome their kryptonite over the last year -- the road and second-half meltdowns, as they were 1-7 in their past eight true road contests.
"We had something to prove," said linebacker Jerod Mayo, who led the team with 16 tackles. "Everybody doubted us, but we like it that way. Keep doing it."
Before the opening kickoff, receiver Randy Moss called his teammates together and urged them to stick together. Crumpler was spotted pacing the sideline, jacking up his teammates.
It was like a rising tide, showing the power of 45 players coming together as one.
Asked about the Patriots playing with a chip on their shoulder, Brady didn't deny it. "It's going to be there for a while like that," he said. "We've got a lot of chips."
Now they have a big road win too. At last.
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