On paper it looked like a golden opportunity for the Dolphins to come to Gillette Stadium and snatch a win from New England, something they hadn’t accomplished since 2008.
No Tom Brady and no Rob Gronkowski left the Patriots’ vaunted offense with some question marks, but backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo came out firing and picked apart the Miami secondary, going 8 for 8 to start the game, and 9 for 10 with two touchdowns before the first quarter even expired.
That trend continued into the second quarter as the Patriots ballooned their lead to 24-0.
With a little over four minutes remaining in the first half Kiko Alonso chased down the New England quarterback, who got a pass off but was stuffed into the turf onto his throwing shoulder, turning the tide of the game in the process.
“He came out of the pocket and I got out there and he just landed on his shoulder,” said Alonso of the hit.
Forced to the locker room, Garoppolo would not return to the game and the Dolphins knew then that their opponent would be forced to simplify things as rookie Jacoby Brissett was thrust into his NFL debut for New England.
“We knew they were going to get a little bit more basic,” said safety Isa Abdul-Quddus the team’s mindset when Garoppolo went down. “It was really about keeping our fits and fitting everything up right.”
Though the Patriots struck first in the second half, inflating their lead to 31-3, things were starting to come together on both sides of the ball for Miami.
“We were fighting against a good football team in their home,” cornerback Reshad Jones said. “We just put our head down and kept fighting.”
Seemingly growing stronger with each drive, Ryan Tannehill and the offense showed their resolve by answering right back with their first touchdown of the game, a 24-yard strike to Kenny Stills.
Then the defense began making stops and forced New England to punt on their next two series, setting up the offense to score two more times to pull the Dolphins within seven.
Feeling the pressure, the Patriots looked to eat up some clock as they worked their way into field goal territory, but in an attempt to ice the game, the normally sure-legged Stephen Gostkowski pushed his 39-yard attempt wide right, putting the Dolphins in position to drive down the field and tie the game, but ultimately that effort fell just short and the team was left knowing they put themselves in a bad spot early.
“We had to go out there and get the ball back to our offense to give them opportunities to make plays,” said Ndamukong Suh. “When we did that, they went down and moved the ball and scored points. We got a chance to get back in the game, but we just didn’t complete it.”
“This league’s not a league where you can spot points,” said Cameron Wake. “You can’t go out there and start slow and then kick it on later on. We played well at times, that’s not going to get it done in this league. ... It would have been nice to play the way we played in the second half, in the first half. Obviously things would have been different, but that didn’t happen.”