It was simultaneously a stroke of coaching genius and the ultimate sign of disrespect.
Bill Belichick’s decision to dial up a fake punt on fourth-and-8 — on the game’s opening drive, on his own 27 — was remarkable.
And it worked. Nate Ebner took the direct snap, went around the right edge and rushed for 14 yards. What should have been a three-and-out for the Dolphins’ defense ultimately turned into a touchdown and a lead which the Patriots would not relinquish.
Michael Thomas, the Dolphins’ special teams captain, is a stand-up guy who did a characteristically stand-up thing after the game.
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“Pretty much, that's on me,” Thomas said. “Regardless of the time situation, whatever, I was the edge of the defense, the edge of the special teams right there, so I've got to set the edge. I can't let nothing get outside me. You can put that one on me. That can't happen. Defense, they got three-and-out. We can't put our defense back on the field right there.”
Did the Patriots show anything pre-snap that, in retrospect, should have alerted the Dolphins that something was up? Yes.
“Pretty much just a left-footed punter,” Thomas said. “[Ebner] usually doesn't line up to our left, their right, and he did. So that should have been the tip right there.”
Belichick, in typically understated fashion, said after the game: “It was a big play for us.”