Teams rarely make a Tom Brady-led Patriots offense look inept.
The Dolphins did in the second half Sunday with a fierce pass rush that completely swung the game in their favor resulting in a huge 33-20 victory.
“We knew we had to stretch Tom Brady, we knew we had to force turnovers,” defensive end Olivier Vernon said.
The Dolphins defense did more than just stretch Brady.
They sacked him four times, twice forcing him to fumble when Cameron Wake burst around and stripped Brady of the ball. It was the first time that Wake had recorded multiple forced fumbles.
The first led to a tying touchdown drive that evened the score at 20 in the third quarter.
The second took away the last breath of hope the Patriots had of making their own comeback in what ended with their first season-opening loss in more than a decade.
“I thought we had a good plan,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “The only thing I said to the offense at halftime — we thought we had some plays we didn’t make that were there in the first half. The plays are there, we have to step up and make them when they present themselves.”
Dolphins pass rushers, including Wake, often pressured and hit Brady in the first half, but always after he was able to release the football.
That changed in the second half following Wake’s first forced fumble.
The fumble in the third quarter was recovered by Louis Delmas. The Dolphins tied the score at 20 four plays later when Ryan Tannehill found Mike Wallace for a 14-yard touchdown pass. Then the defense took over from there.
“I think our execution was just terrible,” Brady said. “We just couldn’t do anything offensively, we couldn’t sustain drives and we couldn’t get a first down.”
Philbin felt it was a matter of intensity rather than adjustments.
“I thought our tackling was better,” Philbin said. “You have one good series and we started to build some momentum and the offense and defense kind of fed off one another for a little bit of time, and we were playing good, solid football.”
Rookie Chris McCain became an unexpected contributor both on defense and special teams, bolstering a corps of linebackers that was further depleted by injuries Sunday.
Already without Philip Wheeler (thumb), Koa Misi (ankle) and Dannell Ellerbe (hip) were both forced to leave the game in the first quarter and did not return. Misi was later seen wearing a boot and in street clothes on the sideline.
McCain made his mark in the first five minutes of the game when he blocked a punt that set up the Dolphins’ first touchdown. McCain also had a key sack in the third quarter to end a Patriots drive.
“Coaches just called some great calls out there,” McCain said. “We kept our poise no matter what happened. We started off really strong. This is just a blessing. I just feel really good about being here.”