Ask Dolphins defensive back Don Jones what stands out about his three months playing for the New England Patriots — the team that has dominated the Dolphins’ division for years — and he mentions one thing you would expect (coach Bill Belichick’s impressive level of detail) and another thing you wouldn’t (Belichick’s Wednesday pop quizzes).
“Belichick would say, I have [expletive] questions for you on Wednesday, and I want [expletive] answers!” Jones said, smiling.
For Jones, the most unique element of his Patriots experience, which was sandwiched between two stints with the Dolphins, was that regular Wednesday meeting in which Belichick queried his players about New England’s next opponent.
“He would say, ‘Don, who is the starting right guard of the team we’re playing this week? What college did he go to? Who is their special teams coordinator?’ Before we played Denver, he said, ‘Who is the linebacker who filled in for the one who was injured?’”
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Jones estimates eight of every 10 questions are answered correctly.
“They make sure players are prepared for everything,” Jones said. “Bill is good to play for. There’s no rah-rah. He just tells you what to do, very straight-forward.”
When the Patriots signed Jones days before their Week 1 meeting with the Dolphins, he expected the staff might pump him for information.
“But they didn’t ask me zero about the Dolphins,” he said, adding that the Dolphins haven’t asked him for intel about the Patriots this week.
But the Patriots coaches sought Dolphins secrets from Marcus Thigpen, who was also signed by New England days before that game. Thigpen, who now plays for Buffalo, said Patriots coaches asked him to share the Dolphins’ offensive hand signals (he said they did not have any) and to break down tendencies of the Miami receivers.
Since 2001, Tom Brady’s first season as a starter and Belichick’s second year as New England’s coach, the Patriots have played in five Super Bowls, won three and have gone 168-53, compared with 106-115 for the Jets, 103-118 for the Dolphins and 87-134 for the Bills.
A win Sunday would give the Patriots their 12th AFC East championship in that 14-year span. The other two years? The Patriots lost the division title on a tiebreaker to the Jets in 2002 and to the Dolphins in 2008, when Brady sustained a season-ending knee injury in the opener that year.
Playing in a division with a team that has dominated for so long is “pretty frustrating,” Dolphins safety Reshad Jones said this week.
Even beyond the greatness of Brady and Belichick and the slew of other elite players who have suited up for them during this run — Vince Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski, etc. — Dolphins defensive lineman Jared Odrick points to another reason for their success:
“Their groups are very cohesive units, and the game plan is well communicated and it’s evident,” Odrick said. “They can piece people together, and things come together for them. That’s the sign of a good program. It makes you want to beat them more.
“I don’t think anybody’s ever been distraught because we’re in the same division as the Patriots. You see it as a challenge. You want to knock off Goliath.”
Dolphins punter Brandon Fields said it’s difficult even for AFC East rivals to dislike these Patriots because “they’re not dirty.”
Many predicted the Patriots’ and Brady’s demise after they were beaten 33-20 in the opener against the Dolphins and then drubbed, 42-7, at Kansas City to fall to 2-2. They have won eight of nine since, losing only at Green Bay, while averaging 36.2 points per game during this stretch.
Their success naturally starts with Brady, who has 30 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a 100.7 rating. But, as usual, it is a group effort.
Gronkowski has 73 catches for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns. Emerging linebacker Jamie Collins has 95 tackles, three sacks and three forced fumbles.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis is holding quarterbacks to a 67 rating in his coverage area and “is probably the best cornerback in the league,” Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said.
Dolphins reject Rob Ninkovich has seven sacks. The Patriots are sixth in offense, 13th in defense and third in turnover margin at plus-10.
“When you play them your mind-set is just different,” Wallace said. “You know the challenges they present for so many years for the entire league. You can’t hate a team like that. You have to respect it, and hopefully you can mimic some of that.”
Jones witnessed the way the Patriots do business for three months before he was cut on Thanksgiving.
“Tom Brady was way nicer than I thought he would be — he was the first person to welcome me there,” Jones said.
What resonated most, he said, “is how much into detail they are” in preparation.