Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant calls it “Just NASCAR on grass.”
A pair of sentences most probably wouldn’t have fathomed to think would be a possibility at this point in the year: The Miami Dolphins are 3-0. The New England Patriots are 1-2.
But on Sunday, when the Dolphins travel to Foxborough, Massachusetts, for their first of two games against the Patriots, they face the daunting task of defeating Bill Belichick’s team at home — no easy feat for any team. The Patriots have gone 118-27 at Gillette Stadium over Belichick’s 18-plus years leading the team, including six years with a perfect 8-0 mark at home. His lone losing season in front of the home crowd came in his inaugural year as New England’s head coach in 2000.
And with Miami coming into Sunday with unwavering confidence after opining the season with wins over the Tennessee Titans, New York Jets and Oakland Raiders, the feeling of a statement game is brewing. A win over the Patriots on the road would not only give the Dolphins their first win at Gillette Stadium since 2008, it would also move Miami to 4-0 for the first time since 1995.
Belichick acknowledged the Dolphins’ success this year and pointed to coach Adam Gase’s ability to attack defenses and his awareness to mix up schemes on a weekly basis to exploit the opponent’s weaknesses on defense while also creating a balanced attack.
“He does a really good job of creating difficult schemes,” Belichick said. “As good as anybody we’ve faced. They’re a hard team to prepare for. There are going to be things we won’t have prepared for. There will be new wrinkles. They create explosive plays.”
That weakness this week could very well attacking the Patriots’ lackluster run defense. New England ranks as the second-worst run defense in the league through three weeks, giving up an average of 143.3 yards on the ground per game. That includes surrendering 167 rushing yards to the Houston Texans in the season opener and another 159 yards against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
As for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Belichick said he is doing “pretty much everything” right. That’s an apt summary, considering Tannehill ranks fourth in completion percentage (73.0) and third in quarterback rating (121.8) among quarterbacks who have started each of the first three games. The only quarterback with better marks in both categories: New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
“There’s obviously a lot of confidence in him as there should be,” Belichick said. “He’s done a great job for them.”
Some more notes from Belichick’s conference call with Miami reporters:
▪ The coach reflected on wide receiver Danny Amendola, now on the Dolphins’ roster after spending five years with the Patriots, calling him ”tough, smart, dependable. He played his best football in critical situations and in big games.”
In five years with New England, Amendola caught 230 passes for 2,383 yards and 10 touchdowns over 69 regular-season games (29 starts). Amendola has caught a team-high 11 passes for 100 yards through his first three games with the Dolphins.
“He’s always cranked up,” Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson said of Amendola. “He’s a great energy for the team. No matter who we’re playing, what the games mean, preseason, practice, he’s always fired up. We get behind him and make sure he’s going and we just keep pushing.”
▪ Belichick said the Patriots are taking a wait-and-see approach with wide receiver Josh Gordon’s availability for Sunday. The Patriots traded with the Cleveland Browns for the highly talented but off-field-trouble-laden Gordon on Sept. 18. New England’s receiving corps is thin at the moment. The Patriots dressed just three wide receivers in Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson last week against Detroit. Julian Edelman will serve out the final game of his four-game suspension for violation the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy this week.
▪ Belichick pointed out the collective speed of the Dolphins’ receivers, namely Wilson and Jakeem Grant, and said they can easily burn a defense if they get a step ahead.