Dolphins pass coverage vs. Pats TE Rob Gronkowski
Who won: Gronk.
The impact: In the first half, Gronkowski had zero catches against a group of Dolphins backup linebackers, and the Patriots ran for 21 yards on 12 carries before quarterback Tom Brady’s half-ending kneel down. That changed in the third quarter. Gronkowski got behind Jason Trusnik for a 35-yard catch on the first play. New England began to run the ball well, often behind excellent blocking that included Gronkowski. With Gronkowski an integral part of their offense, the Patriots scored 24 points in the third and took over the game.
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Dolphins pass rush vs. Patriots pass protection
Who won: Patriots.
The impact: Those couches across South Florida filled with Dolphins fans had as many sacks as the Dolphins did Sunday: zero. That’s one sack over the past two weeks with the playoffs on the line. No pass rush, no chance. And the vaunted Dolphins pass rush didn’t just fail to sack Brady. It usually failed to annoy Brady, who could have considered the pocket his panic room. And as awkward and aged as the 37-year-old Brady looked on his 17-yard scramble, that’s how oafish Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler looked in falling for a Brady juke.
Dolphins running game vs. Patriots run defense
Who won: Patriots.
The impact: If you can’t run the ball or hit your tight end, you better score from a distance. Running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas and quarterback Ryan Tannehill combined for 73 yards on 21 carries, 3.5 yards per carry. That included far too many runs of 2 yards or fewer that left the Dolphins in bad down-and-distance situations that ended drives. When the Dolphins did run it on third-and-3, needing at least a first down to answer a roused Patriots offense in the third quarter, Miller got 2 yards.