Maybe it was the uniforms because there’s no denying the Miami Dolphins played much like those winning teams of yesteryear in those 1970s threads. Maybe it was the weather, wind chill and all. Whatever it was that was different about this team Monday night, it was good.
Do more of that, please.
Miami Dolphins 27.
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New England Patriots 20.
“I think this was probably one of the better games probably in the past two years as a team, all three phases,” coach Adam Gase said.
“It was complementary football, all three phases have been playing together. We’ve been kind of waiting for this to happen. We’ll just keep going one at a time and see what happens.”
This game, on national television, was an unveiling of a team we really haven’t seen much of this season. It was clearly a show by a team that played nothing like the one that lost 35-17 to the Patriots two weeks ago.
The Dolphins looked good. No doubt about that. But more surprising and impressive is that they looked, well, different.
For years the Dolphins, and every team in the AFC East, has watched the Patriots steamroll through the division by letting Tom Brady work, but also by out-coaching everybody.
How often have the Patriots won doing one thing in the first meeting between division rivals and then won the rematch doing something altogether different?
Well, this game the Dolphins were altogether different. And better.
This night of prime time football was like a coming out party for an Adam Gase’s team.
They lined up Jakeem Grant, MarQueis Gray and Jarvis Landry in the backfield. They handed Gray the ball once and he ran for a first down. And that was different because none of those players are running backs and none typically line up in the backfield.
The Dolphins used Grant at wide receiver. Like, legitimately outside, running routes deep down the field.
The Dolphins have wasted down after down this season trying to get the football to their tight ends. This night the team sometimes removed the tight end from the field and went with four wide receivers — and Grant was the extra receiver.
Gase has talked of intending to do this before but never gotten around to actually trying it for reasons only he knows. Well, the attempt Monday night paid off with a 25-yard touchdown.
(And there would have been a much longer touchdown except for the fact Grant dropped the pass. Maybe that’s the reason we haven’t seen this a bunch).
“We focused on ourselves this week, we tried to us as many guys as we could,” Gase said. “We wanted to see if you could use some things we haven’t really shown in a while. A lot of the stuff we kind of dug up from earlier in the season. Guys executed the plan well.”
The Dolphins did another thing we haven’t seen nearly often enough this season: They protected quarterback Jay Cutler.
Cutler had plenty of time to throw the football practically all night. Yes, he was sacked. But that was the exception rather than the rule of the game. Given ample time to scan the field and pick out his receivers, Cutler completed 25 of 38 passes for 263 yards and three TDs.
It was one of his best games of the season.
We saw a difference in the Dolphins defense as well.
Against this team two weeks ago, the Dolphins made 20 mental errors on defense. There were New England receivers running wide open multiple times.
There was none of that this night. Indeed, the Dolphins seemed to offer the tightest coverage they have all season and perhaps that’s a reason cornerback Xavien Howard intercepted two passes for the second consecutive week.
The fact the Dolphins corrected what was an embarrassing number of busts from the first game is testament to defensive coordinator Matt Burke and players who didn’t repeat the mistakes.
“They do a great job and they run the same offense,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “Once you pick up on that and you don’t make a lot of mistakes, it’s pretty simple to stop it.”
One thing the Dolphins defense did carry over from the first meeting was their unrelenting chase of New England quarterback Tom Brady. Miami’s defense lost that first meeting but beat up Brady in the process, knocking him down time and again even as he was completing passes.
The Patriots took notice of that mistreatment and tried to protect Brady this game by having him get rid of the football quickly. It didn’t work. No one was generally open. And Brady often misfired.
It was as if Brady was at times more concerned with not getting hit than getting a completion.
The question this all leaves us with, of course, is whether the Dolphins can carry this through to their final three games of the season?
The fact is the Dolphins remain a terrible bet to make the playoffs. They need to win out and they need help. But if they can continue what they seemingly started this night, there’s no denying they give themselves a chance.
It’s a crazy thought, isn’t it? That the Dolphins might have a playoff chance the remainder of this season after so many weeks of frustration and terrible results?
It’s got to be the uniforms.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero