Want to beat the New England Patriots? Do the unexpected.
Want to beat the New England Patriots in a game they’re desperate to win? On a big stage, which for them means almost any game at Gillette Stadium where they rarely lose to AFC East rivals?
Do the improbable.
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Make them shake their heads and lose their minds.
It may not be the only way to beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. But over the years it’s been one proven way.
I said this to people within the Dolphins organization this week. You know their answer? You’d expect it to be something akin to, “Stay in your lane handling verbs and adjectives, geek, and let us handle the football.”
I didn’t get that response.
The responses I got were:
“Yes, I know.”
“We have some things.”
That suggests stuff. Actually, it does more than suggest. That speaks to the fact the Dolphins are aware that to beat the Patriots on Sunday, they have to come to the game armed with the unforeseen ...
...That which is not predictable.
The Dolphins must bring these plays and the plays have to work.
There may be no other way.
So why do I say this?
Well, consider the last time the Dolphins won a game at Gillette. It was Sept. 21, 2008. That day the Dolphins unveiled the Wildcat offense.
And the enduring picture locked in my memory is of a frantic and borderline rattled Bill Belichick snatching a white board off the bench, kneeling inside a circle of defensive players, and trying to draw an explanation of what the Dolphins were doing and how to defend it.
Then I remember those Patriots players going back on the field and continuing to play as if confused.
What a day!
That’s what it takes to knock the crown off king New England’s head -- even if only temporarily.
The Patriots are familiar with trick plays becoming game-defining plays. Remember last year’s Super Bowl?
The Patriots lost that game, not because they didn’t play well, but because the Eagles did things to that defense. And the culmination of things Eagles coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Nick Foles did was call “Philly Special.”
You know the play. Fourth down and goal. Direct snap to running back Corey Clement, who flips to tight end Trey Burton, who passes to Foles.
The truth is the Patriots have lost three Super Bowls because, in some form or fashion, the opposition delivered some trick or crazy play. The Giants beat New England in Super Bowl XLII when David Tyree made the utterly wild helmet catch. No, not a trick play, but a wild play for sure.
The Giants also had the ridiculous and other-worldly sideline levitation catch by Mario Manningham that helped win Super Bowl XLVI.
So, yeah, do crazy things and you can beat the Patriots.
And that’s fine because the Miami Dolphins are a crazy-thing-doing franchise.
There are NFL teams that have a reputation for doing the unorthodox to win games. The Seattle Seahawks the past five or six years gained that reputation with their place holder touchdown passes and throwback receiver TDs to Russell Wilson.
But your Miami Dolphins have done unexpected and unorthodox perhaps better than anyone.
How about the Hook and Lateral against San Diego in January of 1982? Don Strock passes to Duriel Harris who laterals to Tony Nathan for a touchdown as the first half runs out in the game.
How about the Fake Spike or Clock Play? Dolphins at Jets on Nov. 27, 1994.
Dolphins at the 8 yard line, trailing 24-21 with 38 seconds to play and one time out. Quarterback Dan Marino yells, “clock, clock, clock,” tricking the defense into thinking he was going to spike the football to stop the clock. Instead he took the snap and threw to Mark Ingram Sr. in the corner of the end zone as most of the Jets defense, which expected him to spike it, simply watched.
And, yes, the Dolphins are also the Wildcat franchise.
So, with respect to the rest of the NFL, the Dolphins have been the NFL’s trickiest franchise.
They certainly were last week.
The 52-yard receiver to receiver touchdown pass that Albert Wilson delivered to Jakeem Grant was epic. It will go down in team lore.
And the thing about it is now the Dolphins have other teams, including the Patriots, thinking about whether they might try it again. Or if they might try some variation of it next game.
Fun for the fans to watch. Fun for the players to execute. Fun for the coach to call.
“I’m all for it,” Gase said. “Any time everybody gets excited about a play call, I’m for it. The worst is when the quarterback goes in and says it to where he doesn’t believe it’s going to work. That’s when you get a little nervous.
“Those guys, I know when they like a play, because they’ll start saying stuff when we’re doing it in the walk through or in practice or when we watch film together where somebody will chirp out and wonder if I’m really going to call it. I just keep my ears open. If I feel like guys really like something, we’ll get to it.”
So a little perspective?
A trick play might be in order for the Dolphins next game, or in the next 13 games, because it helps them win. But that trick play last week was the difference between a team flying around and feeling great about itself the final seven minutes of the game ... and a team not necessarily playing great.
The Dolphins scored 28 points against Oakland and that is the high water mark for the season so far. Tannehill said Wednesday the offense is “on the right track.” But amid all the fanfare of a 3-0 record and celebration of Tannehill’s accomplishments under Gase after 16 games, please remember that it took two improbable plays -- the receiver to receiver TD and an electric end around -- to feel good about last week.
Without those two plays, the Dolphins are spending this week mostly addressing misfires.
“Obviously penalties hurt us,” Tannehill said. “Penalties hurt us big time. I think we had four drives that were basically stopped by penalties. We had a third down going in the red zone where we got a pass interference call, which was tough. We started off a drive with a pass interference call and we had two holding calls on top of that. Really, four times we were stopped by penalties.
“I think we had only 11 drives and scored on four others. We did some good things, but we have to eliminate those penalties, whether it’s technique or the way we’re doing things. We have to find a way to eliminate these penalties, be efficient on first and second down and be in manageable third-down situations.”
One more thing: Trick plays, unexpected plays, all that is unorthodox, is available to both teams in a game. And the Patriots like to use trickery, too. Over the years, they’ve tried their share, as they did last year in the same Super Bowl the Eagles tried Philly Special. Remember the Patriots tried their own pass to a then 40-year-old Tom Brady.
So the Dolphins must be ready to give.
But also be prepared to receive.
“They do a good job of playing their game, but also throwing in something you haven’t seen before or that you’re not really prepared for,” Tannehill said.
“I think that over the years, just know that there’s going to be things that you haven’t seen before,” Gase said. “There’s going to be something to take away what you do well and how are you going to adjust to it? Every time we’ve played them, it’s been different. That’s just kind of the way it is.”