Question of the Week: Does Miami Have the Guts to Beat New England?


This week’s showdown against the New England Patriots presents a unique opportunity for Adam Gase and his Miami Dolphins. Not just to pull off a rare win in Foxboro, or set up a potential sweep of the Patriots for the first time since 2000, the first year of the Bill Belichick era, but it may even represent a chance to shift the balance of power in the AFC East for years to come.

As impossible as that scenario may seem to a Miami Dolphins fan base worn down by years of abuse at the hands of Belichick and Tom Brady, the truth is, the Patriots decline is already well under way. Their fall is just a matter of time. As such, the only question that remains is whether or not the Dolphins are up to the challenge of taking their place.

Thus, before examining the particulars of this week’s showdown, a broader view of the inevitable is in order.

Tom Brady is still playing well at 39 years of age, and has often talked of continuing deep into his 40s. Yet, every quarterback that attempts to defy Father Time, no matter how great, eventually hits a wall, and when they do, the fall isn’t just instantaneous………it’s usually as unforeseen as it is ugly.

Take, for instance, Peyton Manning. He went from having the most statistically successful season in NFL history in 2013 to retirement at the end of the 2015 season, and his QB rating plummeted 47.2 points over the span of those last two years.

The Final Three Seasons of Peyton Manning’s Career

YearComp %YardsAvg Yds Per PassTDsINTsComp of 20+Comp 0f 40+Rating

Manning is hardly alone. Similar fates have awaited all the elite quarterbacks in NFL history. Joe Montana, who retired after his 15th season, saw his QB rating drop 34.8 points over his final three years. The legendary Johnny Unitas tried to stretch his career to 18 seasons, and the result was a 30.8 decline in passer rating in that last year. Even Dan Marino saw his passer rating dip to a lowly 67.4 in his 17th and final season. Tom Brady is now in his 16th season, and like the others, he too has a rapidly approaching expiration date.

At 64 years old, the same can be said of Bill Belichick. While it is possible that he could still coach a few more seasons, like QBs, even the greatest coaches experience a sharp decline as the end nears. More to the point, it is doubtful Belichick will have the desire to attempt a franchise rebuild after Brady is gone. To do so and fail will only diminish his already tarnished reputation, and put into doubt whether the Patriots’ success would have ever been possible without Brady.

Beyond the imminent retirements of Brady and Belichick, as of late, New England hasn’t been nearly as dominant over the Dolphins as most casual observers believe. Ryan Tannehill is 3-5 against the Patriots. That said, he has yet to defeat them in Gillette Stadium.

In fact, Miami hasn’t beaten New England in Foxboro since the infamous 38-13 “Wildcat Game” of 2008. Miami’s two other victories against Belichick in New England came in 2006 (28-26) and 2000 (27-24). So why should this week’s encounter be any different?

The simple answer is… may not be different. Yet, good teams seize an opening when one presents itself, and in today’s NFL there are few more golden opportunities than facing New England with anyone other than Brady at quarterback. Failing to capitalize on it would do more than reinforce the mystique that Belichick is some god-like sorcerer able to stifle the Dolphins at every turn. It would confirm that Miami still has a long way to go before they can challenge the Patriots, or anyone, for that matter, for dominance in the AFC East.

Jimmy Garoppolo’s Stats Week 1 Vs Arizona

CompAttComp %YdsAvgTDsINTsRating

Some will, of course, point out that Jimmy Garoppolo, the heir apparent to Brady, played well on the road against the Arizona Cardinals on opening Sunday, especially since some analysts are already wondering out loud if Brady should remain on the bench following his suspension and give way to the second-year man. Yet, such ludicrous statements are little more than overreaction and hype. In reality, Garoppolo is nowhere near capable of filling Brady’s cleats.

Sure, Garoppolo had a good opening game, but he was facing a less than stellar secondary, as well as a defensive line that lacked the intimidation factor of fierce pass rushers like Mario Williams, Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh.

“At the end of the day, we have to make sure we go in there and get him rattled,” Suh Told ESPN’s James Walker, making his intentions perfectly clear. “Get him moving around, get him off his spot and make him uncomfortable.”

“At the end of the day, we have to make sure we go in there and get him rattled,”

The Dolphins front line did just that against Seattle, swarming Russell Wilson mercilessly, racking up 3 sacks and a slew of QB hits and hurries. Logic dictates that if they could do that to a multiple time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion considered the best scrambler in the game today, they should do the same, and far worse, to a second year player making his second start.

Furthermore, there are some very real areas of weakness along the Patriots’ offensive line for Miami’s defenders to exploit. Right tackle Marcus Cannon, who is hobbled with a leg injury, allowed 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hurries and was flagged for holding in week one, while rookie right guard Ted Karras was also penalized for holding and allowed 2 hurries of his own. Expect to see Suh pound on the youngster all game long.

Left tackle Nate Soldier will be back in the lineup against the Dolphins after missing last week’s game, but is likely to be at less than 100%. That is bad news for Garoppolo, because Soldier will be lined up against Mario Williams, who had a phenomenal game against the Seahawks, disrupting Russell Wilson at every turn.

More important still, while Patriots’ superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski was listed as a limited participant in Thursday’s practice, in reality, he did next to nothing on the field. According to Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, Gronkowski went through some simulated blocking drills and shuffled his feet in place while his fellow receivers ran routes. Needless to say, a limited or absent Gronkowski would be another huge break for Miami.

Moreover, Garoppolo probably won’t have the benefit of a powerful running game to help keep Miami defenders from coming after him full bore. The Patriots ran the ball 31 times for a meager 106 yards against the Cardinals, and their longest run of the day was a humble 13 yard scamper by LaGarette Blount.

So what does this all mean? The answer couldn’t be simpler or more obvious. Disrupt the young quarterback, and New England’s offense will falter.

That plan nearly worked against the Seahawk’s far superior QB. By applying pressure, the Dolphins’ aggressive front line forced Wilson into several mistakes, including an Isa Abdul-Quddus interception, while their hard hits paved the way for a Kiko Alonso fumble recovery. Thus, it is difficult to imagine Garoppolo standing calmly in the pocket and facing down such a relentless assault unscathed.

As such, intensity will be a key aspect to this road game, for it is something New England fans are not accustomed to experiencing when hosting the Dolphins. Yet, it was there for all to see in the fury of Ryan Tannehill’s titanic spike following his 4th quarter touchdown run against Seattle. At that moment, he and the Dolphins thought themselves a great team, for they believed they had finally figured out how to win the close games. But, alas, it was not to be. Not yet. Not in Seattle. Perhaps greatness is waiting another week, and for an even grander stage.

That said, the Dolphins are not without some question marks when it comes to intestinal fortitude. After all, Jay Ajayi wasn’t allowed to travel to Seattle due to his unprofessional reaction to Arain Foster being named the team’s starting running back, and DeVante Parker has been called out publicly by Gase for his lack of commitment to staying healthy. If the Dolphins are to have any chance of victory this weekend, both players will need to be at their best.

Those who still fail to see the epic nature of this game might argue that a Dolphins’ victory will hinge on whether the offense can push the ball downfield more effectively than they did against the Seahawks, or on Gase outmaneuvering Belichick at his own game. But they do not grasp that thrones are rarely won by such benign gestures. Victory, if it is to come for Miami, will almost surely arrive in the form of a raw spirit of warfare, a rage born of years of frustration. For rest assured, the Patriots will not relinquish their mantle because of Xs and Os drawn up months ago in the sterile surroundings of some corporate office. They will yield only when their crowns are ripped from them in the trenches, where bodies are bruised and wills broken.

The Dolphins have already fought such a battle this season, and they came within 31 seconds of obliterating the mystique of Seattle’s 12th man and their Legion of Boom. Now, in the aftermath of that war, we shall see if they have emerged a beaten team or, like a blazing south Florida phoenix, risen from the ashes, hungrier than ever to take their place atop the AFC East.

In the end, given the Patriots’ suspensions, injuries, inexperienced QB, and the inevitable effects of time, Adam Gase and the Dolphins have a near perfect opportunity to beat the Patriots in Foxboro and set the tone in the division for years to come. The only question that will remain unanswered until Sunday is whether or not they have the guts to do it.