It was a tale of two halves for the Patriots again Monday night. Fortunately for them it was the Miami Dolphins who could not pull themselves together as the Patriots forced themselves back into the top of the AFC East conversation.
On a night where Tom Brady became the fastest quarterback to 100 career wins he was essentially a non-factor. Instead, it was the Patriots special teams that came up big as a Brandon Tate kick-off return, and two huge blocks from Pat Chung on a punt and a field goal powered New England to a 41-14 victory over the Dolphins Monday night at Sun Life Stadium.
“It feels great,” Chung said. “You just gotta give thanks to the man upstairs. He blessed me.”
Considering the way Chung managed to be everywhere on the field Monday he could have been mistaken for god himself.
With the Patriots up 13-7 in the third quarter after Tate’s return the Dolphins were set to punt after a failed drive. Next thing Miami punter Brandon Fields knew Chung was in his face and the ball was back in the Patriots hands in the red zone where BenJarvus Green-Ellis punched it in to make it 20-7.
Chung and the Patriots didn’t look back after that.
Chung easily matched his punt block totals during his 2007 season at the University of Oregon Monday night and showcased the skills that made him a two-time special teams player of the year in college.
Along with his special teams play Chung added four tackles and an interception in a game that featured a rejuvenated Patriots defense that kept them in the game despite the offense not finding its groove in the first half.
Tom Brady can go ahead and thank linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who was last seen going on and off waivers for the Dolphins in 2007 and 08, for that.
The former Purdue Boilermaker had two key first half interceptions that set up field goals for the Patriots. The first came late in the first quarter; with the Pats down 7-0 Henne got the Dolphins into New England territory, with Henne looking wide right on his next pass Ninkovich read the play and cut in front Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall and returned it to the New England 40. Brady took that and got that Pats into field goal range to cap their first scoring drive.
Ninkovich struck again in the second quarter, with the Dolphins in the red zone he took advantage of a bad decision by Henne and intercepted a pass that essentially was thrown straight at him. Again the offense capitalized on the play and pulled the Patriots within a point going into halftime.
“I just got back to my drop and read the quarterback. Saw he was looking right at me,” said Ninkovich. On the second one, Marshall was lined up at two. I saw they were running a boot. Hartline ran a snag. Henne was looking right at him so I just drove at him and that was it.”
It was quite the time for Ninkovich to make the first two interceptions of his career especially against his former team who did not exactly give him many chances to shine.
“It feels pretty good. You know, I was here as a practice squad guy. Now that I’m here playing against them, it feels good to play my old team”
The defensive showcase in the first half kick started the offense in the second as the Patriots, who still faced criticism over their play on the road in the second half, exploded for three second half touchdowns two of which came on special teams. That included Tate’s 103 yard kickoff return that made a strong statement that the Patriots were ready to fight in the second half.
It was a performance that put a rare smile on Bill Belichick’s face and even elicited a joke.
“I Thought they were alright,” Belichick said with smile drawing laughs from reporters. “No, it was a great effort. Those guys really work hard. They work hard every week in practice. I was really happy with the success they had tonight. The plays they made tonight helped our team. Those kids worked hard. They deserved it.”
The Patriots now head into the bye week with a hard earned tie for the AFC East lead with the New York Jets. Though it took four games it seems the Patriots are starting to hit their stride and are quickly discovering who they may be depending on for the rest of the season.