The Patriots’ opener was one thing to construct on, nevertheless it doesn’t get simpler Sunday evening towards the Dolphins


The Patriots we noticed final Sunday towards the Eagles — even with the errors, even in defeat — have been a lot extra interesting than at any level a season in the past.

Mark J. Terrill
Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw for 466 yards and three TDs in Week 1, and he is 4-0 in his profession towards the Patriots.

Welcome to Season 12, Episode 2 of the Unconventional Preview, a severe but lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted take a look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup . . .

Of their season-opening 25-20 loss to the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles final Sunday, the Patriots made a few inexcusable errors — a Darius Slay pick-6 of a Mac Jones cross, adopted by an Ezekiel Elliott fumble — that led to misplaced alternatives, sleepless nights, and excruciating movie periods.

The Patriots made the sort of immediately regrettable, how-can-that-happen errors of their opener final 12 months, too. In a 20-7 highway loss to the Dolphins, a strip-sack that led to a Melvin Ingram fumble restoration for a landing and a 42-yard landing catch-and-run by Jaylen Waddle on fourth down simply earlier than halftime left the Patriots wanting someplace between unprepared and inept.

However you recognize what? This isn’t a parallel, or the frustrations and failures of 1 season bleeding into the subsequent. It’s a coincidence, and nothing extra. As a result of the Patriots we noticed final Sunday towards the Eagles — even with the errors, even in defeat — have been a lot extra interesting than at any level a season in the past.

The protection was quick and fluid, at instances bewildering Eagles do-it-all quarterback Jalen Hurts. The offense? We’d have settled for competent after final season’s debacle, nevertheless it was greater than that. It was inventive and unpredictable below new offensive coordinator Invoice O’Brien, again for his second stint with the Patriots. Jones bought the ball out in a rush. The open receiver bought the ball. Gamers’ strengths have been emphasised. You already know, these apparent, basic issues that we respect a lot extra now.

That is epitomized by Kendrick Bourne. Within the doghouse final 12 months partly as a result of he was one of many first to acknowledge that Matt Patricia’s offense had issues, he didn’t play within the 2022 opener till the fourth quarter. He promptly got here in, made a 41-yard catch, and returned to the sideline as a bystander. It was dumbfounding and counterproductive, which occurred to be the pillars of Patricia’s philosophy.

On this 12 months’s opener, Bourne was utilized, accurately and very often, tying for the crew lead with six catches for 64 yards, and hauling in a pair of aesthetically superior landing catches. It appeared so proper that we might virtually neglect how he was executed mistaken.

No, Jones, Bourne, and the remainder of the offense couldn’t make the play it wanted on the finish of the sport. However on the very least, it was one thing each hopeful and actual to construct on.

It doesn’t get a lot simpler this week towards a potent Dolphins crew coming off an exhilarating 36-34 win over the Chargers by which quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — he of the profession 4-0 file towards the Patriots — threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns.

Kick it off, Ryland, and let’s get this one began . . .

Three gamers to look at apart from the quarterbacks

Tyreek Hill: First thought when watching the previous Chiefs dynamo, now in his second season with the Dolphins, catch 11 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns towards the Chargers: I’m wondering if Patrick Mahomes, who may need the fashionable equal of the 2006 Patriots receiving corps with him in Kansas Metropolis, is watching this.

Second thought: It’s exceptional that the Patriots have dealt with Hill comparatively effectively through the years contemplating that he makes each different breathtakingly quick athlete on the sector with him appear like they’re working with 25-pound dumbbells tied to their ankles. In six profession regular-season video games towards the Patriots, Hill has averaged six catches for 92 yards, with a complete of 5 receiving touchdowns. That’s productive, however contemplating that he averages greater than 100 yards per sport towards 10 groups, it could possibly be a lot, a lot worse.

(In Hill’s one playoff matchup with the Patriots — a 37-31 New England win within the 2018 AFC Championship sport — he had one catch for 42 yards.)

The Patriots did greater than an honest job on him final season. Within the opener, with the Dolphins attempting to force-feed Hill the ball, he made eight catches for 94 yards, together with his greatest play a 26-yard seize late within the first half when he outfought Jack Jones for the ball. The Patriots did an excellent higher job on Hill within the second assembly, with Jonathan Jones and, sure, Myles Bryant holding him to 4 catches for 55 yards.

The Dolphins, with a wholesome and assured Tagovailoa,have been working on one other stage offensively towards the Chargers. And even when Hill isn’t making dynamic performs, the specter of him doing so is at all times current. The Patriots defensive backs would profit significantly from a relentless cross rush. The Chargers didn’t sack Tagovailoa as soon as.

Rhamondre Stevenson: Know what’s loopy? Stevenson has performed simply 30 profession video games, and but he’s solely about 3,700 yards away from being the Patriots’ all-time main rusher.

That tells us just a few issues: That Sam Cunningham and Jim Nance’s legends nonetheless endure (they’re 1-2 on the record, and the one Patriots backs to clear 5,000 yards) . . . that it’s going to at all times be infuriating that Curtis Martin is foremost related to the Jets . . . that promising working backs on this group have typically had a brief shelf life (the place have you ever gone, Horace Ivory?) . . . and that Stevenson is off to a darn good begin to his profession.

His begin to this season might have gone higher — he ran 12 instances for simply 25 towards the Eagles, partly due to the early 16-0 gap and partly as a result of Elliott picked up seven carries. Stevenson did contribute within the passing sport, tying Bourne with six catches for 64 yards.

The Patriots’ greatest probability to gradual the Dolphins’ offense Sunday evening could be to forestall them from possessing the soccer, which suggests the working sport must be productive. And it ought to be towards acclaimed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s work-in-progress run protection, which allowed the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelly to mix for 208 speeding yards. This ought to be per week by which Stevenson climbs 100 or so extra yards up that record.

Keion White: It’s robust to gauge how a lot the second-round pick of Georgia Tech will play towards the Dolphins, given the Patriots’ depth and flexibility amongst their defensive linemen and cross rushers. White performed simply 23 (or 35 p.c) of the Patriots’ defensive snaps towards the Eagles. But he managed 4 hurries of Hurts, and his pace and athleticism popped off the display towards arguably the perfect offensive line within the NFL. I can’t wait to see extra of White, and right here’s hoping these reps start a speedy enhance this week.

Grievance of the week

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s Patriots debut wasn’t precisely inspiring. In opposition to the Eagles, the veteran receiver caught simply 4 of seven targets (Mac Jones threw him a sinking changeup on one dangerous drop, however hey, gotta catch it if it hits the mitts) for 33 yards, performed a mere 54 p.c of the snaps, and had a candy view from the sideline throughout the offense’s failed try to win the sport within the closing two minutes. However I’m not fairly certain who to be irritated with — Smith-Schuster for not making the most of performs that have been there to be made, some followers and media who’re leaning towards writing him off already, or the Patriots for giving a receiver nonetheless recovering from a knee harm three years and $33 million as a free agent. Let’s name this a grievance-in-progress, since I’m undecided with whom to be irritated fairly but. Possibly everybody.

The flashback

The Patriots are dressing for the event Sunday, breaking out the sharpest-looking uniforms they’ve ever worn — helmets with the Pat Patriot emblem, pink jersey, and white pants from their sartorially superior 1984-92 period — for his or her prime-time look.

Although the Patriots have been the highway crew and wore their white jerseys for the second I’m about to reference, the opponent and the retro wardrobe this week jostled a welcome flashback to a specific sport in 1986.

Within the regular-season finale, the Patriots traveled to Miami with easy pointers: Win, and so they’d be the AFC East champions for simply the second time because the AFL/NFL merger. Lose, and the season was over.

The Orange Bowl had lengthy been a stadium of disappointment for the Patriots, who lastly had ended an 18-game shedding streak on the facility with a 31-14 win within the 1985 AFC Championship sport. This one began out effectively sufficient, with the Patriots leaping to a 10-0 lead. However at first of the fourth the Dolphins had come all the way in which again and seized a 27-20 lead on Dan Marino’s third landing cross of the sport.

Tony Collins tied the sport with a 12-yard landing catch from Steve Grogan — who had are available for Tony Eason, injured within the first half attempting to get well a fumble. Then with 44 seconds left, Grogan discovered Stanley Morgan down the appropriate sideline for a profitable 30-yard landing catch, his second rating of the sport.

“It’s becoming and correct that it’s Morgan,” mentioned Frank Gifford on the ABC telecast. “He’s been accountable for so most of the Pats’ wins this season.”

It was the ultimate Dolphins sport ever performed on the Orange Bowl. The purpose right here is two-fold. Most ghosts do get exorcised. And Stanley Morgan belongs within the Corridor of Fame.

Prediction, or which Mark was higher, Duper or Clayton?

You couldn’t blame Mac Jones if he has a nasty case of weapons envy of Tagovailoa, his buddy and former teammate at Alabama. Tagovailoa has Hill and Waddle — additionally a former Crimson Tide stalwart — at his disposal, and it must be the quickest receiver tandem within the league. Jones has . . . plenty of good gamers, even some underrated ones reminiscent of like Bourne and tight finish Hunter Henry, however no sure-thing No. 1 goal.

He had one of many most interesting statistical video games of his profession towards the Eagles, with 35 completions and 316 yards. However he additionally left factors on the sector, and I’m not fairly certain what to anticipate out of him Sunday towards a Dolphins protection that held the Chargers’ Justin Herbert to 228 passing yards final week. I do know this: Jones must be just a little extra correct than he was per week in the past, since that’s speculated to be considered one of his strengths.

Yardage ought to be there for the taking beneath, however I’m not able to imagine that the Patriots can outscore these Dolphins. Possibly a ball-control offensive sport plan and this proficient Patriots protection have a shock in retailer. However I must see it to imagine. Dolphins 26, Patriots 23.