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Snap Judgments: Tom Brady torches Dolphins in Patriots victory

09.12.11 at 10:39 pm ET
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The South Florida heat has been known to claim many a football team, but the Patriots made the calculated decision to use it to their advantage. Employing a no-huddle, hurry-up offense, Tom Brady kept the Miami defense on its heels all night long as he completed 32-of-48 passes for a career-high 517 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-24 opening week victory.

The backbreaker came after the Patriots held Miami on down at the goal-line late in the fourth quarter. On the very next play, Brady hooked up with Wes Welker who shook free and went 99 yards for the touchdown.

The Patriots needed all of Brady’s firepower because the Dolphins stubbornly refused to go away. Whether it was by self-inflicted mistakes, a lucky bounce or a 400-yard passing day by Chad Henne, Miami hung in long enough to throw a scare into the Pats.

But Brady was brilliant, completing passes to eight different receivers including Deion Branch who emerged from a catch-less preseason to haul in seven passes for 93 yards. As the game wore on, it was the Dolphins who were worn out under Brady’s relentless attack. Here’s what else went right (and wrong) for the Patriots:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Brady was spectacular in the early going, completing his first eight pass attempts to five different receivers as he marched the Patriots down the field for touchdowns on his first two possessions. Brady made great use of his tight ends, utilizing Rob Gronkowski, who caught six passes for 86 yards and a touchdown, early and later turning his attention to Aaron Hernandez who hauled in seven for 103 yards.

– Not to be outdone, Welker caught eight passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns.

– Rookie tackle Nate Solder did more than hold his own in his NFL debut. Starting at right tackle in place of Sebastian Vollmer, the Patriots opened the game by leaving a tight end in to help. But they quickly left him on his own and outside of a few breakdowns on their last drive of the first half, Solder held Cameron Wake in check. The breakdown wasn’t minor — Solder’s holding penalty pushed the Patriots back and ultimately resulted in a missed field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski, but it was a promising debut for the rookie.

– The Patriots running game wasn’t spectacular but it was effective as Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis combined for 103 yards on just 21 carries. Woodhead did most of the damage (14 attempts for 69 yards) and continued his knack for accumulating first downs and positive yardage.

Albert Haynesworth didn’t have a big statistical game but he drew two holding penalties on Miami’s Richie Incognito and he broke free long enough to make a one-armed tackle on Reggie Bush. The Patriots rotated their defensive lineman all night and it paid off as Andre Carter, Myron Pryor, Mark Anderson and Vince Wilfork all contributed sacks and held the Dolphins to 57 rushing yards.

– Despite giving up 416 passing yards, the Pats’ defense didn’t play that poorly. They held the Dolphins twice at the goal-line — once resulting in a field goal and used the familiar bend, but don’t break formula. The Patriots were especially good on third downs, limiting Miami to just two conversions in 13 tries.

– Oh, hello Matthew Slater. The special teams ace caught his first career pass and he made it a memorable one with a 46-yard reception on play-action.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– With Volmer out, the Patriots could ill afford to lose another lineman but they appeared to suffer a huge loss when sturdy center Dan Koppen was carted off the field at the end of the first half with what the team has called an ankle injury. It appeared that Miami’s Karlos Dansby rolled over Koppen’s left ankle while the lineman was making a block on a Brady sneak. The team quickly downgraded him to “out” and Dan Connolly took over at center.

– The last time Brady threw an interception in a regular season game was October of 2010 against the Ravens. After 358 attempts without a pick, the Dolphins’ Jared Odrick was the unlikely beneficiary of a lucky bounce after Miami defensive back Benny Sapp broke up a quick pass to Deion Branch that landed right in the defensive lineman’s hands. Odrick rumbled down to the 9-yard line where Miami scored quickly.

– The Dolphins opened the game with a quick tempo, employing a no-huddle offense at times. That seemed to catch the Patriots off guard as Chad Henne completed 6-of-7 passes on the opening drive for 77 yards. The Dolphins marched down the field with relative ease and then scored on a quarterback draw, a daring playcall by Mami offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

– The Patriots were far from perfect and made a handful of mental errors. Chad Ochocinco was called for an infraction, which nullified what would have been a 40-yard completion to Gronkowski when he forgot to move off the line. Julian Edelman made a curious decision to field a punt at his goal line, which cost the Pats five yards of field possession.

– Ochocinco, meanwhile, caught just one pass for 14 yards.

– Special teams were a bit of a mixed bag for the Patriots. Edelman had a number of fine returns, and Zoltan Mesko pinned the Dolphins deep with a punt that landed inside the 5-yard line, but Gostkowksi’s missed field goal loomed large as the Patriots couldn’t establish a two-score advantage until the third quarter.

– The Patriots left Devin McCourty in one-on-one coverage against Brandon Marshall for most of the night and it was a good battle as you would expect. Marshall caught seven passes for 139 yards, but McCourty had one one play in particular he’d like back: an interception in the end zone that bounced off his hands.

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