There are some games on the NFL calendar that get circled no matter the circumstances. Whether it’s a great rivalry, two entertaining teams, or two star quarterbacks going against each other, they’re games worth watching. Every year you can count on Steelers vs. Ravens, Packers vs. Bears, and Cowboys vs. Eagles to at least deliver some action even if the football isn’t that well played.
These two teams played the first time in week 4, with New England blowing out Miami 38-7. After the week 4 win, New England would go on a 6 game win streak that put them in play for the one seed in the AFC playoffs. Miami struggled after losing by 31 to their division rival, only winning three games after week 4.
But weird things happen when the Patriots make the trip to South Beach.
The Patriots received the ball to start the game and wasted no time moving down the field.
The Patriots are facing an early third down and come out in 11 personnel with two receivers to each side. Josh Gordon (#10) is lined up at the bottom of the screen, split out wide. Xavien Howard was out this game due to a knee injury, and the Dolphins’ secondary depth would be tested going up against the best quarterback of all time. The Dolphins are in Cover 1 and Tom Brady (#12) looks right at Gordon once he receives the snap. Rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick (#29) is locked into one on one coverage with Gordon. Gordon breaks into a slant when Fitzpatrick attempts to jam the 6’3” 225 lb. wide receiver. Gordon is too strong and gains a step of separation from Fitzpatrick after the jam attempt. After the catch Gordon drags Fitzpatrick, spins off of Reshad Jones (#20) and keeps moving the pile once Kiko Alonso (#47) hops on. A gain of 16 yards and the Patriots are moving.
Julian Edelman would tack on another 17-yard reception the next play. The Patriots would continue to move the ball down the field until James Develin punches the ball into the endzone from 2 yards out. First drive of the game and the Patriots go 75 yards in 6:47 to draw first blood. Now an extra point to top off the drive.
Stephen Gostkowski lines up to kick and it doinks off the right upright. 6-0, Patriots.
The Dolphins knew they had to score early and often to stay with the Patriots and avoid another blowout. Miami would respond.
Miami is in 11 personnel with a bunch into the field; the play is a power to the left C gap. Key blocks from Nick O’Leary (#83) and Ja’Wuan James (#70) hit and the ageless wonder, Gore (#21) slips through the hole into daylight. A chunk play of 36 yards, and the Dolphins are inside the Patriots 10-yard line.
Tannehill would cap the drive off the next play by hitting Kenny Stills in stride for a touchdown. Miami didn’t score until 2:42 remaining in the game in week 4; in week 14 the Dolphins are starting off on a completely different note with an opening drive equalizer. Miami, 7-6.
The Patriots would go three and out on their next series. Miami would feed Gore early in their next drive to try and keep the momentum rolling. Despite an automatic first down from a Patriots penalty, Miami would struggle as the drive ends with a Dont’a Hightower sack on Tannehill. Miami to punt.
Matt Haack (#2) is back deep to punt. Patriots linebacker Albert McClellan (#59) is lined up over Dolphins longsnapper John Denney (#92). McClellan breezes by Denney and makes an excellent play, blocking Haack’s kick. The ball is launched high but eventually falls into the waiting arms of Ramon Humber (#50). Humber goes down just inside the redzone at the 18-yard line, putting his team in awesome position to assert their dominance on Miami.
Three plays later and the Patriots are 2 yards away from the goal line.
New England is in 11 personnel with Edelman split wide to the boundary and Chris Hogan (#15) in the boundary slot. Brady motions Hogan across the to the field slot position, Dolphins corner Bobby McCain (#28) follows, indicating man coverage. Brady has one of his favorite targets alone to the boundary in one on one coverage with plenty of space. Julian Edelman (#11) runs a nasty whip route and Brady’s accuracy is perfect. Touchdown. Extra point. Patriots, 13-7.
It would only take two plays for Miami to respond.
Miami Head Coach Adam Gase was waiting for New England to match this formation with the given defense. The play starts out as a 21 personnel set with an empty backfield. Brandon Bolden (#38) motions into a singleback set behind Tannehill. The motion moves Devin McCourty to the boundary side of the field lining up across from Kenyan Drake (#32). Three huge blocks make this play. Center Travis Swanson (#66) puts the vice grips on linebacker Elandon Roberts (#52), who over-commits to the right by just a step. Stills sprints towards Patrick Chung (#23), chops his feet and gets underneath the safety. But the alley created by Stills and Swanson would be all for nothing if it weren’t for Durham Smythe (#81) blindsiding Lawrence Guy (#93) with a wham block. The wham block in tandem with the fold blocking from the offensive line creates a beautiful play. Bolden is one on one with Duron Harmon (#21), cuts towards the sideline and outruns Harmon to the pylon.
Dolphins up 14-13.
New England’s next possession would get off to a head start with a 17-yard Brady to Gronkoswki connection. Later in the drive, Brady completes a pass to Edelman for 16 yards, putting the Patriots at the Miami 37-yard line.
The Patriots are in 11 personnel when they dial up this max protection, play-action call.
Cordarrelle Patterson (#84) is lined up in the boundary slot and runs a skinny post route. Brady does a fantastic job of holding the free safety with his eyes before he snaps a throw off to Patterson. Patterson speeds past Walt Aikens (#36) and is just fast enough to reach out and snag a rocket shot out of Brady’s right arm. Extra point is good. Patriots, 20-14.
The next play from scrimmage Miami would respond with a shot of their own.
Miami is trying to go over the top with a crossing route and corner post ran by Stills and Parker (#14). Tannehill drops back in play-action and stands in the pocket, waiting until the last second before he’s smothered to get the throw off. This isn’t the smartest throw in the world but it turned into a great throw as the ball sails over two New England defenders into the hands of Stills. Forty-three yards and the Dolphins enter New England territory.
Tannehill and the Dolphins offense moved through New England’s defense to the 6-yard line when Bolden would run in his second touchdown of the game. Bolden had a great revenge game against the Patriots the second time around in 2018. Dolphins take the lead, 21-20.
On the responding drive, the Patriots would once again work themselves into the red zone fueled by an 18-yard reception by Gordon and a 20-yard reception by Edelman.
The story of Rob Gronkowski’s (#87) 2018 season was full of peaks and valleys. It was clear Gronk was not the same player he once was, but he flashed in this game. Off the line, its apparent Gronk doesn’t have the same burst he once had, but he settles in between zone coverage and uses his body to shield off the defense. The big man tumbles into the end zone and the Patriots retake the lead, 27-21.
The Patriots and Dolphins exchange three and outs. It’s under a minute left in the half and the Dolphins are punting once more.
What’s more frustrating than a blocked punt? A second blocked punt! The middle of the punt formation gives way and once again McClellan gets a hand on the punt. This one goes in the books as a deflection rather than a block. After McClellan’s deflection, the Haack punt nets a grand total of two yards. The Patriots are in the Miami red zone. Again.
The Miami defense would respond well to the adversity. A Brady throw to Gronkowski would put the Patriots at the two yard line, and the Patriots take their last time out. New England dropped back to pass on first and second down, and Miami’s final timeout ceases action.
Miami only rushes four and chooses to double-cover Gordon and Gronkowski to the boundary. Brady gets the snap, drops back and looks towards the boundary, but both receivers are covered. Brady hesitates and takes a peek at Edelman to the field, but he is also covered. Davon Godchaux (#56) gets the initial pressure on Brady and Robert Quinn (#94) finishes off the sack. The clock is running under 10 seconds and the Patriots have no timeouts left. The clock runs out on the first half and the Dolphins avoid going down by two scores.
Miami received the ball to start the second half. An illegal use of hands penalty on Laremy Tunsil puts the Dolphins in a 1st and 20 hole from their own 29. They would be forced to punt after only gaining 6 yards after the penalty.
The Patriots would get the ball and attack the Dolphins in a similar fashion to their opening drive of the game. Sony Michel was getting his carries and Brady was chipping his way down the field to the New England 45-yard line.
Once more, New England is in 11 personnel. Brady has trips to the field with Gordon isolated in the boundary. Gordon runs a 7-yard curl and Brady barely gets the ball over Jerome Baker’s (#55) head. Gordon secures the catch and starts gaining ground up field. The big wide receiver is a strider, and before he’s chopped down at the Miami 26-yard line, he’s gained 29 yards.
The Patriots offense would stall the next series and Gostkowski is back on the field to attempt a 42-yard kick. Gostkowski is wide right again and the Patriots miss another opportunity to put some distance between themselves and Miami.
The Dolphins take over from the spot of the kick at their own 32-yard line. A defensive holding on their first play would grant the Dolphins an automatic first down and five yards. Two plays later Frank Gore would burst through the Patriots front for a run of 16 yards. Next play, Gore would take a short flat route, juke a defender and go scampering down the sideline for a gain of 24 yards.
Miami is in a balanced 11 personnel formation with tight end Mike Gesicki (#86) and running back Drake to Tannehill’s left. New England is in Cover 4. Miami runs a Cover 4 killer to the boundary with Gesicki running a corner to the pylon that takes Chung to the sidelines. This leaves Brice Butler (#14) one on one with leverage against Stephon Gilmore (#24). Tannehill delivers a ball towards the goal post and Butler snags it. Miami retakes the lead, 28-27.
After allowing 27 points in the first half, the Miami defense began to settle in nicely as the second half progressed. The Patriots were facing a 3rd and 3 with seconds remaining in the third quarter.
It was clear Miami was bringing pressure this play. Four defenders were stalking the Patriots offensive line in an attempt to not tip their hand to Brady. On the snap, it’s only a four man rush. The simulated pressure gives New England’s offensive line trouble as they slide protection to the left. This creates an open gap between the right tackle and right guard and Bobby McCain slips through and punishes Brady and the Pats. New England must punt again.
New England’s defense was up to the task of matching Miami’s. On a 3rd and 1 near midfield, the Patriots make a play.
Miami is trying to catch New England off guard with this designed play-action rollout to the boundary. Linebacker John Simon (#55) is not fooled. Just as Tannehill is coming out of his fake, Simon is there to greet him and 3rd and 1 turns into 4th and 9.
The Patriots would drive down into the Miami red zone the next drive but would have to settle for a Gostkowski field goal. New England takes a 30-28 lead going into the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
A three and out from Miami and the Patriots are looking to close out the Dolphins for a season sweep.
Starting the drive with 4:26 left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots slowly moved down the field, eating up the clock as they moved.
A huge defensive pass interference penalty on Fitzpatrick puts the ball all the way down to the Miami 7-yard line with 1:50 to go. In an effort to run out the clock and leave virtually no time for a Miami come back, the Patriots called three consecutive runs inside the 10-yard line. Bill Belichick runs the clock all the way down to 21 seconds left before calling a timeout and trotting Gostkowski back out on to the field. Gostkowski nails it and the Patriots take a 33-28.
After the kickoff, there’s only 7 seconds left on the clock.
One of the greatest plays of the season followed, one that immediately earned its place in football history. Tannehill drops back and delivers to Kenny Stills, who laterals to Devante Parker after shaking off Jonathan Jones (#31). Parker laterals to Drake near midfield. Drake shakes a defender and then looks to lateral again before a crease appears. Drake breaks into the deep levels of the Patriots defense where Gronkowski is the only Patriot between Drake and a victory. Gronk stumbles and Drake runs in for an unbelievable play. Miami takes a 34-33 lead as time expires.
Again, the Dolphins beat the Patriots in Miami. A valiant effort in a game of runs. Both teams started hot with opening drive touchdowns before scoring really opened up in the second quarter. The Dolphins offense was potent enough to match the Patriots score for score and the defense found a groove as the second half progressed. Two blocked punts are neutralized by two kicks missed by Gostkowski. And one of the greatest game winning plays of all time to top it off put this game at #7 on the list.
MVP of the Game
Both quarterbacks played well, in different manners this game. Brady was his normal field general self, and Tannehill was productive throwing for 265 yards, 3 touchdowns on only 14/19 pass attempts. The Inconvenient Truth, Frank Gore, was a machine this game showing flashes of the future Hall of Famer in his prime. But Kenny Stills was the most valuable player in this game. Hauling in deep shots with a score to boot, Stills also caught the final pass that would result in a series of laterals and a Kenyan Drake touchdown.