In a disturbing trend, the Patriots started off slow.
Well, that might be an understatement.
By the end of the half, Tom Brady and the offense had gone scoreless on seven drives while the defense surrendered 17 points to Matt Moore.
Whatever was said in the locker room at halftime certainly did the job, as the second half was a totally different story.
Brady put the team on his back and engineered 27 straight points as New England stormed back to capture a tight 27-24 victory.
While the defense had a typically inconsistent performance, it came up big in the second half as the offense came to life.
Let’s take a look at this week’s risers and fallers.
1. Jerod Mayo: A week after signing a lucrative five-year extension, the 2010 All-Pro played like one against Miami. The fourth-year pro racked up a team-high 13 tackles and came up with two sacks. Despite missing time with an MCL injury, Mayo leads the team with 89 tackles and has become more of a playmaker this year with two sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. On a defense with so many inconsistencies, Mayo is the one constant.
2. Wes Welker: Samson Satele for Wes Welker….doesn’t seem so fair now does it? Looking to bolster their receiving corps, the Pats traded a second-rounder in 2007 for the undersized returner/slot man from Miami. The Dolphins selected Satele, who now starts for the Raiders, and the Pats got the league’s leading receiver. Welker burned his old team for 12 catches for 138 yards in another typically efficient performance. The 5-foot-8 jackrabbit was Brady’s go-to man on third down and was simply too quick for any of the Dolphin corners.
3. Stevan Ridley: Fans and draft analysts alike were thrown off by the back-to-back running back selections in the 2011 draft. Ridley is proving us wrong. The third-rounder out of LSU led the team with 13 carries for 64 yards and is looks poised to become the No. 1 back as BenJarvus Green-Ellis continues to be ineffective down the stretch. Ridley has good size (5-foot-11, 225 pounds) and appears to run much faster than his 4.65 forty time. The slasher powered through defenders and gained plenty of yards after contact in another impressive performance. He could be the key to the ground game come playoff time.
4. Second-half adjustments: Coaching can be an underrated part of the game, but this one was a classic example of how it can change the game. After getting embarrassed for the first 30 minutes, New England came out firing on all cylinders in the second half as the offense increased its tempo and worked out of the no huddle offense. Brady surgically picked apart the Dolphins tiring defense and the Pats mixed in Ridley and Woodhead to keep them on their toes. Defensively, New England dialed up the pressure and finished the game with eight quarterback hits and five sacks. Not bad for a defense without Andre Carter.
1. Devin McCourty: At first glance, nine tackles, four passes defended and an interception look like a great day for the former first-rounder. Stats don’t tell the whole story. DMC may have batted down a few balls and snagged another, but he had another maddeningly inconsistent day as Brandon Marshall abused him in coverage. Marshall, who relies on strength and size more than speed, continually got behind McCourty and reeled in some big plays en route to a 22.3 yards per catch average. While it was encouraging to see McCourty make some plays on the ball, he needs to become consistent if this defense has any chance of stopping a more threatening passing attack.
2. Stopping the run: For the second straight week, the Patriots surrendered 100+ yards to an opposing back. The reborn Reggie Bush had his way with the front seven, making defenders miss and picking up yards after contact. The Dolphins lead back finished the day with 113 yards on 22 carries, good for 5.1 yards per carry. While the Pats did manage to keep him out of the end zone, they desperately need Pat Chung and Brandon Spikes back in the lineup to add more physicality.
3. Sergio Brown: When I see No. 31 with dreads missing tackles, I scramble to the depth chart to make sure Brandon Meriweather isn’t still on the team. Unfortunately, one of his replacements, Brown, hasn’t fared much better. The former special teams standout has proven he is incapable of playing significant snaps on defense as he’s a poor tackler and doesn’t seem instinctual enough to make plays in coverage either. If there was anyone better, I’d bench Brown.