Think of Sunday’s 43-0 Patriots win over the Dolphins as an exhibition in which New England’s starters happened to play the entire game.
Bill Belichick is said to treat the first month of the regular season as an extension of the preseason, and with Miami trotting out a roster containing minimal NFL talent, the Patriots were able to have their cake and eat it too.
Force feed Tom Brady’s shiny new toy, Antonio Brown? No problem. Mix and match combinations on the offensive line -- partly out of necessity, due to injury? Great day to do it. Bring in Jarrett Stidham? Not quite…
But with the result of Sunday’s game in Miami a formality from the get-go, the Patriots were able to tinker around on the offensive side of the ball for whenever they face a real opponent.
Brady completed 20 of 28 passes for 264 yards, targeting Brown eight times and completing four. Brown had three catches for 36 yards on New England’s first offensive set before breaking into the end zone on a nifty back shoulder throw from Brady from 20 yards out with 1:19 to go in the first half, extending the team’s lead to 13-0.
Why 13-0 instead of 14-0 at the break? In keeping with preseason form, kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a PAT on Brown’s touchdown. It wasn’t a great day for the 14-year veteran, who also shanked a 48-yard field goal wide right in the first half. Gostkowski went on to miss a PAT on James White’s 10-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, too.
Super Bowl LIV is in Miami, so Gostkowski may want to work out the kinks on that field sooner rather than later.
Unquestionably, though, the story of the day was the ineptitude of Miami’s offense. The Dolphins had only two first downs by the end of the third quarter, at which time they served up a pair of pick sixes to New England’s defense -- one to Stephon Gilmore, the other to Jamie Collins, the first pick-six of each player’s career.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was yanked after completing just 11 of 21 passes for 89 yards, throwing three picks in all (Devin McCourty had his second takeaway in as many weeks). The journeyman was sacked four times while he replacement, Josh Rosen, was taken down three times by the Patriots. Rosen threw an interception on the final play of the game to Collins, giving him the first multi-pick game of his seven-year career.
Brady and Sony Michel also had rushing touchdowns for the Patriots. For Brady, he became just the second 42-year-old to rush for a touchdown in NFL history, joining his former teammate Doug Flutie.
Dating back to Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots have held teams out of the end zone for 12 straight quarters. Damien Williams of Kansas City remains the last player to find the end zone vs. New England, doing so in the fourth quarter of last season's AFC Championship Game.
It was the first shutout for the Patriots since Week 3 of the 2016 season, when a Jacoby Brissett-led squad blanked the Houston Texans, 27-0.
The patchwork offensive line remains a cause for concern, as right tackle Marcus Cannon sat this one out with an injured shoulder and left tackle Isaiah Wynn -- who missed all of 2018 with a torn Achilles -- left the game with a foot injury.
No issues the Patriots are dealing with appear to be fatal at the moment, and until they lose a game, talk of atoning for 2007 and finishing 19-0 will continue to be justified.