Now that felt good. Overall, many casual fans may come away from the Patriots 23-16 victory in Miami with a bit of an empty feeling. Tom Brady, who has a history of struggling in Miami, only threw for 238 yards and one touchdown. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed another field goal, albeit a 49-yarder. And, of course, there was no Rob Gronkowski.
I came out of the game elated– probably the most excited I’ve been about the team all season. What I took out of the game, and I can almost disregard the rest of the game, is the impressiveness of the offense’s 16-play, 77-yard drive which took off seven minutes and eighteen seconds (New England’s second longest drive of the season) in the fourth quarter. It was a throwback to the Super Bowl championship years (stress on the word “championship“)– back to the days when Brady was shrugged off as a quarterback who was merely a “game manager.”
With 8:28 left in the fourth quarter, Miami’s kicker Dan Carpenter kicked a 33-yard field goal to cut the Patriots’ lead to one score, 20-13. Patriots fans have seen this scenario play out a couple times this year on the road with unhappy results. In losses in Baltimore and Seattle, the offense was handed two-score leads in the fourth quarter and were unable to string together anything in the form of a time-consuming, clock-killing drive.
I mentioned in a previous article my frustration at the Patriots offense’s inability to close out games. While the offense has become incredibly fun to watch in recent years, especially with Brady throwing the ball all over the field at record-setting paces, a fourth Super Bowl ring has been elusive.
Ten years ago, if the Patriots had the lead, Brady would hand the ball off to Antowain Smith and, later, Corey Dillon. Dillon was known as “Clock Killin'” Corey Dillon in his time with the Patriots due to his ability to close out games. If the Patriots had the lead late in games back then, it was game over.
Sunday’s victory drive was a throwback to those glory days. Playing the part of Smith and Dillon was second-year running back Stevan Ridley. Ridley was unspectacular for most of the game, rushing for only 25 yards on nine carries through three quarters. But with the Dolphins entertaining thoughts of a comeback, Ridley brought down the hammer. He carried the ball ten times for 46 yards on that one drive alone.
It is irrelevant that the drive resulted in only a field goal and not a touchdown. All the Patriots needed was any kind of points and, more importantly, to take time off the clock in order to put the game away. Mission accomplished. It was a championship-caliber drive. What made it even more impressive was that it was done with a banged-up offensive line that was without starters Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly. It was quite the statement. It might seem like a small thing, but, to me, that one drive may prove to be a defining moment in the season.