Deja vu for Patriots against Dolphins
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- If it feels like the New England Patriots (10-2) and Miami Dolphins (5-7) just played, that's because the AFC rivals met just two weeks ago for a 35-17 New England win in Foxborough.
Now, the squads will battle again this Monday night in Miami coming off impressive wins.
The Dolphins beat up on the Broncos for a 35-9 victory last Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak. Meanwhile, head coach Bill Belichick's defending champions are streaking toward another postseason run with an eight-game winning streak thanks to Sunday's 23-3 victory in Buffalo.
Players and coaches alike acknowledge the unique nature of playing a team twice in three weeks. And with a Dec. 17 trip to Pittsburgh on the horizon for a battle with the Steelers that will likely decide the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the turnaround trip to Miami could be seen as a trap game.
"This is really a unique situation," Pro Bowl safety and team captain Devin McCourty said. "I think it forces you to really go over your usual process for the game. I think it's a week where if you're not focused and ready to go you could easily be like 'I know that already. I just saw that.' But I think when you can, as a team, mentally just understand (and) have some mental toughness --- like if we go over this like it's a whole new week and we start from scratch and like we say 'refuel the tank' and we get ready to go and we prepare the right way, you have a chance to really be prepared because now you're watching games that you've already watched. But now you're watching them with a better idea because you've played them already. You've seen things that they try to attack you with so now you're thinking about those things as you're watching the film again. So it really gives you a chance to be really prepared. Then obviously they're going to come in with some things that we didn't see last time so hopefully if you prepare well enough the only thing you'll have to adjust for is the things that come in that are new."
Belichick similarly emphasized the need to start fresh for the preparations this week, especially given that New England will face Jay Cutler at quarterback this time rather than fill-in backup Matt Moore. Running back Kenyan Drake is also coming off a 120-yard day against Denver as Miami continues to evolve following the Jay Ajayi trade.
There is also New England's relatively poor history in Miami. New England snapped a three-game losing streak in Miami with a win in last season's finale and over the years Hard Rock Stadium is one of the few places the Patriots have faced pretty consistent adversity.
"Miami played very well on Sunday. They always play well down there against us, so I think we know it's going to be a lot different game, and environment, and everything else Monday night from what it was last Sunday," Belichick said. "It's not a continuation of last week's game. It's starting all over again and that's what we have to be ready to do. It's not going to be the same game. It will play out differently. There will be different things in the game that will affect this game a lot differently than the last one.
"We both know each other well. That's really not the issue. It'll be how different plays match up and how they're executed and how this unique game will take its own life different than any other one."
Belichick clearly emphasized to the media in his Wednesday press conference -- and likely did earlier in the day with his team -- that he expects as much work to be put in this week as in any other situation. Certainly the fact that the Patriots will be playing without suspended Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski is another factor in the game.
And while looking ahead to the Steelers might be a natural tendency, there is also the opportunity to clinch the AFC East for the ninth year with either a win or a Bills loss.
Really, for Belichick, there is never a reason for anything other than full focus and preparation.
"We can't pick up from where we left off. That's not where we are. It's not what we're going to do," Belichick concluded. "We just need to start all over again and have a good week, be ready to go here Monday night. It's a good football team. They have a lot of talent. This was an 11-point game in the fourth quarter and they had the ball. I thought the first game was really a lot closer than the score indicated. The score was tight there in the fourth quarter until we made the stop on downs and got the touchdown on that last series. A good team, play hard, tough, explosive, got a lot of big-play players in all three phases of the game. It'll be a big challenge for us."
Even if it is a strangely familiar one.