Something Special On Monday Night

Chung and Page celebrate blocked punt (AP Photo)

Monday night was something special for the Patriots. It was special for Tom Brady who recorded his 100th career victory. It was special for Rob Ninkovich who recorded his first career pick. And most importantly it was special for the Patriots special teams who used two blocked kicks and a kickoff return to blow out the Miami Dolphins 41-14 on Monday Night.

The New England Patriots 41-14 blowout over the Miami Dolphins on Monday night was a game full of firsts. Tom Brady became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win 100 career games in his first 131 starts. Rob Ninkovich recorded his first (and second) career interception(s). Patrick Chung recorded his first career blocked punt, then a blocked field goal and finally his first career pick 6. But more importantly it was the first time all season the Patriots won the battle in all three phases of the game.

Monday night it was apparent that the Patriots have turned the corner from a young group of players desperately seeking their identity to a team that has learned how to win.

Overshadowing Brady's historic record was the play of the special teams, but Brady didn't mind. Trailing 7-6 at the half, Brady was itching to get the ball after the kickoff and go to work on offense. As he stood on the sidelines, he watched as teammate Brandon Tate took the kick three yards deep inside his own end zone, ran straight up the middle, used a Sammy

Morris block to get to a hole and took it to the house. Brady was thrilled with the play.

"It was awesome. We've been talking a lot about the second half this week and what we needed to do and that was a great way to start it," Brady said. "You're getting all hyped up and ready to go out there; throwing the ball around and then you see Brandon running it back for a touchdown and you take a seat on the bench. I'll take than anytime."

Tate credited his blockers for the big play. "I've got to give all the credit to my teammates for doing their assignments," Tate said. "Without them it wouldn't be possible."

With that return, the Patriots took the lead for the first time and never looked back. It was Tate's second career return for a touchdown this season, and the second time he took the opening kickoff in the second half in for a score.

Tate wasn't the only special team highlight of the second half. Second year safety Patrick Chung turned in his own highlights. Chung blocked a punt, blocked a field goal and even returned a Chad Henne pass for a touchdown.

Chung toted the company line, crediting the coaching staff and others for his big night.

"That's something coach saw. I mean, we just practiced everything that happened in that game," Chung said of the blocked kicks. "All those blocks, and people doing their job. I give it to them. If they're not doing their job nothing happens. So we executed. Coach drew it up and it happened just like he did it."

Chung's first block of a Brandon Fields punt set the Patriots up with the ball at the Miami15 yard line. Two handoffs to BenJarvus Green-Ellis later and the Patriots were on the board again, extending their lead to 20-7.

After scoring drives by both teams, the Patriots led 27-14 before Miami had then next miscue on special teams. Again it was Chung who broke through the Miami line to block a 53-yard field goal attempt. After Jarrad Page batted the ricochet towed the New England side, Kyle Arrington scooped up the ball and rumbled 35 yards for the score. The TD put the Patriots up 34-14, effectively putting the game out of reach.

Arrington credited Chung and special teams coach for the play.

"It was just a great call by our special teams coordinator Scott O'Brien," Arrington said. "We scouted them pretty well and Pat [Chung] did a terrific job…the guy had two blocked kicks, you know he blocked a punt earlier as well so you know my hats off to Patrick, with a tremendous effort by him and I was just fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time."

Chung, for his part, wasn't finished. With under seven minutes to go in the game, trailing by three scores, the Dolphins were in pass mode. Dolphins QB Chad Henne, who finished the game with 302 passing yards, threw a ball he would have liked back. WR Brandon Marshall cut off his route as Hene's pass sailed into Chung's waiting arms. The Patriots second year safety took the ball 51-yards for another Patriots score. New England was up 41-14 after Chung's play, and what was left of the remaining Miami faithful exited the building.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was upbeat after the game, crediting the special teams for a tremendous contribution to the win.

"They were all right, Belichick said laughing. "It was a great effort. Those guys really worked hard, they work hard every week in practice and [special teams coach] Scott O'Brien, they go through a lot of little things and really do a good job of preparing so I was really happy for the success they had tonight. The plays they made helped their team and, again, those kids work hard and really deserve it."

Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano wasn't so pleased. He didn't want to assign blame in special teams, responding to a question as to what caused the special teams issues with a Drew Rosenhaus-like "Next question" as his answer. But Sparano didn't leave the blame solely on the special teams mistakes, he pointed out the two interceptions New England had in the first half to snuff out Miami scoring drives.

"No, you can't overcome the two turnovers, never mind anything like that (21 points allowed on special teams)," Sparano said. "The two turnovers in the first half; those things are hard to overcome, but we come into halftime and it's 7-6. I mean between what we put out there on film today, our special teams with the way that the ball, the big plays that they had and then the turnovers and penalties; it was a mess. It's embarrassing, and these fans deserve better than that."

The Patriots return to Foxborough for their bye week cruising on air. A win over a division opponent is a good thing. It's a sign that things are going the right direction. A blowout feels that much sweeter. Tate summed it up pretty well.
"Yeah," he said laughing. "…It feels real good."

The Patriots 3-1 are tied with the New York Jets for the division lead, but actually trail New York by ½ game due to their week 2 loss in the New Meadowlands. New England plays the Baltimore Ravens Oct. 17th at Gillette Stadium.

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