The Patriots rarely pat themselves on the back, even after a job well done, but they should be proud of what they accomplished Sunday in a hard-fought, 27-17 win over the Dolphins.
The victory improved the Patriots' record to 6-2 and helped them open up a two-game lead over the Jets and a three-game lead over the Dolphins in the AFC East standings halfway through the season.
Surely, the race isn't over yet, but given the inconsistencies of both the Jets and Dolphins, it's hard to imagine those two teams making a three-game swing in the standings with only eight weeks to go, or the Patriots playing poorly enough to allow them to do so.
With that said, the Patriots will face their toughest challenge of the season this weekend when they travel to Indianapolis to face the 8-0 Colts. A loss coupled with a win by either New York or Miami makes this is a tight race again, so it's imperative the Patriots find a way to cure their road woes in 2009.
Statistically speaking, the Patriots are 1-2 on the road, but that one "road" victory came on neutral turf in London against the then-winless Buccaneers. There were actually more Patriots fans packed in Wembley Stadium -- hardly the overwhelming road environment New England faced when it lost at New York and Denver this season.
What would really help the Patriots secure a true road win for the first time all season would be an improved effort in the red zone, where they've been so-so all year despite putting more than enough points in recent weeks.
The Patriots looked to better their numbers last weekend, but instead they failed to score touchdowns on drives in which they had first downs at the 24, 27, 11 and 12. Only two of those drives included legit red-zone possessions, but being inside the 30 is practically close enough, and the bottom line is the Patriots need to be better against the Colts, because Indianapolis won't let them get away with similar mistakes.
"It comes down to execution," quarterback Tom Brady said. "You've got to get the ball in the end zone. If you do, you don't kick those field goals and it's a much different game in the end. It's something we've been looking on all year, and some weeks it looks pretty good. (Sunday), we could have done a better job, and we need to do a better job."
--The Patriots made a noteworthy change on defense Sunday when Mike Wright moved to nose tackle and Vince Wilfork played defensive end, no doubt an adjustment to counter Miami's Wildcat offense.
Wilfork's presence also helped the Patriots neutralize massive left tackle Jake Long. Likewise, defensive end Ty Warren also took some snaps at the nose and noticed a few differences during the game.
"The nose, things happen a lot quicker than it does on the ends," Warren said. "I played a little nose against Tampa last week. It just happens a lot quicker, and you're probably subject to get cut a little more than you would on the end, on the backside. And on a fumble, it's a little dirtier."
Big Play Negated
--Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain nearly came up with a huge play when he forced an apparent fumble by quarterback Chad Henne that resulted in a touchdown for Adalius Thomas.
The Dolphins eventually challenged the rule, and it was determined that Henne's arm was moving forward, making it an incomplete pass.
"I thought it was a fumble," Banta-Cain said. "Watching the instant replay, it looked like he kind of shot-putted the pass out there a little. There's really nothing you can do about it. I wish I could have karate-chopped it a little harder. But, hey, we got the win. It sucks I didn't get the sack, but it's all good."
Compliment For Mr. Big-mouth
--The Patriots had to deal with Joey Porter's mouth during the week leading up to Sunday's game, but, surprisingly, Porter didn't have much to say once the time for kickoff arrived.
"He didn't talk that much," offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer said.
Vollmer doesn't speak much either, but he did break down the way he handled Porter, who had little impact on the outcome of the game.
"I didn't know what to expect. I'd never played against him," Vollmer said. "I watched this guy when I was in high school. He's a great football player. I was busy enough preparing myself to have a chance against him (to ignore the chatter). He's been doing this for a long time. He's a prolific pass-rusher, close to 90 (career) sacks, he's great."
Dolphins News -- Forums
Patriots News -- Patriots Roster
Hot Topic: Official Game 8 Thread: Dolphins vs Patriots
Patriots - Dolphins: Game Balls and Goats