An unprecedented offseason in the National Football League was always going to create an element of mystery for the first games of the 2020 season. The Patriots, with a complete style change - going from one former-MVP quarterback to another - decided to run the football 42 times, with 15 of those coming from their new MVP quarterback in Cam Newton.
The two teams felt each other out to the tune of a 7-3 halftime score in favor of the home side.
A dominant Patriots third quarter was threatening to turn the game into a run-away, but a potential turning point occurred when Jerome Baker's effort saved a touchdown. Not only did the linebacker keep points off the board, he created Miami's first turnover of the season. Patriots receiver N'Keal Harry was one yard away from making it 20-3 (point after pending), all but putting a vice grip on the game's result. But Baker chased the second-year receiver down from behind and forced a fumble out of the end zone, giving Miami the ball after a touchback.
"Go to the ball, run to the ball," Baker said. "We preach that every day."
The Dolphins answered with an 80-yard drive that was capped off by a one-yard Jordan Howard touchdown run. It was the Dolphins' third consecutive run, finished off behind a sixth offensive lineman with two tight ends and a fullback in Miami's heavy personnel.
New England answered right back with a lengthy drive of their own, converting a fourth-and-1 play from the Dolphins 5-yard line. The Patriots would finish the drive on the following play as Newton (who had two rushing touchdowns earlier in the game) shared the wealth this time as running back Sony Michel plunged into the end zone from one yard out.
"We've got to do a better job on run defense," Brian Flores said. "Obviously the quarterback was an issue - we've got to do a better job."
"Cam's still Cam, he's still a former MVP," Baker said. "We respected his talent. We just have to play together as a defense. We played a little sloppy and a little undisciplined."
The New England defense was the story of the day. After leading the NFL in interceptions (25) and passer-rating-against (63.7) in 2019, the Patriots picked up where they left off. New England intercepted quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick three times and held him to a rating of 44.6. The Patriots run defense also bowed up limiting Miami to 3.22 yards per rush.
"We had some spurts where we were moving the ball but obviously the turnovers, those are huge." Brian Flores said. "We talk about that a lot as a team. It's tough to win when you turn the ball over."
Ryan Fitzpatrick talked about the three interceptions following the game.
"You can't do that and win games in the NFL," Fitzpatrick said. "Going against the Patriots, you're going to have to take advantage of the possessions you get and having a couple of turnovers doesn't help."
Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels cooked up a plan that shortened the game. New England ran 63 plays to Miami's 58. The third quarter saw a significant disparity as the Patriots ran 21 plays to Miami's six, limiting the work of some promising performances.
Running back Myles Gaskin was involved in both the running and passing game and totaled 59 yards in the first half. His quarterback came away impressed.
"Myles did a nice job," Fitzpatrick said. "He broke some tackles; not only in the run game but in the pass game he made some nice plays."
Wide receiver DeVante Parker left the game in with a hamstring injury. Prior to his departure, Parker caught all four of his targets for 47 yards.
Miami's remade offensive line held up nicely in pass protection. The only New England sack came late in the fourth quarter when the Dolphins were urgently pushing the ball down the field.
"Up front we played well," Fitzpatrick said. "I didn't really get touched a whole lot back there. (With Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley) just to see their mood and mentality, from what I could tell I thought they did a nice job."
Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins cleaned up a sack to get the Miami defense off the field in the first half. Emmanuel Ogbah was the impactful player on the sack, getting pressure and immediately forcing Newton off the spot. Wilkins had a big day with the sack, five total tackles and two batted passes.
"I've just been working hard all year to try to get in the best shape and be in the best position to help this team win," Wilkins said. "But ultimately I don't care about the big plays if it doesn't result in a win."
Rookie safety Brandon Jones made 10 total tackles (seven solo); the most in a rookie Dolphins debut since Xavien Howard in 2016.
"He's a fast player, he gets to the ball," Bobby McCain said of Jones. "Even though he's a rookie he's a guy we depend on. He's a good player."
Next time out
The Dolphins will host the Buffalo Bills for the home opener next Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium at 1 PM EDT. Buffalo beat the New York Jets Sunday by a final of 27-17.