Patriots Need to Break Their Miami Road Hex
FOXBORO -- The Patriots have been able to win and take down opponents just about everywhere. Even though they’ve struggled away from Gillette Stadium this year, historically they’ve been pretty good when Bill Belichick takes them on the occasional road trip.
They’ve traveled well, except for this one particular location in the division. They have a Miami complex. They have a weird phobia about South Florida.
What else explains Tom Brady’s 7-9 record playing the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium, or whatever the venue has been called over time?
Brady and the Patriots have also lost three of the last four games there. Not exactly what Belichick is looking for, especially since the Dolphins haven’t beaten the Pats at Gillette during the last decade.
So what is it?
Can the heat and humidity be that much of a factor? Is it that much of an advantage for the Dolphins, who typically get croaked in Foxboro earlier in the year? Or is it just some fluky occurrence? Because we keep writing about this being their House of Horrors every year. It rarely disappoints.
Let’s just say that whatever the issue, whatever the demon, the Patriots need to find a way to overcome it. They can’t afford their usual Miami road collapse. Not with Pittsburgh on deck, and playoff seeding and homefield and the first-round bye riding with every game and every win.
“The Dolphins, it’s a big challenge down there. This is a team that plays extremely well at home. We haven’t played well down there. We haven’t coached well down there, I can speak for myself on that,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, “And we have a big challenge to go down there and change that trend.”
Last year, the game was right around the same time in December, and it came right before the showdown with the Steelers at Heinz Field.
It was a potential hat and T-shirt game, with the Patriots poised to do the inevitable -- clinch the AFC East -- only they turned in stinker, losing 27-20.
Tom Brady had a passer rating of 59.5, his lowest in a game since 2013. They couldn’t run the ball, finishing with 10 yards on 25 carries. They were 0-for-11 on third down.
The performance came out of nowhere given the team had won eight straight games previously.
But then again, they were in Miami.
Brady needs to be on his game and the offense can’t have a repeat of the Tennessee debacle. The Dolphins defense isn’t ranked particularly high, but it’s second in picks (19) with star corner Xavien Howard having a Pro Bowl year, and forces a lot of turnovers.
“They’re an aggressive penetrating front. They mix their defensive calls and coverages quite a bit . . . there’s a lot to deal with,” said McDaniels. “The big thing that really stands out, they’re third in the league in takeaways.”
The Patriots have committed 14 turnovers thus far in 12 games played. Brady has eight interceptions, including one last week against the Vikings. Turnovers will be key in whether the Pats break the Miami hex.
So will dealing with the weather change. Former Patriots offensive lineman Damien Woody, reached Monday, said not to dismiss the heat element. It does play a factor.
“At one point, we went down on a Friday to try and acclimate to the heat and humidity. And it still didn’t work,” said Woody, who is currently an ESPN commentator. “I think it’s just one of those things, you know how the coaches talk about Denver and the altitude, ‘Listen, it’s not a big deal,’ and they try and play mind games with you? That humidity takes a toll on you because you’re not used to it.”
Belichick will likely have the Patriots practicing in the bubble this week with the heat cranked up, but even that doesn’t quite get the team adequately prepared. It’s expected to be in the 80s on Sunday.
“You can’t replicate the humidity, that’s the problem,” said Woody. “You can turn up the heat in the bubble, it’s not the same thing. It’s a totally different animal.”
The Dolphins, at 6-6, are currently 5-1 at home, with their only loss coming to the Lions. They’re still technically in the playoff race, fighting for a wild card spot.
Like last year, the Pats can clinch the AFC East with a win. They can claim their 10th straight title.
The Patriots didn’t have Rob Gronkowski or Julian Edelman for last year’s road game. Gronkowski is still not operating in full Gronk mode. That just might be how it’s going to be from here on out.
“Bill isn’t going to let those guys fall into some trap against the Dolphins. He’s going to have them ready to go,” said Woody. “The Dolphins are in the hunt for a wild card. There’s no reason for them to look past the Dolphins.
“The Patriots are starting to turn into a well-oiled machine. They’re hitting their stride right when they usually do right after Thanksgiving. It’s not going to be easy. But they should be able to beat the Dolphins.”
They should put away their division counterpart, complete the sweep, and chalk up another AFC East title on Sunday. But nothing is ever automatic with the Patriots and South Florida.