Fighting for their playoff lives in the NFL, the Miami Dolphins picked a great time to play their best game of the season, upstaging the New England Patriots 27-20.
Not only did the Dolphins stay alive in the postseason picture with Monday's victory over the reigning Super Bowl champions, they prevented New England from clinching the AFC East for the ninth successive season.
The Dolphins dominated from the outset and have now strung together a pair of dominant victories after last week's 35-9 win over the Denver Broncos. Monday's loss in Miami snapped New England's 14-game road winning streak. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is now just 7-9 as a starter against the Dolphins in Miami. The Patriots (10-3) also saw the end of their eight-game winning streak this season and seven-game streak against AFC East opponents.
The Patriots are dealing with multiple injuries on defence and have tried to use schemes to cover up personnel deficiencies. It caught up to them on Monday as Jay Cutler picked apart Matt Patricia's defence. Cutler had the best game of his lone season with the Dolphins, going 25 of 38 for 263 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Cutler's best throw of the night may have been a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jakeem Grant, who finished with two catches for 42 yards.
Miami took advantage of New England's short-handed defence with several underneath routes to help Cutler and allow the Dolphins receivers to catch and run.
While Cutler outplayed Brady, the Dolphins (6-7) also got a strong performance from Kenyan Drake. The second-year running back ran for 114 yards and caught five passes for 79 yards.
The first quarter ended with the Dolphins holding a 6-0 lead. The Patriots had just two yards of offence and Brady did not complete a pass to his own team. He threw the first of two interceptions to Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard on an ill-advised throw to Brandin Cooks.
Brady had completed better than 68 percent of his passes for 3,632 yards with 26 touchdowns and only four interceptions through 12 games. He was just 24 of 43 for 233 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions on Monday. The second Brady interception was early in the third quarter as Howard made an exceptional play to again take the ball from Cooks.
That turnover led to the touchdown pass to Grant and the Dolphins were rolling. While Brady was off, there was no better catch made Monday than Dion Lewis' one-handed grab to set up New England's first touchdown.
Brady was sacked twice and hit six more times. One said was courtesy of Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who said last week his job Monday was to "piss off" Brady. It worked and the Patriots were 0 for 11 on third-down with seven three-and-outs. It was the first time since 1991 the Patriots were held without a third-down conversion.
Monday may have been a classic trap game for the Patriots with the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) looming next week. Even if the Dolphins caught the Patriots looking ahead to next Sunday's game in Pittsburgh, the Dolphins deserve a lot of credit for a dominating performance.
Miami outplayed New England in nearly every aspect of the game. That said, the Patriots will still win the AFC East and the Dolphins will likely miss the playoffs. The Patriots might be the only team from the AFC East to make the playoffs. The Buffalo Bills are the six seed and will play the Dolphins twice over the next three weeks with a Christmas Eve game against the Patriots sandwiched between.
The Patriots were soundly beaten on Monday, but they are still the best team in the AFC East and it is not really close. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his staff have done a spectacular job of having his team respond well to losses. The Patriots are 40-11 after a loss since 2001 under Belichick.