BY SEAN DONOVAN
While moral victories are always reserved for losers, the Miami Dolphins still have to be pleased with their defensive performance in Sunday's 23-16 loss to the New England Patriots.
After all, the Patriots had been scoring at a record 37 points-per-game pace going into the week, yet were held to just two touchdowns.
The Dolphins did this by generating pressure on the quarterback while keeping enough players in coverage, not an easy task against an opponent as sharp as Tom Brady.
Five minutes into the third quarter, New England had driven into Dolphins territory looking to add to it's 17-10 lead. On third-and-4, the Dolphins lined up with just three down linemen, with defensive end Olivier Vernon standing up behind the nose tackle.
Perhaps knowing that Vernon is primarily a pass rusher, Brady seemed to adjust his pass protection to account for him. At the snap of the ball, Vernon dropped back into a short hook zone.
Prior to retreating into coverage, Vernon took one slight step in, drawing the attention of right guard Marcus Cannon, which resulted in the the isolation of right tackle Sebastian Vollmer on Cameron Wake, a massive mismatch.
Wake quickly beat his blocker and drilled Brady for a 6-yard loss, removing New England from field goal range.
The real success of the play was creating pressure while only rushing three players, leaving eight back in coverage. All of Brady's reads were well-covered, giving Wake plenty of time to beat Vollmer for the sack.
Another key sequence for Miami was early in the fourth quarter, after a long Aaron Hernandez reception gave the Patriots a fist-and-goal at the 2-yard line.
The Dolphins lined up in a goalline set, with safeties Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons bracketing the line. Cornerback Jimmy Wilson was in man coverage on red-zone threat Hernandez.
At the snap, Jones and Clemons crased inside as Brady executed a play-action fake. Linebackers Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby reacted to the run but quickly realized it's a pass and fell back into coverage.
Wilson did not leave Hernandez despite a fake cut block.
By the time Brady completed his fake and realized that his primary target Hernandez was well-covered, Jones and Clemons had penetrated the backfield and converged on Brady for a big loss.
After an incompletion and another Dolphins' sack, the NFL's third most efficient team in terms of scoring touchdowns in the red-zone was denied after a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line.
The Dolphins' defense, by successfully finding a way to pressure Brady while being strong in coverage, played well enough to beat New England. Miami's offense did not match that effort, and the team fell short.
Follow Sean @seanldonovan
Follow AFC East Daily @AFCEastDaily