Total team effort by secondary as Patriots smother Dolphins

JAIME CAMPOS/Staff photoNew England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson is congratulated by quarterback Cam Newton after Jackson's game-clinching interception in the end zone.

The New England Patriots ushering in the post-Tom Brady era with an impressive win on Sunday, with Cam Newton and the defense leading the way in a 21-11 win over the Miami Dolphins. Here are five quick thoughts from the season-opening victory.

1. Second to none

The New England Patriots have an embarrassment of riches in the secondary. From reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore down to rookie Kyle Dugger, there are at least nine defensive backs on the roster you could argue should be getting significant playing time.

It's a good problem to have, and it turns out the Patriots' solution to that logjam is simply to play them all.

New England's defensive backs all got extensive work throughout the team's 21-11 win over Miami, with as many as seven players in the secondary seeing the field at once throughout the game. Other than a poor sequence in Miami's lone touchdown drive where Gilmore and JC Jackson committed a pair of pass interference penalties in quick succession, the group dominated the Dolphins' receivers, holding quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to 182 yards on 20 for 30 passing with three interceptions.

While the players rotated in and out and saw different roles, generally Gilmore and Jackson played at outside corner, the McCourty twins each played deep safety, and Joejuan Williams, Adrian Phillips and Jonathan Jones primarily played the inside receivers. Williams had his best game as a pro covering tight end Mike Gesicki, and Phillips grabbed an interception while patrolling the middle of the field as a safety/linebacker hybrid. Kyle Dugger and Terrance Brooks rotated into the middle occasionally as well.

Belichick singled out Jackson in particular for his performance, highlighting Jackson's game-clinching interception in the end zone with 1:28 to play

"I take my hat off to JC, I thought JC really competed well today, he showed a lot of mental toughness and competitiveness in the game," Belichick said. "The interception that JC had in the end zone he showed a lot of mental toughness and a high level of competitiveness in this game. I wanted to personally congratulate him for that."

2. Giving Chase

Despite giving up a lot of size with so many defensive backs on the field, New England's front seven (front four?) held its own as well, limiting the Dolphins to just 87 yards on 27 carries (3.2 yards per attempt) while keeping Fitzpatrick on his toes in the pocket.

Outside linebacker Derek Rivers, who has missed two of his first three seasons due to injury, recorded a nine-yard sack late to force a third and long on Miami's final drive. Chase Winovich also enjoyed a terrific performance, making several key run stops while seeing his role increase to an every down player after largely being limited to third down situations a year ago.

3. Edelman heats up

For the first time in his career Julian Edelman got the Tom Brady treatment in training camp. The 34-year-old receiver was given frequent rest to ensure he'd be fresh for the season, and after a knee injury limited him in practice this week, the Patriots evidently decided to extend that treatment into Sunday's opener. Edelman played in only about two thirds of New England's offensive snaps in the first half and generally got off to a slow start, but coming out of halftime he and Cam Newton got cooking. Edelman had back-to-back first down receptions to spark New England's 75-yard scoring drive, and he finished with five catches for 57 yards to lead the team.

4. Big Mike's big day

Probably the most unlikely contributor to New England's season opening win was rookie offensive lineman Mike Onwenu. The sixth-round pick out of Michigan saw substantial time, subbing in for starting right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor on a handful of drives while regularly featuring on jumbo and goal line packages. He and fellow rookie Justin Herron were both in on the "super jumbo" goal line formation that included seven offensive linemen and two tight ends that New England used on its final scoring drive, with Newton converting on 4th and 1 to set up Sony Michel's 1-yard touchdown run.

5. Stidham is QB3

Once considered the favorite to enter the season as the Patriots' starter, Jarrett Stidham has evidently fallen all the way to the bottom of the depth chart. The second-year quarterback was a healthy scratch from Sunday's season opener, leaving Brian Hoyer as the lone backup to Cam Newton.

In addition, rookie linebacker Josh Uche was also a surprising scratch, as the second-round pick had been considered a favorite to start. Rookie tight end Dalton Keene (neck), linebacker Cassh Maluia (knee) and offensive lineman Korey Cunningham (healthy scratch) were also inactive for Sunday's game.


Mac Cerullo can be reached at Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.

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