Monday, September 19, 2016

Blount, Bennett Carry Patriots To Smashmouth Win Over Dolphins; Garoppolo "Day-To-Day"

It's not often that an injury to your backup quarterback takes all the wind out of a stadium, but when New England Patriots' Jimmy Garoppolo went down in the second quarter of their matchup with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, you could have heard a pin drop.

Or maybe it was the sound of the Dolphins clawing their way back into a game that seemed completely out of reach before Garoppolo went down, or perhaps the sound of the Patriots' offensive machine gearing down to accommodate rookie signal caller Jacoby Brissett's inexperience, or maybe even the eerie echo of divisional games gone rogue...

...but whatever it was that wafted into Patriots' fans ears on an humid, overcast day at Gillette Stadium, it will prove to be nothing compared to the doom and gloom that will overtake social media and the Boston-area press after a 31-24 Patriots victory over the Dolphins that was much harder than it had to be.

The Dolphins had no answer for Garoppolo, who looked ready to break out in a very proper manner until linebacker Kiki Alonso drove the third year signal caller into the ground, his full 240 pounds compressing Garoppolo's shoulder, causing a sprained AC joint that eliminated the rising star from the game with five minutes to play in the first half.

Initial reports had the Eastern Illinois product suffering from a broken collarbone, which more than likely would have ended his season with regular starter Tom Brady returning from suspension in three weeks, but the final diagnosis turned out to be a strained AC joint in his right (throwing) shoulder, from which an athlete can heal in anywhere from seven to ten days...

...with Patriots' head ball coach Bill Belichick stating that Garoppolo's status is "Day to Day", so best case scenarios have Brissett under center for Thursday night's contest against the Houston Texans,with a decent chance of Garoppolo returning for what should be his final start against the Buffalo Bills ten days later.

The Patriots seemed to teeter on the brink of collapse after the Garoppolo injury, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but on offense, Brissett had two weapons that stepped up and most likely saved the Patriots from blowing a 24 point lead and losing their first game of the season, both of them doing their best work when New England needed them the most.

Running back LeGarrette Blount and Tight end Martellus Bennett came up huge, extending second half drives with clutch performances for the ages - Blount running for 129 yards against a very good Dolphins front seven and Bennett reaching triple digits in yardage for just the third time in his career, and even that almost wasn't enough.

Regardless, football purists among Patriots' nation had to have been thrilled with what turned out to be the very essence of the Erhardt-Perkins concept-based offensive scheme, the mantra of which begs for the offense to "Pass to score, the run to win." - and as it turns out, the Patriots followed the philosophy to the letter.

Before he went down, Garoppolo had three touchdown passes and had led the Patriots out to a quick 24-0 lead, and then Blount ran through and over the Dolphins' defense to kill just enough clock to win the game - in between, the Dolphins' offense provided the rest of the league with a blueprint as to how to attack the Patriots' defense, and only Blount's third quarter touchdown run prevented a complete New England collapse.

The "blueprint", of course, is the tactic of clogging the intermediate and underneath zones with humanity while occasionally targeting deep in an effort to wear down the cornerbacks - something that New England does with their offense as well, and it worked like a charm for the Dolphins, though it took going into the room at halftime and adjusting the schematic a bit... adjustment that saw Miami outscore New England 24-7 over the remainder of the game and, one could reasonably state, could have been more were it not for the heroics of Blount and Bennett on the offensive side of the ball.

Of Blount's 129 yards, 96 of those came in the second half as the Patriots ran the ball with a determination not seen in these parts in a decade or more, and of Bennett's 114 receiving yards, 68 of those came on passes from Brissett, who seemed comfortable with the idea of turning to hand the ball to Blount or finding Bennett's sure hands in the pattern.

It goes without saying that if Brissett is indeed the starting quarterback against Houston on Thursday night, the gameplan should include heavy elements of each factor, possibly even going 22 or even 23 personnel packages built to run the ball and consume the game clock, but Belichick hasn't even ruled out Garoppolo playing against the Texans - and he has a little bit of recent history to draw on.

Last January, Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder but, surprisingly, came back to start the next game, the violence filled 18-16 win over Cincinnati in the wild card round of the 2015 playoffs, throwing for nearly 400 yards.

No wonder Belichick is calling Garoppolo's condition Day-to-Day.

"Injuries to the AC joint are so varied" said orthopaedic surgeon Walt Lowe at the time of Roethlisberger's injury, "but there are a lot of things that are safe to make players comfortable and able to compete. I've seen players come back quickly from such injuries"

Lowe went on to list the available treatment options to prepare a quarterback to play with the injury, including steroid injections and platelet-rich-plasma injections.

"If it's just a sprain, it can take several weeks to feel better" Lowe continued, "but in a high-level athlete it's not unheard of to put some medication inside the joint to get someone a little more pain relief to play sooner."

Realistically, getting Brissett ready to take starting snaps on Thursday night seems to be the prudent direction, and if the Patriots achieve the same sort of balance that they have in their first two games of the season - both close wins - it is entirely possible that New England can continue their season opening winning streak.

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