What went wrong for Dolphins when Patriots burned them on fake punt?

A rare mental error by Michael Thomas cost the Dolphins big at New England. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—Miami got off to as good a start as it could have wanted today at Gillette Stadium. On the opening possession, the Dolphins forced what looked like it’d be a three-and-out for New England that would send the ball back to them with less than a minute off the clock.

Didn’t happen.

On fourth-and-eight from his own 27-yard line, Bill Belichick called a fake punt that resulted in safety Nate Ebner running free for 14 yards and a first down as Michael Thomas and Neville Hewitt tried to chase him down. Thomas, the Dolphins’ best special teams player, took full accountability for the lapse.

“That’s my job,” he said of recognizing the fake punt. “That’s something I’ve gotta get done. You could say the momentum shifted. The defense was off the field with a three-and-out to start the game. That’s huge. We can’t but them back on the field after that. Put that blame on me.”

Thomas’ critical error was failing to notice that the Patriots lined up Ebner to the punter’s right instead of his usual spot on the left. That position is known as the personal protector in special teams lingo, and it should have alerted Thomas that something wasn’t right.

“Pretty much, you could put that on me,” he said. “I was the edge of the defense. I’ve gotta see that their P.P. is on my side. He’s normally not there. Regardless of what the situation is, I’m the edge of the defense and I’ve gotta stop it.”

The Patriots kept driving and had a touchdown four plays later to go ahead 7-0. They scored on three of their first four chances to build a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter and went on to win 35-17.

[Bill Belichick shows the Dolphins what he really thinks of them]

[Grading the Dolphins after a 35-17 loss at New England]

[Is DeVante Parker to blame for another interception?]

[RELATED: Photo gallery from the Patriots’ shellacking of the Dolphins]

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What Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke said Wednesday

Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke has a big task in front of him this weekend against the No. 4 offense in the NFL. (AP)

DAVIE–The Patriots do everything better than the Dolphins, especially on offense.

The list of problems starts with Tom Brady, who’s still good, and continues with Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski. The Dolphins figure to have a really hard time with Gronkowski considering how much success opposing tight ends have had against them.

Here are defensive coordinator Matt Burke’s thoughts on that and other concerns heading into the New England game on Sunday:

–Linebacker Kiko Alonso could be one of the primary players charged with covering Gronkowski. “We ask Kiko to do a lot… and honestly I think he’s been pretty good,” Burke said. “Mentally, matchup-wise, we put a lot on Kiko Alonso. He does a lot for this defense. We always put him on the hardest matchup possible. We put him in spots that are tough for him at times, and he’s going to have his moments, but I’m happy with how he’s played so far.”

–The Dolphins are hoping to mix up coverages from what New England has seen on film in order to make Brady hesitate at least “a half-second.”

–He expects all the linebackers to be available this weekend, and it looks likely the Dolphins will stick with undrafted rookie Chase Allen at middle.

–Neville Hewitt, who was cut because of an injury before the season started, was added to the active roster today. “I’m proud of Nev and the way he’s worked himself back,” Burke said. “When we released him in the preseason… the last thing I told him was to get his body right and there’d be another chance.”

[How close does Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry’s pace put him to single-season catch record?]

[Dolphins’ expensive defensive line not living up to price tag]

[Can Kenyan Drake be a consistent big hitter for the Dolphins?]

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Could the Dolphins start rookie Raekwon McMillan at middle linebacker?

Raekwon McMillan is taking on a hefty workload for the Dolphins. (Miami Herald photo)

DAVIE—The Dolphins drafted Raekwon McMillan in the second round with the thought of him competing for starting job, and he’s getting his chance.

McMillan, a 20-year-old, got first-string reps at this morning’s training camp practice and spent some time at middle linebacker flanked by Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons. Each of those veterans is an accomplished middle linebacker in his own right, so taking that job would be a tremendous accomplishment for McMillan at this stage.

McMillan has worked at all three linebacker spots since being drafted and is a candidate to start at any one of them.

“It’s definitely a goal of mine, but it’s a long-term goal,” he said. “What I’ve got to focus on is getting better tomorrow and focusing on what I did wrong today.”

Alonso and Timmons are Miami’s top two linebackers, and the third spot (one that vanishes when the team needs an extra defensive back) is likely a battle between McMillan, Neville Hewitt and Mike Hull. Hewitt started five games last year and Hull, who took first-team reps Thursday, started one.

When McMillan works at middle, it’s his responsibility to call the plays and make sure the team is lined up correctly. That’s a significant responsibility for a rookie, but the Dolphins need to find out quickly whether he can handle it.

That adjustment, as well as some others, have been even more difficult for McMillan in the brutal heat.

“It’s hard to concentrate right now just talking to y’all,” he said in his brief media availability after practice. “Other than that, it’s alright once you get used to it. I’ve been down here for a little while and got a little taste of it in the spring, but ain’t nothing like this.”

[Here’s why Dolphins fans will miss Koa Misi]

[Time to believe in Jarvis Landry’s words]

[The latest on Mike Pouncey, who was sidelined for Day 1 of training camp]

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Is the time now for Miami Dolphins LB Neville Hewitt?

Dolphins linebacker Neville Hewitt hits Jets quarterback Bryce Petty in December. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Dolphins linebacker Neville Hewitt sacks Jets quarterback Bryce Petty in December. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

(Note: This continues a series in Daily Dolphin spotlighting members of the team individually. In addition to reliving highlights and lowlights of the past season for each, we’ll provide analysis and criticism, plus take a look at how each player fits — or doesn’t fit — into the team’s plans for 2017.)

LB Neville Hewitt

Height, weight: 6-2, 232

College: Marshall

Age: 24

Experience: Entering third season, all with Dolphins

Acquired: Signed as undrafted free agent in May 2015

Contract: Made $525,333 in 2016; due to earn $615,334 in 2017

Pro Football Focus rank: 75th out of 87 LBs ranked overall; 43rd of 89 ranked in run defense

In 2016

Stats: 16 games, five starts, 57 tackles, one sack, one pass defensed, one fumble recovery; tied for third on team with seven tackles on special teams

Notable moments: Had career-high nine tackles at Buffalo.

Straight talk: Hewitt was signed on the advice of Adam Fuller, Marshall’s linebackers coach, as a longterm project that is paying off.

The question now is, how much?

In late November, near the end of his time as Dolphins defensive coordinator, Vance Joseph gave a positive review of where Hewitt stood, saying he “has played really at a high level the last month.”

Joseph added, “Going forward, he may be a guy that can be a full-time starter.”

Amid injuries to veterans Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi, Hewitt was called upon more and more last season, and the more Joseph saw of him, “the better he gets.”

Prospects for 2017

It’s too early to tell.

Obviously, Kiko Alonso will be on the field plenty. Same goes for Lawrence Timmons. And often the Dolphins will go with five defensive backs, leaving a need for only two linebackers.

Hewitt’s edges among the backups fighting for a roster spot and playing time are his contributions on special teams, continued improvement as just a 24-year-old and low salary cap number.

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Miami Dolphins still have no timetable for Koa Misi return from neck injury

Koa Misi has been on the sideline during the Dolphins’ open practices. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE–As the Dolphins move toward training camp, it sounds like the possibility of linebacker Koa Misi contributing is being thought of as simply a bonus. Misi has yet to get on the field during Organized Team Activities, and coach Adam Gase has no timetable for when he’ll be back.

When asked this week whether Miami expects to have him for the start of camp late next month, Gase replied, “I don’t know. We’re not there yet. When you see him start running around or something, then I’d say we’re close.”

Misi, 30, has been a starting linebacker since the Dolphins drafted him in the second round in 2010. He opened last season as a starter before exiting with a neck injury in Week 3 and has been unable to practice or play for eight months.

As of now, Miami looks like it will rely primarily on Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons at linebacker. Misi’s main competition for playing time would be rookie Raekwon McMillan and third-year backup Neville Hewitt. In his last healthy season, 2015, Misi totaled 78 tackles in 13 games.

Gase said last week it would be “some time before we get him out there” and the team is averse to rushing him in any way because of the severity of his neck injury.

[William Hayes immediately becomes the most interesting man in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room]

[Everything changes in a year for Dolphins LB Kiko Alonso]

[Julius Thomas promises he has prime years left in his body]

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Inside Dolphins rookie Raekwon McMillan’s emotional draft night

Miami Dolphins Raekwon McMillan, linebacker, speaks to the media at Miami Dolphins minicamp at the Dolphins training facility in Davie on Friday, May 5, 2017. (AP)

DAVIE—In reality, Raekwon McMillan didn’t wait that long to be picked in last week’s NFL Draft. But to him, it felt like forever.

He put together an exceptional three years at Ohio State, good enough to make leaving early an easy choice, and believed he made a convincing case to any NFL team looking for linebacker help. McMillan thought of himself as a first rounder–despite some projections having him going in the third–and struggled to stay patient as he watched on TV at his apartment.
Continue reading “Inside Dolphins rookie Raekwon McMillan’s emotional draft night”

Miami Dolphins not giving up on linebacker Koa Misi

Koa Misi will get a chance to earn back his starting spot. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

PHOENIX—It’s easy to forget about Koa Misi, but the Dolphins haven’t.

Miami and Misi agreed to a restructured contract last week with a mutual interest. Misi is aiming for a big comeback after missing most of last season with a neck injury, and the Dolphins believe he can do it. By reducing his cap hit from $4.8 to $2.8 million for the upcoming season, it’s a reasonable bet for Miami to make.
Continue reading “Miami Dolphins not giving up on linebacker Koa Misi”

Everything sounds open-ended for Miami Dolphins linebackers

Kiko Alonso could be inside or outside next season. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

PHOENIX—The Dolphins shelled out serious money to keep Kiko Alonso and bring in Lawrence Timmons, but they haven’t told any of their linebackers what position they’ll be playing in 2017.

That’s partly because they aren’t allowed to talk football with the players until the offseason program begins in mid-April, but it also appears they want to maintain total flexibility.
Continue reading “Everything sounds open-ended for Miami Dolphins linebackers”

The tape don’t lie: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills, a review

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 24: Bobby McCain #28 of the Miami Dolphins and Michael Thomas #31 of the Miami Dolphins celebrate a defensive stop on a fourth and one situation against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at New Era Stadium on December 24, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
Bobby McCain and Michael Thomas of the Miami Dolphins celebrate a defensive stop on fourth down against the Buffalo Bills last Saturday. Miami won in overtime. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

When the Miami Dolphins were 1-4, if I had told you that the 2016 season highlights tape would be filled with drama, excitement, and some really, really impressive plays, you might have called me, well, a liar.

Dolphins coach Adam Gase says, “The tape don’t lie.”

And I assure you, I’m no liar.

So each week, I’ll give the game tape a closer look. Here are some things I noticed:

  1. Jay Ajayi has played better than Lamar Miller. This was typical Jay Ajayi. In the first quarter, a run that personifies his season. It’s only a two-yard touchdown run but it’s impressive. Ajayi takes the handoff from Matt Moore and he’s immediately hit, four yards behind the line of scrimmage by a defensive lineman. The lineman has his arms around Ajayi’s waist, then both his hands on Ajayi’s left ankle. As he’s breaking from that defender, a defensive back tries to close space but Ajayi uses a quick right stiff-arm to put his hand to the Bills’ face. Ajayi throws him to the ground and takes off for the right corner of the end zone and the first score of the game. It’s a great example of Ajayi’s strong legs and dogged determination. Ajayi has outperformed all expectations, his draft status and salary. Ajayi has 150 more yards than Lamar Miller of Houston this season, on 24 fewer carries. Ajayi also has more carries of 20 yards or more, more touchdowns, more yards per carry and more first downs than Miller. One of my favorite things about Ajayi is his blatant disregard for the rights of any initial tackler to bring him down. On the 57-yard run in overtime to set up the game winning field goal, Ajayi uses his right arm to simply swat away Kyle Williams, an excellent Bills defensive tackle, as if Williams had no right to be even be bothering. Ajayi’s will is and likely will always be his greatest strength as a runner.
    ajayibillstd1
    In this photo, Jay Ajayi does Jay Ajayi things.

    ajayibills57
    You’ll notice a Jay Ajayi trend here. Hint: Stiff-arm.
  2. Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake are one of if not the best DT-DE combinations in the league. Suh disrupts plays before they have a chance to begin. On a second quarter fourth-and-1, Tyrod Taylor hands to LeSean McCoy. But before McCoy even has the ball, Suh has beaten Buffalo’s right guard, who is desperately reaching back to grab him. This allows Kiko Alonso (as is usually the case) the chance to crash a gap and finish off McCoy for no gain. McCoy never had a chance. Suh is so fast at the snap of the ball it’s unfair. Suh and Alonso have been involved in multiple fourth-down stops this season. In another key under-the-radar Suh play, he jumped up to tip a third-down pass with four minutes left in overtime, forcing a punt that led to the game-winning drive. As for Wake, please don’t try to block him with a tight end and a running back (in this case, Charles Clay and McCoy). On a second-quarter third down, Clay gets an initial punch and strikes Wake to the ground. But Wake, 34, maintains his balance by placing his right hand on the turf. Clay thinks he has help but Wake quickly scoots past McCoy and Taylor is dropped. This play illustrates how Wake doesn’t give up on a play even when it seems unlikely he’ll have time to make a sack or even when it seems obvious his momentum is going to force him to the ground.
    suhfourtstop
    Here, behemoth Ndamukong Suh spoils Rex Ryan’s fourth-down risk.

    wakesackbills
    Somehow, ageless wonder Cameron Wake (left) turned this moment into a sack.
  3. DeVante Parker appeared really, really healthy against the Bills. Here’s what struck me about DeVante Parker’s long touchdown, watching the coaches’ film in slow motion: Parker’s right hamstring must be much better. I mean, look at how insanely high off the ground it is in that freeze-framed photo. Parker looks like a long jumper. He has such long strides and the ability to turn short passes into long gainers, even touchdowns. What makes Parker such a potentially devastating weapon is he can do at least three things well. He can catch diving passes in a fully extended position, he can win 50-50 jump balls along the sideline or back of the end zone or he can take a short slant, break a tackle and take off, almost in a manner that reminds you of Jarvis Landry, who obviously is much smaller and plays more often in the slot. This is a 56-yard touchdown in which Parker breaks a tackle, and really it’s the type of play that breaks the spirit of an opponent.

    devantebillstd
    Try doing with your right leg what DeVante Parker is doing right here. No, really.
  4. More Neville Hewitt and Earl Mitchell and less Donald Butler and Jordan Phillips might help Miami’s defense. It seems as if linebacker Donald Butler is on the field when long touchdown bursts through the middle occur. The same can be said of defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. But in particular, it seems like Butler doesn’t make enough plays and doesn’t do enough to put himself into the right place to make stops. He just hasn’t been a factor since signing. On LeSean McCoy’s 19-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Butler was tied up and forced way outside of the play as McCoy burst through a huge hole in the middle of the field vacated in part by Phillips. Miami’s front seven has just been vulnerable to middle run far too often this season. One consideration is less snaps for Butler and more for rising youngster Neville Hewitt, who diagnosed a Tyrod Taylor option run in the fourth quarter, exploded into the backfield and dropped the quarterback for a 6-yard loss. Hewitt also had a great breakdown on Reggie Bush after an end-around in overtime, dropping him for an 8-yard loss. Hewitt was not fooled. As everything was going to his left, Hewitt sensed the play would come back to his right. The once-dynamic, now slightly shifty Bush tried, but was unable to out-juke Hewitt, who didn’t overreact to Bush’s twerks. Also, Earl Mitchell has overtaken Phillips as trusted defensive tackle alongside Suh. Mitchell had 58 snaps in Saturday’s game and Phillips had only 29. There were 16 Dolphins defenders with more snaps played than Phillips. Telling.

    hewittbettertackle
    This Neville Hewitt fellow had two key tackles for loss. More, please.
  5. EXTRA POINTS. When Matt Moore loaded up to throw a deep post to Kenny Stills into the end zone just before halftime, Coach Adam Gase might have been thinking “No, no, no. What is he seeing? Where is he going with this ball?” Moore didn’t get enough on the throw, but more than anything, Moore needed to be aware of the situation and process the risk. The chance at a field goal was far more important there than a shot at the end zone. That’s where even Sunday’s start against New England, a third consecutive one, should really help Moore if he has to start a playoff game at Pittsburgh or Houston. Moore did make a strong-armed, confident, 17-yard throw to Kenny Stills with 1:07 to play in regulation.
    moorebillsint
    Matt Moore decided to throw for Kenny Stills in the end zone on this play. Not the best decision.

    It appeared safety Bacarri Rambo either didn’t realize he was supposed to help pick up Sammy Watkins after Xavien Howard released him and/or he didn’t have the foot speed to catch up the speedster on a 53-yard completion in the third quarter. Howard was pointing to Rambo to help but Watkins was really wide open on the play. Communication and chemistry in the back end hasn’t been seamless and the absence of Byron Maxwell, Reshad Jones and late in the Bills game Isa Abdul-Quddus would not bode well against, for example, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Dolphins really need to hope Abdul-Quddus does not have a serious injury. It would be helpful to have Maxwell back this week as well, as Howard did not play as confidently as he had in the previous game.

    watkinsopenbills
    Here, Xavien Howard points at Bacarri Rambo and yells something like, “Help! Help!”

    Really nice game for sophomore cornerback Tony Lippett, who had two pass breakups in the first quarter. Lippett breaks well on comebacks and gets his hand in to disrupt pass attempts. Lippett’s growth has been discernable. He’s got great upside and great ball skills… We didn’t notice veteran center Kraig Urbik much, which is a good thing. Urbik is a solid, consistent scrapper and that’s what the Dolphins need right now. It’s been an improvement over injury-hobbled and inexperienced Anthony Steen… Moore may have had a poor throwing first half, but under the radar a bit was a key block he threw on a Bills defensive back to help spring Kenyan Drake for a 45-yard touchdown along the right sideline. Drake decided to reverse course after he ran into the backside of right guard Jermon Bushrod, who was being pushed, and seeing another defender right in his face. Even though the play worked, coaches will likely discourage Drake from trying that move too often, and settling for a short or no gain by carrying through with the run as designed. That said, Drake showed his incredible explosiveness as he kicked into his gear down the sideline. Drake should be a very valuable weapon, in conjunction with Ajayi, next season. It was a really big step forward for Drake that Gase trusted him with consecutive carries in overtime. Drake contributed with the touchdown but also a key kickoff return to set up the game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. Miami’s rookie class, especially Laremy Tunsil, Howard and Drake, shows promise.

    kenyantdmooreblock
    Here, Matt Moore blocks a Bills player (they’re usually pretty blockable) to allow Kenyan Drake to score.

     

Adam Gase expected the Miami Dolphins to make the playoffs

Miami Dolphins waiting for MRI on Isa Abdul-Quddus; more on Ajayi and Maxwell injuries

Miami Dolphins: put champagne away; not seriously injured, you play

‘It’s awesome’: Miami Dolphins’ Reshad Jones can’t play, but overjoyed for teammates

Dolphins coach Adam Gase not ruling out QB Ryan Tannehill vs. Patriots

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Dolphins’ Spencer Paysinger looks headed toward starting LB job

Miami Dolphins linebacker Spencer Paysinger (42) at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida on August 25, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins linebacker Spencer Paysinger (42) at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida on August 25, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE—With Dolphins starting outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins out because of a knee injury, Spencer Paysinger and Neville Hewitt are the main contenders to fill in for him. At this point, Paysinger appears on target for the starting spot.

Miami coach Adam Gase did not rule out Jenkins for the season opener when he talked about him Sunday, but the Miami Herald reported that he underwent minor surgery. Gase described him as week-to-week.
Continue reading “Dolphins’ Spencer Paysinger looks headed toward starting LB job”