Below .500 three weeks into the season for the first time since 2012, Tom Brady took to the podium at Gillette Stadium on Friday afternoon well aware of the high-leverage situation before the Patriots on Sunday.
“These games are important,” Brady said ahead of his showdown with the Miami Dolphins. “These division games are what it’s all about. They’re 3-0 and we’re looking up at them. Obviously, we haven’t played the way we’re capable of playing.”
New England is coming off of back-to-back losses by 10 or more points for the first time since 2002, which is also the last time it lost three games in a row.
Should the Patriots lose by any margin on Sunday, they’ll be facing a three-game deficit in the AFC East standings.
Competition for the Dolphins hasn’t been the strongest, as their three opponents (the Tennessee Titans, New York Jets and Oakland Raiders) have a combined record of 3-6. Oakland is one of three teams without a win across the NFL.
Still, Miami is showing the ability to close out tight games. All three wins for the Dolphins have been by single digits, which is also how New England garnered its lone win in Week 1’s 27-20 victory over the still-winless Houston Texans.
“I don’t think records really matter at this point,” James White said. “You’ve still got to go out there and compete. The Dolphins are playing extremely well so we’ve gotta come out from the start. Gotta have energy from the first quarter to the fourth quarter, because they definitely will.”
Falling into such a massive hole this early in the season seldom ends well. Since the playoff field expanded to 12 teams in 1990, NFL teams to start 1-3 have gone on to the postseason roughly 14 percent of the time (28 for 193).
The arrival of Miami to Gillette Stadium for Sunday’s 1 p.m. kickoff also brings about the return of Danny Amendola, one of Brady’s most celebrated receivers over the last five seasons.
Brady fielded questions about both Amendola and former New England wideout Brandin Cooks at the podium, another key member of the talent exodus on the offensive side of the ball for the Patriots in the offseason.
Amendola is off to a modest start with the Dolphins after signing a two-year, $12 million contract in March, with 11 catches for 100 yards through three games. Cooks, however, is lighting the world on fire in his new LA digs. He has 26 catches for 452 yards in his first four games with the Rams, including a seven-catch, 116-yard performance on Thursday Night Football last night.
“I’m happy for those guys, and you know, usually when you leave, it’s because you get good opportunities in other places,” Brady said, adding he wasn’t frustrated with their success elsewhere. “I mean, I’m just usually generally frustrated about football in general just because it’s a frustrating sport. But I’m certainly happy for guys when they do well.”
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, is New England’s leading receiver through three games with 189 yards – a figure which is 41st in the NFL. Phillip Dorsett is the leading true wide receiver for the Patriots, tied for 84th in the NFL with 110 receiving yards.
“We’re fine,” Dorsett said when asked about the sense of urgency in New England’s locker room. “We all know we’ve gotta get going. It’s early in the season, not to make excuses, but we’re 1-2 and we know we’ve gotta get it going. We’ve got lot of veteran leaders in this group and they know. They’re trying to stay on everybody. We’re a very self-motivated team.”
Would anyone go so far as to describe Sunday as a must-win for the Patriots?
“I think every game is a must-win,” Shaq Mason said. “That’s the main goal, you want to win any game you play. We’re going out there looking forward to competing.”
The Dolphins are 1-14 vs. Tom Brady all-time in Foxboro, their lone win coming in Week 17 of 2005 in which the Patriots had nothing to gain by winning. Miami won in New England in 2008 during Brady’s absence, when the Dolphins unleashed the “Wildcat” offense with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.