Regardless of venue, Tom Brady owns just about every team in the NFL.
There are a few exceptions, of course. Neutral site Super Bowls against the New York Giants and the thin air of Colorado against the Denver Broncos certainly come to mind.
But it’s not like Brady is playing under those circumstances every single season, the way he plays against his AFC East rival Miami Dolphins on the road once a year. Inexplicably, Brady owns a lackluster 7-9 mark on the road vs. the Dolphins.
To be clear, it’s much, much more than just a Brady problem when the Patriots are in Miami.
“We just suck,” Devin McCourty said in the locker room on Wednesday.
Matthew Slater described the Patriots’ performances in Miami as “dreadful.”
Brady’s home-road splits vs. the Dolphins are certifiably insane. When Miami visited Gillette Stadium in Week 4 and the sky was falling after back-to-back losses by double digits for New England for the first time since 2002, the Patriots naturally went and blew out the Dolphins, 38-7. The win improved Brady’s home record vs. Miami to 15-1 -- and that one loss was a Week 17 game in 2005 in which Matt Cassel finished the game in Brady’s place.
On the other hand: Brady’s first loss ever as a starter was on the road in South Florida. The most recent time a Brady-led team was held scoreless was a road loss to the Dolphins in 2006. Save for a three-year stretch between 2010-12, Brady has never won in back-to-back seasons at whatever moniker Miami’s stadium was taking on (it’s been renamed eight times since he entered the NFL; currently, it’s known as Hard Rock Stadium).
Arguably the greatest Patriots team of this century, the 2004 group, suffered one of its two losses on the road to the Dolphins. The 2014 team, which also went on to win the Super Bowl, came up short in its season opener on South Beach.
There are a handful of oddities over the course of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era that can’t be explained, but the team’s struggles in Miami have to top the list.
While the Patriots are just 10-28 all-time on the road vs. the Dolphins when Brady isn’t the quarterback, Miami was a perennially strong team prior to the turn of the century. Since Brady became New England’s starter, the Dolphins have made the postseason just three times -- and one of those years was in 2008, when Cassel was under center for the Patriots (and wouldn’t you know it, Cassel led New England to a 48-28 win in the Sunshine State).
“Well, we’ll definitely look at last year’s game,” New England coach Bill Belichick said when asked about his team’s history in Miami. “That’s as close as we can get.”
The Patriots, who finished 13-3 and went on to lose the Super Bowl last year, lost to a Dolphins team that finished 6-10 led by Jay freaking Cutler, 27-20. Really, the game wasn’t that close, and it was the final game Miami would win in 2017.
December and January have been particularly brutal for the Patriots under Brady in Miami. He’s 2-6 on the road against the Dolphins in the final month of the season, compared to 5-3 otherwise.
Could it have something to do with the humidity the Patriots suddenly experience, when best-case scenario it’s pushing 50 degrees in Foxboro this time of year?
“Look, it is what it is out there,” said Belichick, ever the meteorologist. “So whatever it is, it is.”
Both McCourty and Slater described similar traveling experiences when the team heads south every year, just as it does for its yearly voyages to North Jersey to face the Jets and western New York to battle the Bills.
“Our routine’s the same,” Slater said, adding the Patriots have stayed in only two different hotels for Miami road games during his 11-year career. “Obviously, it’s a little bit longer flight, but the travel schedule is the same. We’ll have to be hydrating. We just have to prepare our minds.”
Brady isn’t always off when he’s in Miami, of course. His career-high 517 yards passing came in the 2011 season opener on Monday Night Football in Miami, and he delivered one of his two perfect passer ratings in his career (158.3) in a game at Miami in 2007.
Given the magnitude of Sunday’s game -- not only can the Patriots clinch their 10th straight AFC East title, but they can also stay on track for a first-round bye -- Brady needs to be the best player on the field for New England on Sunday.
“Obviously, it hasn’t been good for us down in Miami over the last couple of years,” McCourty said. “But I will say, for us this year, it hasn’t been great for us on the road, period.”
The Patriots are 6-0 at home, but still just 3-3 away from Gillette Stadium in 2018. Winning on the road in Brady’s house of horrors can go a long way in ensuring New England can keep travel to a minimum come January.