Revenge-minded Patriots prepare to host revamped Dolphins
FOXBOROUGH >> The Patriots and Dolphins both left their 2016 season openers feeling better about their teams than they did going in.
For a short-handed New England offense led by first-time starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo , that translated into being efficient enough to pull out a win on the road against highly regarded Arizona. Miami came up short at Seattle, but left encouraged about a defense that nearly held the Seahawks without a touchdown.
Week 2 brings a familiar opponent for each AFC East rival, but it feels much different as new Dolphins coach Adam Gase brings his first team to New England. He will be trying to end a streak of seven straight losses in Foxborough, the Dolphins' longest active road winless streak against any team.
Miami gets a Patriots team without suspended quarterback Tom Brady, and possibly without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who sat out at Arizona with a hamstring injury and began this week still limited. But confidence is even higher than it was entering the season for Garoppolo after his steady performance against the Cardinals.
Gase said the Patriots' ability to get the maximum out of their players is what makes them so difficult to scheme against. He's watched it from afar as an assistant and has seen the same thing on film this week.
"When you have a team that is that chameleon, where you're not really sure what you're going to get, it makes it tough," Gase said.
There is also a revenge element for New England. The Patriots were pushed around in a 20-10 regular-season finale loss to the Dolphins in January, which denied them the AFC's top seed. They went on to lose at Denver in the AFC championship game.
Bill Belichick called last year's effort "sickening," saying it's something that remains etched in his mind.
It's probably why he had his team watching film of the Dolphins on their flight back from Arizona early Monday morning.
Garoppolo said it helped everyone quickly move past Arizona.
"It's a good thing that we got the confidence, but that's about it," he said. "You don't want to think about it too much because you'll get stuck in the past, and that's not a good thing in this league."
Here are some things to watch for in Sunday's game:
TRAINER'S ROOM: Both teams are dealing with injuries. New England LT Nate Solder (hamstring) and RG Jonathan Cooper (foot) both sat out last week and began this week as limited practice participants. G Shaq Mason (hand) was also limited after coming off the bench last week and rotating at right guard with rookie Ted Karras. Solder, who hasn't played a regular-season game since going on injured reserve last October, wants to play Sunday, but said the final decision would come from the coaching staff.
Dolphins C Mike Pouncey started the week sidelined with a hip injury. RB Arian Foster (hamstring) also began preparations for the Patriots as a spectator. DE Mario Williams was in the NFL's concussion protocol after leaving Miami's loss.
PARKER'S RETURN? WR DeVante Parker (hamstring) was also limited in practice after he sat out against the Seahawks. His presence Sunday would provide Miami's offense with a much-needed weapon against New England's secondary. Despite being limited, Gase said they were getting Parker "a good amount" of reps.
LOOKING FOR IMPROVEMENT: Miami QB Ryan Tannehill carved up the Patriots in January's win, throwing for 350 yards and two touchdowns. But he's coming off an inconsistent game at Seattle (186 yards passing and no touchdown passes). He's expecting to get plenty of different looks from New England's veteran secondary. "You just always have to be on your toes as a quarterback, as an offense, be able to adapt to what's going on in the game and just take care of the football," he said.
PREPARING FOR SUH: New England's offensive line had its issues in January's loss to Miami, struggling to open holes in the run game and surrendering a pair of sacks. Dolphins DT Ndamukong Suh was a big part of that with four tackles and combining on one of the sacks. Patriots LG Joe Thuney may be one of the players tasked with containing him, a challenge the rookie said he's embraced. "Yeah, I think as a competitor you want to measure yourself and see where you're at," he said.
TOUGH SCHEDULE: Week 2 is a continuation of a challenging opening month for the Dolphins. Miami is the only team in the NFL which opens with two road games against 2015 playoff teams.
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