By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
Meaningless game? Not quite. In fact, it has potential to “mean” more to the Patriots than any other game if things go badly when the Miami Dolphins come to Foxborough this Sunday. Of course, we all remember Wes Welker twisting about on the Houston turf, last year, injured badly and out for the year. That had meaning. That game actually meant more than this one in terms of playoff standings. That one seeding still conceivably was at stake. In this one, nothing is. The Patriots have wrapped up the bye and #1 seed throughout the playoffs. As I recall, I was in favor of the Patriots playing to win last year. I felt the seeding was worthwhile. This year? I don’t want Tom Brady to see the field. Or Welker. Or anyone for that matter. Hell, can we just call the damn thing off? How about a forfeit?
In all seriousness, I think the Patriots should play as few regulars as possible. You just don’t have the room on your roster to completely sit down every significant player for the whole game, but I hope they limit it as much as possible. And I’ll be holding my breath until about 4PM Sunday hoping the game really does have no “meaning.” If so, the Patriots will have walked off the field injury-free or nearly injury-free. The score won’t matter. Only getting through what amounts to a glorified exhibition game in one piece. And it could be a good chance for some younger prospects who don’t play, like wide receiver Taylor Price and running back Thomas Clayton, to gain some experience. Lets take a look at a few Dolphins hopefully the reserves will be competing with on Sunday:
Brandon Marshall (#19), Wide Receiver: So what was all the fuss about? Its not that Marshall has been bad, but to hear the ridiculous pronunciations when the Dolphins acquired him, it just goes to prove an old point. And that is, just because someone is paid to report on football or write about it doesn’t mean they know a heck of a lot about it. All offseason, we heard what “talent” the Dolphins have, the centerpiece of which was the Marshall acquisition. “They’re a wagon, ‘bro” is what they’d say. And what sometimes gets lost as these guys are no more qualified to evaluate the “talent” they was so prophetic about than they are to give you stock market advice. Either is fairly likely to be bad and based on poor judgment. In any event, as we said, Marshall hasn’t been bad. He’s been decent. He has 900 plus yards, but only 3 touchdowns. But the thought he was going to show up in Miami and make a difference when he never really did in Denver was ludicrous. There are 21 other guys on his team who start. One good player can be so severely overrated as indicating a talent-lade roster if they happen to play a skill position it borders on absurd. For what its worth, Marshall is of course a weapon. He can do damage. And he could hurt the Patriots Sunday. But come a week from Sunday, he and the rest of the Dolphins will be sitting on the sidelines and not in the playoffs because despite what the media sells, he alone is not a difference maker.
Koa Misi (#55), Linebacker:
A rookie second round choice for the Dolphins, (and a Patriots Daily interviewee last spring) Misi has had a very good year. Through 15 games he sits with 36 tackles and 5 sacks and has done an admirable job sealing the edge versus the run for the Dolphins. Along with Cameron Wake, he makes a dangerous edge rusher on passing downs and for that reason alone, it would be wise for the Patriots to sit Tom Brady with nothing to play for. Misi is one of a core of Dolphins young players on defense, along with Wake, injured defensive lineman Jared Odrick and defensive backs Vontae Davis, Sean Smith and Nolan Carroll who could help the Dolphins defense improve going forward and make them the main threat in the division over the next few years to the Patriots. Misi is a big kid at 251 lbs. who comes from a football playing family, his dad played at Hawaii, and if you watch him on Sunday, you’ll see a good player who will become one of the better outside linebackers the Patriots will be facing in the division for the foreseeable future.
Vontae Davis (#21), Cornerback: Davis, the Jets Darrelle Revis and the Patriots Devin McCourty are the top 3 corners in the AFC East and all three are young players who have many great years in front of them. The brother of San Francisco 49ers tightend Vernon Davis, Vontae is on the verge of the same Pro Bowl recognition as Revis and McCourty are getting. One thing that has hurt his cause this year is he only came up with 1 interception, though teams do tend to avoid his side. Davis’ name was brought up this week in connection with the University of North Carolina football scandal when his brother Vernon was named as one of those providing improper benefits to UNC players in an attempt to place them with agents. Vontae’s name was also mentioned as possibly being involved. No matter, on Sunday he’ll be looking for a big game versus the Patriots to show his Pro Bowl snub was an injustice.
Nolan Carroll (#28), Cornerback: Carroll was the rookie corner Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi tripped on the sidelines during a punt a few weeks back, causing a major scandal in the NFL. For what its worth, Carroll mostly kept his mouth shut about the incident and didn’t get involved in the back and forth regarding it, probably a smart move for a rookie. The 5th round choice out of Maryland has had a solid rookie year as an extra defensive back and special teams player. In that Jets game he was tripped in, Carroll grabbed his first NFL interception. He didn’t play much early in the season on defense but that has been increasing in recent weeks. Interestingly, his mother Jennifer Carroll is the Lt. Governor-elect for the State of Florida. She’ll be taking office in January. Carroll should get a chance for extended playing time in what amounts to a meaningless game and no doubt the Patriots will try to take advantage of his inexperience when they get the chance.