The last time the Patriots and Dolphins met, the old, worn “David-versus-Goliath” cliche fit their matchup all too perfectly.
The Pats were favored by 17 points heading into last December’s regular-season finale, seemingly destined for a playoff bye. After actively leaking talent all season, Miami had purposefully left itself the most hapless roster in the league. Several Dolphins made their starting debut at kickoff.
Nonetheless, after four quarters at Gillette Stadium, Goliath fell.
Nine months later, the Patriots remain solid favorites ahead of Sunday’s rematch, but the dynamic of the matchup has shifted dramatically.
This year, it’s the Pats who have slowly lost impact players leading up to kickoff, while the Dolphins’ immediate future is unquestionably bright. Thanks to their hauls in free agency and the draft, Miami is a remade team.
“It looks like they’re a lot better than they were last year, based on the acquisitions that they made,” Bill Belichick said Wednesday.
Pro Bowl cornerback Byron Jones became the crown jewel of the Dolphins’ offseason when he signed the richest contract ever for a corner in March as a free agent. Former Patriots outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy quickly joined him, inking a 4-year, $51 million deal. Then former Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson, another pass rusher coming off a career-high 6.5 sacks, signed, too.
Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard also landed in Miami, as did former Pats center Ted Karras and linebacker Elandon Roberts. Karras was a small part of the Dolphins’ concerted efforts to beef up their offensive and defensive lines. After signing him and former Giants and Redskins guard Ereck Flowers to a massive deal, Miami spent seven of its 11 draft picks on linemen.
How all of the Dolphins’ new pieces coalesce is anyone’s guess, but Belichick is betting on one thing: the one-time David of the division won’t remain an underdog for very long.
Pats add new O-lineman
A day after adding two rookie wideouts to their practice squad, the Patriots continued shuffling the back end of their roster by signing fourth-year offensive lineman Corey Levin and releasing fullback Paul Quessenberry.
Levin takes Quessenberry’s spot on the practice squad after getting released by the Bears last week. He entered the league as a sixth-round draft pick of the Titans in 2017, then was claimed off waivers two years later by Denver. He spent almost three months last season with the Broncos before signing to Chicago’s active roster last November.
Levin adds experience up front, with 16 game appearances and one start. He can play both guard and center.
Talib’s near return
Former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib announced his retirement from football Wednesday, but not before he was allegedly tempted into a reunion with his old team.
“My guy, my big homie Bill Belichick calls my phone, calls my phone. And he told me that he had the role of a lifetime for me,” Talib said in a video he tweeted Wednesday, promoting his new YouTube channel.
So what was the role?
“He really wanted me to come in and strap tight ends,” he said.
According to Talib, the Pats were willing to pay him up to $6 million to sign as a free agent. His career fizzled last season following a midseason trade from the Rams to the Dolphins, for whom he never played a game. Talib said he turned Belichick’s offer down after looking at the team’s schedule, which features matchups with top tight ends like All-Pros George Kittle and Travis Kelce, plus Darren Waller and Greg Olsen among others.
That role now appears to be falling to second-year defensive back Joejuan Williams. After being drafted as a cornerback, Williams spent much of his time in training camp at safety.
Talib, a 5-time Pro Bowler, played a season and a half in New England, where he totaled five interceptions. Talib later made the All-Pro team with the Broncos in 2016 the year after they won Super Bowl L.
Van Noy talking back
In an interview with Miami reporters Wednesday, Van Noy said he endured regular trash talk from Patriots offensive linemen during their practices in New England. So naturally, he’s aiming to return the favor and then walk the walk during their reunion on Sunday.
“Yeah, going against them, they’re familiar with me. I’m familiar with them. I’m excited for this task. They’ve been talking trash the four years I’ve been there, so I’m excited to see if we both can back it up,” he said laughing.
Yet when asked about Van Noy’s memories, center David Andrews, the leader of the Patriots offensive line, said he couldn’t recall any trash-talking.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember,” Andrews said. “Kyle’s a great player, he’s a smart football player. There’s obviously competitiveness in practice. But he’s a great football player, he was a great teammate while he was here, but now he’s down there.
“So I’m excited to compete against him, and I’m excited to compete against all those guys.”