Dolphins vs. Patriots: New England's Young Defense Steps Up Headed into Playoffs

Erik FrenzSenior Writer IDecember 30, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 30: Justin Francis #94 of the New England Patriots celebrates a sack against Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins in the second half during the game at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The New England Patriots defense played their best football of 2012 against the Miami Dolphins, with a season-high seven sacks and a season-low zero points allowed. The seven sacks were the team's best since hosting the Dolphins in Week 15 of 2007.

The shutout was their first since October 18, 2009, against the Tennessee Titans.

Most impressive, though, was the number of young contributors in this performance.

Rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower recovered a fumble at the 1-yard line to keep the Dolphins off the scoreboard. Cornerback Derrick Martin had a sack of his own and was on the field a lot for New England's banged-up secondary.

The big story was undrafted rookie defensive end Justin Francis, who had three sacks in his ninth game of the season. When asked about Francis' big day, Belichick said, "Some of that is overrated. There were several times [where] one guy came in and flushed the quarterback out and somebody else got him, but if we get him as a team, we get him."

They know it will take more than one player or multiple young players playing well for this team to go deep into the postseason; it will have to be a team effort.

Of course, any good defense needs its veterans playing a role as well.

Safety Steve Gregory contributed with an interception, and defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Trevor Scott both joined the sack party.

The Patriots listed the youngest roster of the Bill Belichick era heading into the 2012 season, and the defense was at the forefront of that. The Patriots are getting the most out of their youngsters as they head into the postseason.

When confronted with potential playoff scenarios all week, the Patriots constantly reminded people that none of it mattered if they didn't beat the Dolphins. The Patriots held up their end of the bargain just over three hours after the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Houston Texans and nudged New England to a first-round bye.

The most important thing for New England, though, is that after a few weeks of some of their worst football of the season, they cleaned it up with some of their best right in the nick of time.


Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.