FOXBOROUGH - On Christmas Eve, the Dolphins nearly gave their fans the gift of victory over a Patriots team that had defeated them on “Monday Night Football’’ to open the season, and last week won the AFC East title for the eighth time in nine years.
“We didn’t finish,’’ said interim Miami coach Todd Bowles. “First half, we came out and played our tempo and our ballgame, and made them play our ballgame. Second half, they made us play theirs.’’
The lack of execution and subsequent momentum swing the Dolphins suffered proved costly as the Patriots erased a 17-point deficit in the second half of a 27-24 win.
Matt Moore found Davone Bess streaking across the back of the end zone with 1:48 remaining to bring the Dolphins to within 3. But after letting the Patriots claw back during the second half, it was too little, too late for the offense to try to outscore a Patriots team that wins almost purely by outscoring the opposition.
“Our defense was doing a heck of a job,’’ Moore said. “Our whole mind-set was just keep attacking, which we did, and we ended up scoring, but we’ve got to do that a couple of drives earlier.’’
The Dolphins moved the chains with ease and looked like a well-oiled machine going into halftime. Moore threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, and Brandon Marshall eclipsed the 100-yard mark on five catches with a touchdown. But the offense sputtered after the break.
“We stalled there a little bit in the second half,’’ Moore said. “We can’t do that against a team like this. Credit them, they made more plays than we did in the second half.’’
With a little less than 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Dolphins leading, 17-3, a botched exchange between Moore and center Mike Pouncey gave New England the ball at the Miami 38, leading to the Patriots’ first touchdown. An interception by Devin McCourty early in the fourth quarter led to a 42-yard field goal and a 20-17 Patriots lead, their first of the game.
“Obviously, we came out and had some crucial turnovers in the second half and you can’t do that against a quality team,’’ Moore said. “I think at the end of the day that hurt us big-time.’’
“We knew we had to come out and play the whole game as if it was 0-0,’’ said Dolphins guard Richie Incognito. “It’s a tale of two halves. We played really well in the first half, didn’t turn the ball over, then we came out in the second half and turned the ball over.’’
With the Dolphins unable to keep Tom Brady and the Patriots offense off the field, it was only a matter of time before New England figured out a way to beat a defense that sacked Brady three times in the first half and held him to 87 yards on 7-for-19 passing.
“We talked about not turning the ball over, sustaining drives, and I don’t think we did a good job of that today for four quarters,’’ said Dolphins running back Reggie Bush. “We put our defense on a short field too many times and made it easy for them. Against good teams you can’t do that.’’
Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall summed up his team’s second-half offensive performance more succinctly.
“Immaturity, stupid mistakes, lack of execution,’’ he said.