MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — There was the overtime winner against Denver, a pair of 53-yard kicks in the fourth quarter to beat Houston, and another 50-yarder in a 1-point win over Cleveland.
Stephen Gostkowski had been on quite a roll, but the Patriots kicker’s worst game of the season played a part in a 24-20 loss to the Dolphins Sunday.
Gostkowski had just his third missed field goal of the season, but it was a fourth-quarter kickoff sent out of bounds that proved just as costly, if not more.
After the Patriots had taken a 20-17 lead with 4:07 left, Gostkowski’s ensuing kickoff flew wildly left, toward the Miami sideline.
Instead of Gostkowski’s usual touchback — he had two on Sunday, and came into the game fourth in touchback percentage at 66.2 — and starting a key drive at their 20-yard-line, the Dolphins began the drive at the 40. Miami turned the good field position into the game-winning touchdown.
“It’s just a case of overkicking and trying to kill the ball. Not a good kick at all: Terrible timing, and it’s a play I definitely wish I could take back,” Gostkowski said. “It stinks to lose, and it stinks to have an effect on the game like that.”
Gostkowski had a streak of 21 field goals made snapped two weeks ago when he missed a 55-yarder at Houston. So when he lined up for a 48-yard try on the opening drive of the third quarter, length wasn’t expected to be a problem. Kicking in the south Florida heat (game-time temperature was 84 degrees), Gostkowski sent a 58-yarder in warm-ups deep into the netting.
He had plenty of distance on the 48-yarder, but watched as the kick veered left. The miss caught Gostkowski by surprise.
“I felt like I hit it pretty well. The wind was blowing left-to-right all day, and I played it left-middle, felt like I hit it right where I aimed but it just kind of leaked left a little bit,” Gostkowski said. “It’s upsetting. There’s very few times where I feel like I hit a good kick and I miss. Usually you just hit a crappy kick. I felt like I put a good swing on it; it was a great operation.
“Today just wasn’t my day.”
This season, until Sunday, Gostkowski didn’t have any reason to make such a statement. He came into the game leading the league in scoring and field goals.
“He’s been doing it for us all year. So reliable, so consistent,” said special teams captain Matthew Slater. “I think I speak for everyone when I say we wouldn’t want to have any other guy.”
Solder leaves with head injury
Nate Solder, who sat out Wednesday’s practice after suffering a concussion in the win over the Browns, started at left tackle but left the game with what the Patriots said was a head injury. He did not return.
With Solder sidelined, starting left guard Logan Mankins slid to left tackle, and Josh Kline took over at left guard.
“That’s what we needed tonight. One of our guys went down, I’m not sure what happened yet, but that was the plan all week: If something was to happen, that was my job, to go out there,” Mankins said. “I went out there, and I don’t recall screwing anything up, so that’s always good.”
The last time Mankins played left tackle? He knew the answer right away.
“That was 2011 against the Dolphins. I blew out my knee that game, too,” Mankins said, referring to the season opener two years ago in which he tore a knee ligament, an injury he played through the rest of the season.
Solder was spotted outside the Patriots’ locker room after the game. Tom Brady talked to him, as did Mankins.
Marcus Cannon returned to practice last week after sitting out two games with an ankle injury, and got the start at right tackle. Cannon played the majority of the game, but was spelled on occasion by Will Svitek, who started at right guard when Cannon was out.
They took a seat
With a pair of rookie receivers already downgraded to out, the Patriots needed to designate five more players to complete the seven-man inactive list. Three weren’t surprising, because linebacker Steve Beauharnais (now 11 games), defensive end Jake Bequette (eight), and offensive lineman Chris Barker (nine) have been inactive more times than not this season.
But rookie defensive lineman Michael Buchanan had played in the Patriots’ first 13 games (two sacks), and tight end D.J. Williams was re-signed last week after the season-ending injury to Rob Gronkowski.
Miami-area product Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson were ruled out on Saturday. Thompkins has been dealing with a hip injury, and Dobson has now missed three straight games with a foot injury.
Rookie defensive lineman A.J. Francis, who was signed by Miami off the Patriots’ practice squad Nov. 26, was ruled inactive by the Dolphins.
Out of nowhere
One player the Patriots probably didn’t have much of a scouting report on was safety Michael Thomas, who was signed by the Dolphins only last Tuesday off San Francisco’s practice squad.
But Thomas made perhaps the play of the game, intercepting Brady’s fourth-down pass in the end zone with two seconds left.
It preserved Miami’s victory, and couldn’t have come from a more unlikely source. Thomas said he didn’t get any practice snaps with the Dolphins defense — not one — instead spending time solely on the scout team.
“I knew being the new guy, Tom Brady was going to come after me,” Thomas said.
“Words can’t explain it. Everybody trusted me enough to actually go out there and make that type of play.”
Moving on up
With a short pass to Shane Vereen late in the first quarter, Brady moved past John Elway (4,123) and into fifth place on the NFL’s career completion list. Brady now has 4,150. Brady also went over 4,000 yards in a season for the sixth time . . . Kyle Arrington recorded the first sack of his career, coming in on a corner blitz and even shedding a blocker to bring down quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the second quarter. The Patriots had three other sacks, by Joe Vellano, Sealver Siliga, and Chandler Jones, who now has 11½ on the season. That’s the most by a Patriot since Mike Vrabel had 12½ in 2007 . . . Nate Ebner had another special-teams fumble recovery. On what looked like it was going to be a fake field-goal attempt on fourth and 1 — the left end for Miami broke out on a pass route — Ebner pounced on the ball after it was snapped directly off the helmet of holder Brandon Fields, who was looking back at kicker Caleb Sturgis . . . The Patriots ended a six-game streak of not getting any points on their opening drive of the game. Against Miami, they put together a 16-play drive that resulted in a 22-yard field goal. They hadn’t scored on their opening drive since the Oct. 20 game at the Jets … Spotted outside the locker rooms after the game: former Patriots receiver Donte Stallworth, tennis star Venus Williams, and Brady’s wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.