MIAMI GARDENS — No miracles in Miami in 2020. Just a slow burn under the scorching South Florida sun.
The Patriots were officially eliminated from playoff contention Sunday, torched by the Dolphins, 22-12, snapping a run of 11 consecutive postseason appearances. At 6-8, New England will play its final two games of the season with no playoff implications on the line for the first time in 20 seasons.
“Disappointed,” said Bill Belichick. “But we didn’t deserve to win today … To win these games, we’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to do a better job and collectively as a staff and a team, we’ve got to perform better than this.”
Even with a victory, the Patriots would have needed a ton of help to get to the dance, but instead they watched unheralded running back Salvon Ahmed cut a rug to the tune of a 122 yards on 23 carries. He is the first Miami back in two years to crack the 100-yard mark.
Ahmed led a ruthless rushing attack that piled up 250 yards — including 175 in the second half — against a helpless New England defense that struggled all afternoon to defeat blocks and make tackles, leaving lanes as wide as Alligator Alley for the Dolphins’ backs to squirt through.
Matt Breida, fresh off the COVID-19 reserve list, chipped in with 86 yards on just 12 carries as Miami rushed for their most yards since going for 261 against the Bills in 2016.
It was the second straight game the run defense wasn’t there, and Devin McCourty was at a loss to explain it.
“If I had that answer I would gladly share it — and we probably would have played better,” he said.
Miami (9-5) put together touchdown drives of 72, 90, and 75 yards after intermission, both gashing the middle of New England’s defense and getting around the edge on a consistent basis.
“We didn’t do a good job in those situations where we had field position — we didn’t keep it,” said Belichick. “We didn’t get the ball back to the offense in good field position and put them in a long field too many times. That all certainly contributed to the performance of the day.”
The Patriots played well enough to take a 6-0 lead into the halftime locker room thanks to old reliable, Nick Folk, and a big mistake from young Tua Tagovailoa.
The rookie quarterback drove the Dolphins to the New England 3-yard line, where he threw an ill-advised pass that J.C. Jackson snagged at the goal line on the final play of first quarter.
New England made it sting when Cam Newton (17-of-27 passing for 209 yards) drove his guys 69 yards in 13 plays that Folk capped with a 45-yard field goal.
After stopping the Dolphins on their ensuing drive, Newton had the Patriots rolling again, hitting James White (21 yards) and N’Keal Harry (12) on back-to-back throws to fuel the drive the Miami 21. Newton fumbled on third down and the visitors caught a break when Xavien Howard’s 86-yard return for a touchdown was overturned.
The Patriots had to settle for Folk’s 36-yarder and 6-0 lead.
New England suffered a huge loss minutes later when Stephon Gilmore went down with a non-contact left knee injury. Belichick had no update on his star cornerback’s status.
The Dolphins’ calamitous 30 minutes ended when Jason Sanders sailed a 52-yard field goal wide left — just his third miss off the season — and it felt as if this might be the Patriots’ day in the sun. Unfortunately, there was still 30 minutes left.
Dolphins coach Brian Flores wouldn’t get into specifics but said offensive coordinator Chan Gailey made some subtle tweaks during the break and they made all the difference.
It made sense, too. The Dolphins were without their top three pass catchers in receivers DeVante Parker and Jakeem Grant, as well as tight end Mike Gesicki, so pounding the ball was the way to go.
Miami scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions of the second half, and except for Folk’s second 45-yarder that gave New England a short-lived 9-7 lead, it felt over.
Ahmed scored first on a 1-yard run, followed by a pair of Tagovailoa touchdown runs (1 and 3 yards) sandwiched between yet another Folk 3-pointer (from 42 yards).
“I think we overcame a tough first half,” said Flores. “That just speaks to the resiliency and the mental toughness of this team. We didn’t play great in the first half, got down into the red zone, turned it over. This team, we don’t go in the tank. We just keep playing. We just battle through.”
Despite being eliminated, McCourty said the focus remains same — to win the last two games.
“We have to regroup and keep fighting because that’s what you want to be as a man.”
Newton felt the loss was a microcosm of the year.
“This whole season has been a tale of just coming up a tad bit short,” he said. “Call it whatever you want to, we’ve still got guys that are new to this system. We’ve still got guys that are young. We’ve still got guys that just don’t get it, and we’ve still got guys that are battling their tails off each and every week. We have to keep building on the optimism of what we can become and just move from there.”
More Patriots coverage
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- Sound familiar? Tom Brady engineers big second-half comeback to defeat Matt Ryan, Falcons