Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 22-12 loss to the Dolphins:
▪ We know the Patriots’ offense is bad. But Bill Belichick’s defense has completely fallen apart and was badly exposed for the second week in a row. A run defense that got gashed for 186 yards by the Rams got bludgeoned by the Dolphins for 250 yards and a 6.0 average, by far the Patriots’ worst performance of the season. It’s the fourth-most rushing yards allowed by the Patriots in the Belichick era, and the most since the Broncos went for 280 yards in 2013.
“I have to coach better, we have to play better, we have to tackle better — a combination of all those things,” Bill Belichick said. “Certainly we have to do a better job of tackling.”
The Dolphins did not have a credible down-field passing game, yet the Patriots couldn’t tackle and were undisciplined in their lanes, giving up big holes all day to Salvon Ahmed, Matt Breida, and Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins picked up a third and 8 with a run, and Tagovailoa split two defenders on his touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots were certainly shorthanded Sunday, losing Ja’Whaun Bentley, Stephon Gilmore, and John Simon to injuries. But the Patriots were embarrassingly dismantled by a shorthanded Dolphins offense that entered the game ranked No. 32 in the NFL in yards per carry (3.6).
We’re used to the Patriots getting better as the season progresses, especially on defense. The defense is getting worse.
▪ The Patriots dropped to 6-8, and their minuscule playoff chances were officially dashed. And this is where the Patriots deserve to be. They have one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL, one of the worst receiver groups, and a black hole at tight end. They also have a defense that runs out of lanes, doesn’t create much pressure, and misses too many tackles. The Patriots also consistently came up short in the fourth quarter this season. They deserve to be watching the playoffs from their couches.
▪ Most disconcerting about this loss — other than the porous run defense — was that the Dolphins were able to bully the Patriots up front and string together several long, clock-eating drives. The Dolphins held the ball for 37:26 of 60 minutes, went 7 of 12 on third down, and sustained drives of 72, 75, 90, and 95 yards. The Patriots had the Dolphins pinned deep in their own territory on several occasions, yet couldn’t capitalize.
“We didn’t do a good job in those situations, where we had the field position and we didn’t keep it,” Belichick said. “That certainly contributed to the performance of the day.”
The Dolphins did not have a down-field passing threat — their longest pass of the day was 15 yards — yet the Patriots couldn’t get a stop.
▪ Belichick finally lost to a rookie quarterback, dropping to 25-6 with the Patriots and ending his streak of 11 straight wins. Tagovailoa made a lot of safe passes and mostly made good decisions, finishing 20-of-26 passing for 145 yards. His one interception wasn’t necessarily his fault — Chase Winovich made a nice play on the rush to force the interception — and otherwise Tagovailoa did enough not to lose. Belichick’s defense forced one interception and two sacks, but only produced three QB hits and couldn’t get consistent pressure. The Patriots’ tackling in the open field also was atrocious.
▪ Cam Newton was Cam Newton. He made a few decent throws down the field and didn’t turn over the ball, but otherwise couldn’t generate any consistency. Newton’s accuracy is still scattershot, his decisions questionable — throwing deep to Dalton Keene on third and 5? — and his fumble inside the red zone, which was fortunately overturned by instant replay, was inexcusable. Newton has had sloppy ball security all year, with six fumbles.
But Newton did at least seem to have better pocket presence and feel for the pass rush and threw for 209 yards, the first time in three games he cracked 120. Newton also had a few nice runs, rushing for 38 yards and breaking a few tackles.
I wouldn’t hold my breath for Belichick to bench Newton for Jarrett Stidham at this point. If Belichick hasn’t done it by now, it’s probably not going to happen.
▪ Two players who came to play were Jakobi Meyers and Sony Michel. Meyers had his second-career 100-yard game, catching seven passes for 111 yards and he was Newton’s only consistent target. Meyers lost his first fumble, in the third quarter, on his 73rd career touch, but the Patriots came right back to him on the next series, and he responded with a 35-yard catch.
And Michel had a nice performance in place of Damien Harris, who missed the game with an ankle injury. Michel rushed for 74 yards on just 10 carries, and showed impressive physicality in breaking several tackles and finishing runs. The Dolphins entered the game ranked in the bottom third in rush defense, but it seemed as if Josh McDaniels went away from Michel too much in the second half. They should have pounded him early and often.
▪Safety/linebacker Adrian Phillips had seven tackles and a sack, and now has 101 tackles, two interceptions, and a sack this year. He has been a really nice free agent signing and fill-in for Patrick Chung. And rookie Kyle Dugger, who had four tackles, is really physical and impressive as a tackler. He’s going to be a good one.
▪ The Patriots were busted for 12 men on the field in the fourth quarter coming out of a timeout, and the penalty gave the Dolphins a first down inside the red zone. An inexcusable penalty for a team that prides itself on discipline.
▪ How bad is this season for the Patriots? The team MVPs are probably the kicker and punter. Nick Folk continued his incredible season, hitting all four field goals (36, 42, 45, 45) to give him 25 in a row. He is so automatic that Belichick doesn’t hesitate to send out the field goal unit on fourth and short (which also tells us how he feels about the offense). And Jake Bailey boomed two punts, allowed zero punt return yards, and had an incredible kickoff in the corner that pinned the Dolphins on their 10-yard line.
The Patriots’ special teams are fantastic. It’s the other two phases where they need a lot of work.
More Patriots coverage
- Sullivan: With the Patriots dethroned, it’s a changing of the guard in the AFC East
- A disappointed Bill Belichick says, ‘we didn’t deserve to win today’ after Patriots’ loss to Dolphins
- Two big breaks went Patriots’ way — and it still wasn’t enough to beat the Dolphins
- Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore to have tests on injured leg Monday, report says
- Sound familiar? Tom Brady engineers big second-half comeback to defeat Matt Ryan, Falcons
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.