FOXBOROUGH — Instant analysis from the Patriots’ 17-16 loss to the Dolphins:
▪ Mac Jones was a revelation in his first NFL start, but the Patriots spoiled his debut with uncharacteristically sloppy play. They fumbled four times Sunday, losing two, including one by Damien Harris late in the fourth quarter inside the 10-yard line. Harris has been carrying a football with him wherever he goes — including to his media sessions — but it was a terrible time to have his second career fumble, with the Patriots about to head in for the go-ahead score.
The Patriots also had eight penalties for 84 yards, including three unnecessary roughness penalties, two of which probably cost them a touchdown in the third quarter. Jakobi Meyers also had a tough drop on third-and-4 early in the fourth quarter that could have kept a drive going inside the red zone, but resulted in a field goal.
The Patriots really gave this game away — they outgained the Dolphins 393 to 259, and held onto the football for 13½ more minutes. But sloppy play, bad penalties and a 1-for-4 performance in the red zone did in the Patriots.
▪ Jones, meanwhile, was outstanding. He showed some early butterflies, making a bad decision on his first pass to throw the ball backward at tight end Jonnu Smith, which resulted in a fumble the Patriots recovered. But Jones quickly settled into the game, and you could see his confidence rising throughout the game.
He finished 29-for-39 for 281 yards and a touchdown, and he was decisive in his reads and impressive in distributing the ball to eight different receivers. The downfield passing game under Jones is clearly more advanced than it ever was or would have been under Cam Newton.
▪ The Patriots only scored one touchdown, but I don’t really put that on Jones. He played with great poise, delivered the football when and where he needed to, and strung several impressive drives together. His teammates just let him down at inopportune moments.
All three of the Patriots’ field goal drives went at least 14 plays and 70 yards. While coming up short so often has to be frustrating, the Patriots also should have faith that these drives will eventually turn into touchdowns.
▪ Jones showed impressive savvy in the pocket as the game progressed. He did a great job of shuffling to avoid pressure, and he stood tall in the pocket, taking big shots but still delivering the ball right on the money. The Dolphins hit Jones nines times, but only had one sack (Jones’s first drop-back of the game) on 40 passing plays. Jones also handled the blitz well, like when he hit James White out of the backfield for 8 yards on third-and-7.
▪ The biggest difference between Jones and Newton is that Jones gives the Patriots a chance on third-and-long. Last year, the Patriots ranked 29th on third downs of 6 yards or longer, converting only 19.2 percent. Sunday against the Dolphins, Jones converted a third-and-11 with a beautiful 26-yard pass to White, and also a third-and-7.
▪ Jones made five throws that made me say “wow.” The first was actually an incompletion — a deep crosser to Jakobi Meyers that was knocked away by Jason McCourty, but was right on the money. Jones made a beautiful throw to Nelson Agholor in the middle of a zone defense for 25 yards down the middle.
He had a great throw on the run to Kendrick Bourne for 33 yards that was called back because of a penalty. Jones threw another beautiful 21-yard pass to Agholor down the left side, perfectly placing the ball away from defender Eric Rowe. And Jones perfectly lofted a wheel route to White for 26 yards on third-and-11.
▪ Who says Jones isn’t athletic? He had two great throws on the run — the 33-yarder to Bourne that was called back, and a 10-yarder to Smith to convert a first down.
▪ After all that money spent on the tight ends in the offseason, they didn’t make much of an impact on the stat sheet. Smith had five catches for 42 yards, and Hunter Henry had three for 31, not getting his first target until the final play of the third quarter.
But Agholor, another offseason addition, was outstanding. He caught five passes for a team-high 72 yards and the only Patriots’ touchdown. He stretched the field with two big catches over 20 yards, and twice he held onto the football after taking a big shot.
▪ The Patriots’ defense held the Dolphins to 259 yards and 17 points, which should be good enough to win. But the Dolphins’ two touchdown drives came on the opening drive of the game (80 yards in 10 plays) and on the opening drive of the third quarter (75 yards on nine plays). Bill Belichick needs to do a better job of getting his players ready to play at the jump.
▪ The Patriots’ pass rush left a lot to be desired, though I think Dolphins offensive coordinator George Godsey did a good job of getting the ball out of Tua Tagovailoa’s hands quickly. The Patriots did have two sacks — including an impressive one-man effort by Josh Uche in the second half — but overall only hit Tagovailoa four times on 29 dropbacks. Matthew Judon, the big free agent signing, was pretty quiet, finishing with four tackles (one for loss) and a quarterback hit.