In the opening day showdown between former Alabama quarterbacks, it was Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa who got the better of New England’s Mac Jones.
Jones, the first rookie quarterback to start an opener for New England since Drew Bledsoe in 1993, finished 29-for-39 for 281 yards and a touchdown. But a fourth-quarter fumble from Damien Harris derailed a late Patriots’ drive, giving the ball back to the Dolphins and allowing Miami to come away with a 17-16 win.
Harris had 23 carries for 100 yards, while Nelson Agholor added five catches for 72 yards and a touchdown, and Nick Folk had three field goals for the Patriots.
The Dolphins got on the board first with a three-yard touchdown run from Tagoovailoa to make it 7-0. The Patriots would answer when Folk connected on his first of the afternoon (from 27 yards), and Jones added a seven-yard touchdown pass to Agholor to make it 10-7 with just over two minutes left in the half.
Miami tied it at the end of the half, and went up 17-10 on its first drive of the third quarter.
The Patriots replied with a pair of field goals from Folk to cut the lead to one with 10:36 left in regulation. And when Jonathan Jones picked off Tagovailoa in the fourth, it looked like it was going to set the stage for a New England comeback.
But Harris fumbled, and the Dolphins were able to pick up enough first down before running out the clock.
HERE’S HOW IT HAPPENED
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Miami wins — 7:20 p.m.
That’ll do it. Miami wins, 17-16.
Harris fumbles it back to Miami — 7:08 p.m.
Damien Harris’ turnover means it’ll be Miami’s ball with 3:31 left in regulation. Ouch. The Patriots’ defense has to get a stop and get the ball back to Jones and the offense.
Great team D leads to turnover — 7:01 p.m.
Matt Judon and Adrian Phillips got after Tua to force a bad throw, and Jonathan Jones came away with the pick. New England has the ball at the 50 with 8:07 to go in regulation. The defense gets the takeaway, and sets the offense up with excellent field position. This is how you put a young quarterback in the best possible position to succeed. We’ll see if the Patriots can take advantage here.
Folk connects again to make it 17-16 — 6:53 p.m.
The Patriots put together a long drive again, but again had to settle for a field goal — this one, a 33-yarder from Nick Folk to make it 17-16 with 10:36 left in regulation. (Folk is 3-for-3 on the afternoon.) It’s good to get points, but they are leaving opportunities on the field, including that missed connection on third down that would have allowed the Pats to pick up the first and keep the drive alive. Let’s see if it’ll come back to haunt them.
Pats racking up penalties — 6:43 p.m.
Three quarters are in the books — Miami holds a 17-13 lead, but New England is driving. On another note, the Patriots have eight penalties after three quarters. Eight! New England is perennially one of the least-penalized teams in the league, and with a narrow margin for error this afternoon against a good Miami team, that’s just unacceptable. Win or lose, Belichick has something that will provide him with a ton of material when the team sits down to watch the film tomorrow.
Good sequence for Pats’ defense, special teams — 6:37 p.m.
Excellent complementary football the last few minutes for the Patriots. Good defense forces a punt, while the field position and special teamers create good field position. Mac Jones and the offense are back on the field near the 50 — could the Pats put together a go-ahead drive here with 1:13 left in the third quarter?
Folk cuts lead to 17-13 — 6:30 p.m.
Early on on that drive, the Patriots offense was lacking a little rhythm, at least until the absolutely pretty 26-yard pass play from Jones to James White that helped move the chains. (Maybe his best throw of the day, at least in terms of touch and accuracy.) The other highlight on the drive was a Jones-to-Agholor connection that went for 21 yards on a play where Jones was really plastered by a Miami defender. (He has stood in the pocket and taken multiple hits while completing passes this afternoon.) The Patriots settled for a 42-yarder from Folk to cut the Dolphins’ lead to 17-13 with 2:50 to go in the third quarter. On the afternoon, Jones is 18-for-26 for 195 yards and a touchdown, while Harris has 15 carries for 78 yards, and Agholor had five catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Dolphins take 17-10 lead — 6:12 p.m.
The Miami offense was able to change things up a beat, particularly in the passing game, and put together an impressive drive to open the third quarter. The Dolphins’ receivers were able to do a good job beating man coverage on that series, including on a 30-yard pass play from Tua to DeVante Parker — at the expense of J.C. Jackson — to get things started. Toss in a little razzle dazzle, including a couple of Wildcat plays, and a great max effort play from Jaylen Waddle for the touchdown, and it’s 17-10 Miami with 10:51 to go in the third quarter. Great answer there for the Dolphins -- we’ll see how New England responds.
Halftime analysis — 5:52 p.m.
Two quarters are in the books in Foxborough, and the game is tied at 10. Here are a few quick notes:
-All in all, a good start to Jones’ career. He courted disaster with a near fumble in the early going, but other than that, it was a passable first half for the rookie out of Alabama. He finished the first two quarters going 14-for-19 for 133 yards and a touchdown pass — the first of his NFL career — to Nelson Agholor. On the same drive, he and Agholor connected on the longest pass play of the first half for New England, a 26-yarder that helped set up the touchdown.
-Not sure there was any doubt, but Damien Harris is going to be an absolute workhorse for the New England ground game. He had a 35-yard run in the first half, and has 11 carries for 72 yards at halftime. Rhamondre Stevenson had a fumble and a missed block on a Miami blitz — honestly, barring injury, I’d be shocked if we much of him in the second half.
-The Patriots defense appeared to be caught flat-footed in the early going when Tua and the Miami offense sped things up a bit — the youngster did really well when it came to establishing a quick tempo on that opening series. But the Dolphins’ offense has been pretty sluggish after that. Tagovailoa finished the first half 9-for-17 for 128 yards, and Miami didn’t have any real offensive rhythm for much of the first series, at least after the first sequence. Kyle Van Noy has a sack.
-One that is a bit of a holdover from last year is the end-of-half letdowns defensively. The Patriots’ defense basically went into a prevent at the end of the half, and Miami came close to scoring. Jalen Mills had a great PBU in the end zone late in the second quarter to deny the Dolphins a touchdown. Josh Uche followed that up with a sack, which forced Miami to settle for a 48-yard field goal at the end of the half.
-Trent Brown went down with a calf injury in the first half, and did not return.
Jones to Agholor — 5:40 p.m.
Tom Brady's first career TD pass went to Terry Glenn on Oct. 14, 2001.— Christopher Price (@cpriceglobe) September 12, 2021
Mac Jones' first career TD pass went to Nelson Agholor on Sept. 12, 2021.
Pats take 10-7 lead — 5:39 p.m.
All in all, the best drive of the game for New England, with a good mix of run and pass and some nice execution all around, particularly at the quarterback position. The ball came out quickly, there were good decision, and the drive finished in style. Biggest completion of the day came on that sequence, a laser of a 26-yard pass from Jones to Agholor. Really nice play by both the quarterback and receiver. (Good sign that the Patriots were able to stretch the field — could start to loosen up the Miami front seven a bit.) Agholor finished off the drive with a catch of Jones’ first career touchdown pass.
(For what it’s worth, not sure we need to see much more of Stevenson, barring an injury. He fumbled the ball earlier in the first half, and almost got Jones killed when he failed in blitz pickup there on Roberts. The Patriots were lucky — I guess — that Roberts was flagged on the play and set up a first down.)
McCourty with great defensive play — 5:22 p.m.
Jason McCourty had a really sharp PBU on that sequence on a deepish ball meant for Meyers. Smart veteran play by McCourty there to set up the third-and-long. The Patriots will punt the ball away again. Jones doesn’t look rattled, but you’d love to see him make a connection of more than 10 yards here sooner rather than later to try and open things up a bit. It’s 7-3 Miami with 7:41 to go in the half.
Pats trail by four with 9:11 left in the half — 5:19 p.m.
Looks like the Patriots’ D has made a few adjustments on these last two drives, and have things pointed in the right direction. It’s still 7-3, but they’ll have the ball at their 20 after that. Mac Jones is 9-for-11 for 72 yards, while Meyers has three catches for 31 yards and Harris has eight carries for 63 yards. Time to get the ball in the end zone here.
Pats cut lead to 7-3 — 5:10 p.m.
Good — not great — drive for the Patriots, who went 14 plays and 65 yards and had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from Nick Folk. Lots of work on that drive for Harris, who figures to get the bulk of the work this afternoon. (Maybe even more than anticipated after that Stevenson fumble.) Meyers also came up big with a big third-down pickup -- great throw and catch by the quarterback and receiver there. Would have loved to have seen them finish off the series with a touchdown, but three is OK here. Trent Brown spent that drive on the sidelines with what we are being told is a calf injury — he’s questionable to return. We’ll see how that shakes out.
End of first quarter — 4:59 p.m.
One quarter is in the books, and the Dolphins hold a 7-0 lead. Jones is 5-for-5 for 32 yards, while Harris leads all rushers with six carries for 60 yards and Stevenson has one catch for nine yards.
Good pressure for Pats — 4:54 p.m.
Much better sequence there for the New England defense, which was able to be particularly disruptive, forcing the punt — Van Noy had the sack. A great contrast there on what winning and losing on first and second down means in the bigger picture. The Patriots force a punt, and they’ll get the ball back with 2:13 left in the first quarter
Stevenson fumbles — 4:50 p.m.
Rhamondre Stevenson fumbles it away, and the Dolphins will take over with a lead and 3:28 left in the first quarter. A bad end to what had started as a promising drive for the New England offense. One positive? Nelson Agholor doesn’t appear to be too hindered by the ankle, a good sign for the Patriots’ wide receiver depth.
Miami scores first — 4:42 p.m.
Tua did very well at keeping it in second- and third-and-manageable on the opening drive. Lots and lots of consistent and positive yardage, and the young quarterback got the ball out quickly. Quick strikes with the skill position players while keeping the pass rush at bay. Good tempo early for Miami, and it results in an early score for the Dolphins. It’s 7-0 with 5L29 to go in the first quarter.
Pats punt after first drive — 4:35 p.m.
Excellent start for the New England offense to begin things with a 35-yard run from Damien Harris, but the Patriots stalled out — and avoided a major blunder on that Mac Jones fumble. Things ended with a Jake Bailey punt. Good start, rough finish for New England on that first drive. Jones was 1-for-1 for 4 yards on that opener. There’s no score with 10:34 left in the first quarter.
Official Price Prediction — 4:02 p.m.
I like the Patriots this afternoon -- at home, in front of fans (finally), and with some key faces back after a year away because of COVID. It’s not going to be easy (the secondary is a little thin), but New England is going to win this thing. Mac Jones will throw a touchdown pass, Damien Harris will rush for one touchdown and 80-plus yards, and Matt Judon and Dont’a Hightower will finish with one sack each.
New intro music for the QB — 3:42 p.m.
For years, Tom Brady came into the field for warmups to “Public Service Announcement” by Jay-Z. This afternoon, Mac Jones arrived with this playing on the Gillette Stadium PA.
Mac’s new spot — 3:38 p.m.
Jones will join exclusive club — 3:30 p.m.
Mac Jones will be one of three rookie quarterbacks to start a game for Bill Belichick. One was Jacoby Brissett, who started two games for the 2016 Patriots, and the other is Eric Zeier, who started for Belichick’s Browns in 1995. I caught up with Zeier late last month to see what it was like having Belichick guide you through your first NFL start.
“One of the things as a rookie in that situation, is that you’re filled with nerves. You’re excited, but you’re also still trying to figure out if you can play at the NFL level. I know that was the case with me,” Zeier recalled.
“But when you have Coach Belichick behind you, and have his knowledge and background when it comes to playing the game, it gives you an enormous amount of confidence that everybody around you will be prepared, and that he will put you in position to execute and succeed. It’s nerve-wracking stepping into that spotlight, but it’s also comforting to know you have Coach Belichick on your side.”
Any words of wisdom for Jones?
“Don’t make the situation bigger than it is,” Zeier said. “Go out there and play within the offense. Rely on the guys around you — he has tremendous talent around him. Lead the football team, and don’t worry about anything else. Do your job, don’t try to do too much, and let the guys around you do their job.”
Lefty QBs vs. Pats — 3:18 p.m.
The stat of the week that may only interest me: The Patriots obviously faced Tua last year; including that game, today will mark the eighth time they have faced a southpaw under center since 2000. Tua was the only one who has beaten New England in that time. The notably southpaws the Patriots’ defeated in that stretch include Mike Vick, Tim Tebow and Chris Simms.
Inactives set for today’s game — 3:07 p.m.
The following players have been listed as inactive by the Patriots for today’s game (in addition to Malcolm Perry, who was ruled out Friday):
LB Ronnie Perkins: The youngster was questionable coming into today’s game with a shoulder injury that landed him on the injury report on Thursday.
RB J.J. Taylor: The undersized back wasn’t on the injury report all week, so its safe to assume he’s simply the odd man out when it comes to a crowded backfield.
TE Devin Asiasi: Same for the second-year tight end, who was good to go for practice this week, but will sit. Veterans Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith should see their first regular-season action as members of the Patriots.
OT Yodny Cajuste: Limited in practice this week because of a hamstring issue, this backups absence shouldn’t have a sizable impact on the overall game plan.
CB Shaun Wade: The newcomer was healthy all week, but he was acquired relatively late in the preseason, so it could be a matter of acclimation for him at this stage of his career in New England.
K Quinn Nordin: The rookie kicker has been supplanted — at least for today — by veteran Nick Folk, who was elevated off the practice squad this weekend.
Among the notable actives? Defensive back Jalen Mills. The newcomer was in and out of practice this week with an ankle injury, but he’s among the actives this week. In addition, Nelson Agholor is apparently OK to make his New England debut. He was limited for a sizable part of the week because of an ankle issue — not sure how close to 100 percent the newcomer is, but it looks like he’ll give it a go this afternoon.
Halftime scores of note — 2:40 p.m.
These are all at or close to halftime:
Bills 10, Steelers 0: Josh Allen is 16-for-26 for 152 yards and a touchdown as Buffalo is in command early. That Bills’ defense looks rock solid.
Panthers 16, Jets 0: Sam Darnold is lighting up his old team, as he’s 17-for-22 for 234 yards and a touchdown. The Jets’ punted from their own 33-yard line. Yikes.
Texans 17, Jaguars 7: Nick Caserio’s new team is starting things off on a good note with an early lead on Jacksonville.
Cardinals 24, Titans 6: Speaking of familiar faces, Chandler Jones is dominating Tennessee — he had three sacks in the first quarter.
Niners 31, Lions 10: Jimmy Garoppolo fumbled the first snap of the season, but recovered to finish the first half 9-for-12 for 136 yards.
Our team is on the scene — 2:30 p.m.
Will Pats cover the spread? — 2:25 p.m.
The Patriots have been listed as a 3 to 3.5-point favorite in sports books over the course of the week, which feels appropriate with Miami coming into Foxborough for Week 1. With two young quarterbacks, there’s plenty of unknowns here, but as is the case across the league at the start of the season, the home team gains a slight edge because of home field. (Something that didn’t necessarily exist last year.) I’ll reveal my final score closer to kickoff, but I like New England to cover today against Miami. History tells us that when these two teams meet in Foxborough at the start of the season, the Patriots usually prevail. And even with New England going with a rookie at QB, I think that’ll stay true to form. (According to The Action Network, non-No. 1 overall rookie QB starters are 10-3 ATS over the past decade and 6-7 straight up.)
Great conditions — 2:15 p.m.
Our pals over at weather.com have dialed up a primo afternoon for the opener. They’re calling for highs in the 70s, partly cloudy with a slight breeze, with just a 15 percent chance of precipitation. Ideal football weather. Make sure you hydrate, and we should be all good.
Pregame reading list — 2:05 p.m.
As always, we’ll start things off with our pregame reading list:
Welcome back! — 2:00 p.m.
Hey everyone! Welcome back to the start of another football season, and another year of Live Updates. When it comes to the new season, it’ll be more of the usual: Lots of insight and analysis, with lots of fun thrown in for good measure. Things get started this afternoon with Patriots and Dolphins, set to kick off at 4:25 p.m. When it comes to the pregame stuff, we’ll have inactives (which should be along at approximately 2:55), as well as weather updates, the latest betting information, news from Gillette, as well as my pregame prediction. Let’s make it another fun season, everyone.
Christopher Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.