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Dolphins 33, Patriots 24

How the Patriots’ season-finale loss to the Dolphins unfolded

Mac Jones looks to pass in the early going of Sunday's game against Miami.Mark Brown/Getty

Another year, another surprising late-season loss to the Dolphins in Miami.

The Patriots dug themselves an early hold and never recovered, as Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins captured a 33-24 win over New England in the regular-season finale at Hard Rock Stadium.

Mac Jones went 20-for-30 with 163 yards and an interception, while Brandon Bolden added a 46 yards on the ground — including a rushing TD — while adding another TD catch. Hunter Henry chipped in with 86 yards on five catches.

Tagovailoa, who has never lost a start against the Patriots (he’s 3-0 against New England), was 15-for-22 with 109 yards in the win for Miami.


The Patriots will open the playoffs in the wild-card round. Their seed comes down to tonight’s Chargers-Raiders game. See more scenarios here.

If the Raiders win, the Patriots will drop the AFC’s sixth seed and travel to Buffalo to face the No. 3 Bills, who beat the Jets on Sunday.

If the Chargers win, the Patriots will remain the No. 5 seed and travel to Cincinnati to face the No. 4 Bengals, who lost to the Browns on Sunday without Joe Burrow.

If the Chargers and Raiders tie, the Patriots will remain the fifth seed and play the Bengals. The Chargers are a 3.5-point favorite.

A slow start and an inability to match an opponents energy on the road — a lot like what happened in their loss to the Colts last month — paved the way for an early deficit for the Patriots.

An early Dolphins touchdown, a pick-six from Jones, and a second-quarter field goal added up to a 17-0 Miami edge before New England could get on the scoreboard.

Bolden made it 17-7 midway through the second quarter when he powered in from 15 yards out, but that would be it for the Patriots in the first half.


Nick Folk cut the lead to 17-10 with a 43-yarder midway through the third quarter, but Miami tacked on another 10 points late in the third and early in the fourth to push out to a 27-10 advantage.

That set the stage for a late rally from New England, which came away with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns on the ground, one from Bolden and one from Harris, the latter of which came with 2:53 left in regulation.

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Patriots lose — 7:29 p.m.

A last-ditch effort fell short when Miami intercepted a pass in the Patriots’ end zone.

Click here to see the playoff scenarios.

Barmore looks hurt — 7:23 p.m.

Christian Barmore can’t put any weight on his leg after colliding with a teammate late in the fourth quarter.

New England making a run — 7:18 p.m.

Good quick drive there by Jones and the Patriots. A 39-yard throw-and-catch between Jones and Meyers — one of the nicest plays of the day — got the Patriots into Miami territory. Harris and Henry also picked up some quality yardage to get New England into Miami’s red zone. A DPI on Byron Jones put the Patriots at the 1-yard line, and Harris punched it in for his first touchdown of the day.

It’s 27-24 with 2:53 to go. Again, this is still a winnable game for New England, but the Patriots have to get a stop here.


Pats cut Miami’s lead — 7:02 p.m.

The Patriots needed a quick score, and Hunter Henry gave the New England offense a bit of a jolt. He jumpstarted the drive with a nice reception. The series ended with an 18-yard touchdown reception for Brandon Bolden. It’s 27-17 with 6:32 to go. This is still a winnable game for the Patriots, but the margin for error has shrunk to just about zero.

Miami goes up 27-10 — 6:54 p.m.

A 49-yard field goal with 10:55 to go in regulation makes it 27-10 with 10:55 remaining. Honestly, while the Jets are doing a great job hanging in against the Bills, it might not make any difference. The Patriots need a jolt if they’re going to come back and win this one.

End of the third — 6:43 p.m.

The Patriots punctuate the end of the third quarter with a penalty on a punt -- the flag was on Lawrence Guy -- which means Miami will get the ball back. Not a great day for New England’s punt coverage team.

Mac fumbles — 6:39 p.m.

A drive that started with such promise — a dime from Mac Jones to Jakobi Meyers, and a big pickup from Brandon Bolden — just ended with New England on the cusp of the Miami red zone. A Jones’ fumble on a botched exchange with Ted Karras (in the game for David Andrews) gave the Dolphins the ball at their own 22-yard line with 2:25 remaining in the third quarter. The Patriots need a stop or turnover here.

Miami adds to lead — 6:30 p.m.

Chuck it up there and hope for a DPI. Joe Flacco was really good at that. David Patten was skilled at getting his legs caught up with a defender. Tua and the Dolphins just got one, as a 24-yard DPI set Miami up for a short-yardage touchdown from Duke Johnson. It’s 24-10 Dolphins with 4:31 to go in the third quarter.


Folk good from 43 — 6:20 p.m.

I guess Rhamondre Stevenson is OK. After leaving with a head injury in the first half, he has returned to the game, and helped power the New England ground attack here early in the second half. Ultimately, that was a good (not great) start to the third quarter for the Patriots, as a three-pointer from Nick Folk from 43 yards was straight down the middle. It’s 17-10 — a one-score game — with 8:27 to go in the third quarter.

Halftime analysis — 5:55 p.m.

Two quarters are in the books in Miami, and the Patriots are down, 17-7. Here are a few quick stats and notes:

  • Mac Jones: 8-15, 107 yards, 1 INT
  • Damien Harris: 5 carries, 19 yards
  • Hunter Henry: 1 catch, 35 yards
  • Tua Tagovailoa: 12-17, 92 yards, 1 TD
  • Jaylen Waddle: 4 catches, 25 yards, 1 TD
  • Duke Johnson: 12 carries, 63 yards

▪ As we said before, this one had the same feel as the Colts’ game a few weeks ago — a slow start, some poor execution, and an inability to match the opposing team’s early energy while on the road has left the Patriots in a hole. This is still very much a winnable game, but the margin for error is a lot slimmer than it was, especially with rain being part of the conversation.

▪ Mostly good decision-making from Jones so far this afternoon, even though his completion rate isn’t as sharp as usual. Nice job of the Miami defense to throw a Cover-0 look at him on third down late in the second quarter, only to see the Dolphins’ defense rotate back. It appeared to confuse him a bit. A rookie reaction? Maybe. We’ll see how he rolls as the game goes on.


▪ Not sure if this is a personnel or health issue, but it looks like the Patriots are doing some shuffling at left guard with Michael Onwenu occasionally spelling Ted Karras. They’re also doing some mixing and matching at linebacker, with Jamie Collins and Josh Uche taking a lot of Dont’a Hightower’s reps. (Like the left guard spot, not sure if it’s situational or what, but it’s worth noting.)

▪ Rhamondre Stevenson returned to the sideline after an early head injury, but I have to imagine they’ll be judicious with him the rest of the way.

▪ Remarkably, Tua is 2-0 in his career against the Patriots coming into this afternoon. Today, he’s been smart and hasn’t made a lot of mistakes. He’s also one of only a few lefty quarterbacks New England has faced over the last decade-plus. Not sure if that last point has anything to do with his success against the Patriots, but I think it’s still an interesting part of the package, nonetheless. (That being said, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Miami keep an eye on the DeShaun Watson sweepstakes this offseason.)

▪ The unnecessary roughness penalty against Brandon Bolden on Miami’s fake punt was dicey at best, but regardless of what you think of the call, it’s the exact sort of thing New England can’t afford. (It’s also just the sort of wacky thing that tends to happen to the Patriots late in the season in Miami.) Other than that, the Patriots’ special teamer did little of note over the first two quarters.

-The Patriots will get the ball to start the second half.

Still 17-7 late in the first half — 5:45 p.m.

The two teams have stayed scoreless over the last few minutes. Miami will get the ball with 1:02 left in the first half at its own 7-yard line.

Brandon Bolden finds redemption — 5:20 p.m.

Some signs of life from the Patriots’ offense on that drive, as Mac Jones connected with Hunter Henry for a 35-yard strike to really get things started. Jones found Meyers for a quick strike, and that was followed soon after by a Brandon Bolden 15-yard touchdown run to put New England on the board. It’s 17-7 with 7:36 to go in the first half.

The Patriots lost Stevenson (head) early in the quarter, while Damien Harris could be seen limping to the sideline with some sort of malady. It could be a big Bolden game the rest of the way.

Miami makes it 17-0 — 5:10 p.m.

Good hold by the New England defense — and great PBU on J.C. Jackson on third down — to keep Miami out of the end zone. It’s not a perfect situation, but holding the Dolphins to three instead of seven represents a win for the Patriots. It’s 17-0 Miami with 11:09 to go in the first half. Tua is 9-for-11 with 75 yards and a touchdown.

End of one quarter — 4:59 p.m.

The Dolphins have a 14-0 lead and the ball at the start of the second quarter.

Bolden penalty gives Miami new life — 4:59 p.m.

Cripes. That’s going to hurt — the Bolden penalty allowed the Dolphins to keep the drive alive. Those are the EXACT sorts of things that happen to the Patriots late in the season against Miami.

Miami makes it 14-0 — 4:45 p.m.

Well, that’s an awful way to start for Mac Jones. A pick-6 on the third play from scrimmage, and it’s 14-0 with 6:07 to go in the first quarter. Feels a little like the Colts’ game — we’ll see how New England responds. But this is a miserable opening act for the Patriots.

Miami on the board — 4:39 p.m.

A few notes from that initial drive:

-Good job by Tua on that series, particularly in the passing game. No hesitation at all. Waddle is a really terrific target for him. Ended with a 7-yard pass to Waddle that made it 7-0 with 7:34 left in the first quarter. An efficient 13-play drive that took almost a half of the opening quarter.

-Waddle set a new NFL rookie record in the early going with his 102nd catch on the season, breaking Anquan Boldin’s old mark.

-Looks like Jamie Collins is getting a lot of Don’a Hightower’s reps in the middle, at least to start the game.

-Miami is wearing one of the best throwback uniforms in league history — the old Dolphins’ look is just so sharp. Love them.

Pats win the toss — 4:25 p.m.

New England defers. Time for football.

Official Price Prediction — 4:06 p.m.

Patriots 24, Dolphins 17. Damien Harris goes over 1,000 yards for the season and Matt Judon gets a sack.

AFC is wide open — 3:58 p.m.

The biggest takeaway from a full slate of football up to this point in the weekend? If you’re a Patriots’ fan, the only team that should really scare you is Kansas City, and even then, the Chiefs have their flaws. None of his is to suggest that New England has a perfect roster. And the Patriots have to take care of business when they get the opportunity. Bottom line? With the playoffs looming, the AFC field appears to be wide open.

Will Pats cover against Miami? — 3:48 p.m.

The latest line has New England as a six-point favorite, with the over/under at 41. Not sure if I’m overly cautious based on what I’ve seen from these two teams late in the year in Miami — I’ve never heard a press box as loud as when Kenyan Drake dashed past Rob Gronkowski during the Miracle in Miami a few years back — or what. While I do think the Patriots win, they’ll fight to cover. I also think the two teams will go under for a few reasons, not the least of which is the possibility of some bad weather.

Here are a few quick notes, courtesy of Odds Shark:

New England is 2-4 against the spread in its last six games against Miami.

New England is 2-6 against the spread in its last eight games when playing on the road against Miami.

New England is 8-2 against the spread in its last 10 games.

The total has gone under in seven of Miami’s last nine games.

The total has gone under in four of Miami’s last five games against New England.

Miami is 5-0 straight up in its last five games at home.

Rain in the forecast — 3:34 p.m.

Looks like we’re going to get some precipitation this afternoon in South Florida — there’s going to be some cloud cover with a chance of rain for the next few hours in Miami. Going to be interesting to see how, if at all, this will impact ball security at Hard Rock Stadium this afternoon.

What happens if the Colts lose? — 3:23 p.m.

It’s 23-3 Jacksonville in the fourth quarter. While an Indy loss doesn’t necessarily have an impact on New England’s playoff chances/seeding, the idea of the Colts suffering a season-ending defeat to a truly ghastly team like the Jags should bring a smile to the faces of New England fans all offseason. Oh yeah? Well, at least we didn’t lose to Jacksonville.

Some stats to look for today — 3:20 p.m.

A few notes worth keeping an eye on, most of which came from the New England PR staff:

•With two interceptions this week against Miami, the Patriots will tie for the second- most interceptions under Bill Belichick in a single season. They had 25 picks in 2010 and 2019, second to the 29 interceptions they had in 2003.

•With at least 200 passing yards against the Dolphins this week, Mac Jones would pass Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield and Peyton Manning to land in 6th place for the most passing yards in a season by a rookie quarterback.

•Damien Harris is tied for second in the NFL with 14 rushing touchdowns in 2021. He needs one more rushing touchdowns to move into sole possession of second place for the most rushing touchdowns in a season by a Patriot. In addition, Harris has rushed for a career-high 892 yards and if he gains 108 yards rushing this week, he will reach the 1,000-yard plateau. It would be the 17th time in team history, and first time since 2016, that the Patriots would have a 1,000-yard rusher.

•J.C. Jackson has 25 career interceptions, tied with Lester Hayes (25 interceptions) and Everson Walls (25) for the most by a player in his first four seasons since 1970 and needs one more to establish a new record.

•Nick Folk has already tied the team record for most 50-yard field goals in a season with his five. If he connects on a 50-yard field goal vs. Miami, he will establish the team record for most 50-yard field goals in one season. Stephen Gostkowski had five 50-yard field goals in 2013.

Our team is on the scene — 3:12 p.m.

Inactive analysis: N’Keal Harry back in the lineup — 3:03 p.m.

Here are New England’s inactives, and what some of the personnel decisions mean for the Patriots:

-Safety Kyle Dugger was downgraded on Friday with a hand issue that left him sidelined all week. Youngster Myles Bryant would have been the likely go-to to replace Dugger, but he’s on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Maybe cornerback Joejuan Williams could provide some secondary depth? He returns today after taking multiple healthy scratches over the last month.

-Linebacker Dont’a Hightower has been dogged by a knee injury, and was downgraded to out on Saturday. He was limited in practice all week. Look for New England to do some shuffling at linebacker in hopes of building some depth with Hightower on the sidelines; youngsters Jahlani Tavai or Josh Uche could see more time in Hightower’s absence.

-Tight end Devin Asiasi finishes the regular season with another healthy scratch — the youngster was active for one game this season, as he had the bad fortune of sitting behind veterans Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

-Quarterback Jarrett Stidham is another healthy scratch, which means the signal-caller out of Auburn will go a full season without taking a significant snap.

-Running back J.J. Taylor is another healthy scratch, which speaks to the overall health of New England’s backfield entering today’s regular-season finale.

Among the notables in the lineup? Williams and wide receiver N’Keal Harry, the latter of whom was out last week against the Jaguars and has had limited production over the last month (four catches on 11 targets for 67 yards since Dec. 18).

Predict the outcome — 2:47 p.m.

Pregame reading list — 2:35 p.m.

Best way to get ready for kickoff:

Nicole Yang: Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower ruled out for Sunday’s game against Dolphins

Jim McBride: In an exclusive conversation, Brandon Bolden of the Patriots discusses scary 2018 skin cancer diagnosis and surgery

Christopher L. Gasper: After 16 games, we still don’t know the real Patriots

Jim McBride: Patriots safety Kyle Dugger will not play Sunday

Chad Finn: When the Patriots play at Miami late in the season, expect things to get a little weird

Jim McBride: Dolphins coach Brian Flores has taken New England wisdom to Miami

Khari Thompson: Four things to know ahead of the Patriots’ regular-season finale against the Dolphins

Jim McBride: Patriots’ resilience stands out to Bill Belichick as regular season winds down

Ben Volin: Here’s why the Patriots should want a playoff matchup against the Bills in Buffalo

Chad Finn: Wild-card weekends are anything but a given during Bill Belichick era

Back to football — 2:30 p.m.

Welcome to the regular-season finale between the Patriots and Dolphins, with kickoff set for 4:25 p.m. in Miami. We’ll have all the action all afternoon long as New England looks to end into the postseason with back-to-back victories. Before kickoff, we’ll have all the latest information, including inactive analysis, betting updates, news from Hard Rock Stadium, a look around the league, your chance to predict the game, and much more. Keep it here all day long, and we’ll have a lot of fun — I guarantee it. CUE THE BAND.

Christopher Price can be reached at Follow him @cpriceglobe.