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Ben Volin | Instant Analysis

Patriots have the feel of a one-and-done playoff team after a bad loss to Dolphins

Quarterback Mac Jones fired an interception that was returned for a touchdown, which put the Patriots in an early 14-0 hole.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 33-24 loss to the Dolphins:

▪ The Patriots are headed to the postseason and a date with Buffalo Saturday night. But the Dolphins were the ones who looked like a playoff team Sunday, and the Patriots looked like a team about to watch a lot of football from their couches.

Mac Jones played like a rookie, throwing his third pick-6 of the season and losing a fumble on a dropped snap deep in Dolphins territory. The Patriots committed several dumb penalties that would be inexcusable in the preseason, let alone Week 18. They fell behind early by two touchdowns and once again couldn’t play their way back into the game. And Bill Belichick once again coached not to lose instead of to win, showing no faith in his offense to pick up a measly half yard.


The Patriots are 2-3 since the calendar turned to December, with their only wins coming against the Bills in 50-mile-per-hour winds, and against the Jaguars. A win could have provided the Patriots with good momentum heading into the playoffs. Instead, their poor performance only casts more doubt and hurts their confidence. The Patriots came alive in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late.

The Patriots look like they peaked too early this season. Now they get a third date with Buffalo, which just ran the Patriots off the field three weeks ago. Barring a major turnaround in practice this week, the Patriots’ trip to the postseason looks like it is going to be short-lived.

▪ Losing was bad enough, but the Patriots also lost defensive tackle Christian Barmore and left tackle Isaiah Wynn to injuries. It could force the Patriots to shuffle their offensive line for next week’s playoff game, and could significantly hurt their run defense. Exactly what they didn’t need.


▪ What made Sunday’s performance so disappointing was that the Patriots were clearly playing to win. No, they didn’t have Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Dugger and slot cornerback Myles Bryant. Otherwise, though, they had their full arsenal on offense and most of their key pieces on defense.

Two plays in the second half were good examples of how badly the Patriots flubbed the game. Facing third and 4 inside the red zone, Jones took a sack when the Patriots couldn’t block a twist by the Dolphins’ pass rush, ruining their chance at a touchdown. And with the Patriots driving late in the third quarter, Jones simply dropped a snap from Ted Karras, which was recovered by the Dolphins.

You don’t deserve to win games if you don’t seize your opportunities.

▪ Speaking of, what was up with Belichick’s decision to punt on fourth and inches from the Dolphins’ 49-yard line right before halftime? It was yet another case of Belichick fretting about what can go wrong (giving the Dolphins free points before halftime) instead of what can go right (scoring before halftime to give the Patriots a boost).

Instead of going for it, Jones just tried to draw the Dolphins offside, and instead he was flagged for a false start. Belichick continues not to show much faith in his rookie quarterback or the offense, and it’s costing his team.

▪ The Patriots have been uncharacteristically sloppy at several points this season: During their 2-4 start, with bad losses to the Dolphins and Saints; in their loss last month to the Colts; and in Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins.


The Patriots were flagged eight times for 78 yards, and had a couple of egregious ones. Lawrence Guy giving the Dolphins a free first down because he lined up incorrectly over the long snapper was one of the worst penalties of the season. Matthew Judon also earned a seat on the bench after inexcusably tossing Tua Tagovailoa to the ground well after the pass was thrown. And while Brandon Bolden didn’t actually hit punter Michael Palardy on the head, he went low and launched himself at Palardy, and in real time that penalty is going to get called 10 times out of 10.

And in addition to the pick-6 and the dropped fumble, the Patriots also had a terrible sequence in the second quarter. On third down, Jones had to burn a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. Then coming out of the timeout, Kendrick Bourne didn’t hear Jones change the play at the line of scrimmage, and Bourne collided with Nelson Agholor, leading to an incompletion and a punt. Cue the Benny Hill music.

▪ The Dolphins apparently can’t wait to get rid of Tagovailoa, but he is now 3-0 against Belichick, which defies logic. The Patriots had the Dolphins on the ropes late in the fourth quarter, but Tagovailoa escaped pressure and converted a third and 8 with an 11-yard scramble.


The Dolphins may not be going to the playoffs, but they swept the Patriots for the first time since 2000, and have won seven of their last nine against the Patriots in Miami. For whatever reason, coach Brian Flores and Tagovailoa have Belichick’s number.

▪ Not everything was terrible. Bolden continued his surprisingly terrific season, rushing for 46 yards, adding 20 yards receiving, and scoring two touchdowns. Bolden has three touchdowns this season and has done an admirable job filling in for James White as the third-down back.

Jakobi Meyers made a couple of beautiful catches — laying out to grab a 28-yarder down the sideline, then out-jumping a defender for 39 yards. Bourne also did a great job of weaving in and out of the defense to pick up 17 yards on a screen pass on third and 18.

And the defense at least held Tagovailoa to just 109 yards on 15-of-22 passing.

▪ The Dolphins’ offense wasn’t exactly dynamic, and the Patriots did hold them to just 298 yards. But the Patriots’ run defense was terrible again, allowing 195 yards on a 4.5-yard average. And the Patriots couldn’t stop the Dolphins from bleeding the clock. The Dolphins milked 7:26 and 6:58 off the clock on their first two drives, which resulted in 10 points. They also had a field-goal drive last 6:30 in the fourth quarter.

▪ I usually don’t like to criticize the officiating, but Alex Kemp’s crew threw way too many ticky-tack flags. I actually give the officials a pass on the penalty on Bolden for hitting the punter in the head. The officials don’t get the benefit of instant replay, and in real time it definitely looked like a hit to the head.


But the two pass interference penalties in the end zone — one against each team — were brutal. The DPI call on Jalen Mills was especially terrible. Dolphins receiver Mack Hollins lost the ball in the air and had no chance to catch it, and Mills’s contact certainly didn’t affect the play. Yet the referees gave the Dolphins 24 free yards, put the ball on the 1, and essentially gifted them the touchdown that basically sealed the game.

In today’s NFL, all a quarterback has to do is throw up a jump ball, and the officials are going to give him the defensive pass interference. It’s infuriating.

More Patriots-Dolphins coverage

Tara Sullivan: Patriots cannot put a playoff game solely in the hands of quarterback Mac Jones and expect to win

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

NFL Black Monday: Who’s out, and who’s on the hot seat?

See the NFL playoff schedule

The latest on Christian Barmore’s injury suffered late in the game

‘Just too many mistakes.’ Here’s what Bill Belichick had to say after the Patriots’ loss to the Dolphins

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.