MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — With apologies to that famous slice of Manhattan between 34th and 59th streets, to the Patriots, Hell’s Kitchen is located right here off Exit 2X on the Florida Turnpike.
New England lost its third straight game at the Hard Rock House of Horrors Stadium Sunday, the Dolphins earning a 20-7 verdict by capitalizing on a few key errors to win Mike McDaniel’s head coaching debut.
Though not thoroughly dominated (Miami outgained New England by just 36 yards), the Patriots couldn’t execute in the biggest moments.
“I was pretty even game, two big plays, 14 points, really skewed the game,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “We moved the ball, but we didn’t get points when we got into their territory, we got it it there six, seven times, whatever it was and [scored] 7 points, we’ve got to do a better job of finishing.’’
Holding a 3-0 lead in the second quarter, the Dolphins backed up the Patriots to their 15 and struck quickly to put their guests in an insurmountable hole.
Safety Brandon Jones came free on blitz and steamrolled Mac Jones, who suffered a back injury later in the game and had X-rays taken at the stadium. Brandon Jones’s impact jarred the ball loose and Melvin Ingram snagged it and took two steps into the end zone for a 10-0 lead.
“We missed him,’’ said Belichick.
It was unclear who’s responsibility it was to bump Brandon Jones as tight end Hunter Henry raced into his pattern and may have incidentally blocked left tackle Trent Brown’s vision for a split second. By the time Brown saw Brandon Jones, the Dolphin was crashing into his quarterback.
“That’s just on us,’’ said Henry. “That’s just another thing that we just can’t have happen, especially backed up. We’ve got to communicate better and learn from that, you know? Watch the film and not let that happen again.’’
Following another quick possession, Jake Bailey’s punt pinned the Dolphins at their 8. That’s when Tua Tagovailoa led his club on a back-breaking drive.
Facing a third-and-19, Tagovailoa hit Cedrick Wilson for 12-yard gain to the Patriots’ 42. Though it seemed like a mini New England victory for forcing a fourth down, Adrian Phillips was lost for the day when the versatile safety suffered a rib injury tackling Wilson.
With Phillips being attended to by the medical staff, Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel had extended time to think about the situation and decided to go for it — and received spectacular results.
Working on the inside, receiver Jaylen Waddle got a step on Jalen Mills and snagged a perfectly placed ball from Tagovailoa, his Alabama buddy. Pursuing Patriot defenders Ja’Whaun Bentley and Kyle Dugger collided, and Waddle whistled by and waltzed into the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown with 18 seconds left in the first half.
McDaniel said he was anticipating “a certain type of leverage in the man-to-man coverage, and we got it. Then we got the protection, and then Tua ripped a strike.’’
Said strike helped punch out the Patriots.
“I couldn’t fully see it. I was in coverage,’’ said Devin McCourty, who said he felt sure the Dolphins were going to go for it with just 24 seconds left in the half. “I think within the game, like that play, I was sitting there like, ‘Man, we lost now, but it definitely, when you have a play like that where it’s just like — I don’t want to say easy, but a play where they make a good throw and catch and [if we] just tackle him right there [the half is over].’ I definitely think it hurt us, but it didn’t knock us out of the game.’’
What did knock them out were the follies in the fourth quarter. The final 15 minutes were filled with missed blocks, missed tackles, and missed opportunities. Trailing by two scores, 20-7, the Patriots came up with bupkis on three straight possessions.
Miami forced a punt on the first march that was lowlighted by Jones getting popped by safety Jevon Holland, who was called for roughing the passer.
“We had two plays where we had enough to block them, but we didn’t block it properly,” said Belichick.
Unfortunately for New England, David Andrews and Ty Montgomery were called for an illegal chop block on the play and the infractions negated the play. . The Patriots punted on the next play.
Jones overthrew Henry (who was triple covered) on fourth down on the second possession, and the final drive ended when Nelson Agholor coughed up the ball after a short completion and the Dolphins, like they had all day, pounced on it.
“We beat ourselves,’’ said Andrews. “Three, four turnovers, a strip sack for a touchdown. More of a ‘Can’t win till you keep from losing kind of day than anything else.’ ‘’