MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Patriots have built a dynasty spanning almost two full decades by being better prepared than their opponent. The Patriots play smart football, they execute in crunch time, and they pounce on their opponent’s mistakes.
Sunday in South Florida, it was the Patriots who for once couldn’t get out of their own way, in a shocking, and uncharacteristically sloppy, 34-33 loss to the Dolphins.
The Patriots blocked two punts — and lost. They held the ball for more than 35 minutes . . . and lost. They went 9 for 16 on third down . . . and lost.
We can go on, but you get the point.
“They made a lot of mistakes today, and we capitalized,” Dolphins defensive tackle Akeem Spence said. “Usually it’s the other way around. Like when we went up there last time we were making a lot of mistakes and they capitalized. This time it was vice-versa.”
The Patriots’ locker room was somber and depressing on Sunday afternoon, after losing the game in the most shocking of ways. The Patriots had the game all wrapped up, 33-28, before Kenyan Drake stunned thousands in the crowd and millions watching on TV with his 52-yard walkoff touchdown. Per the NFL, the 69-yard play was the longest from scrimmage to win a game with no time remaining in the fourth quarter since the 1970 merger.
But the Patriots know that Sunday’s game should never have come down to the final play. They gave this game to the Dolphins, with unusually sloppy play and decision-making on both sides of the ball.
“Football is a crazy game,” Tom Brady said. “It shouldn’t have come down to that. I think we left a lot more points on the board offensively.”
The day began with an ominous tone when usually reliable kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed his first extra point of the season. He later missed a 42-yard field goal attempt.
And the poor play started coming in waves. The Patriots went into halftime with a 27-21 lead, but it should have been at least 30-21, if not 34-21. With 14 seconds left in the half, Brady took a sack from Robert Quinn, and the clock ran out on the Patriots, who were unable to get their field goal team on the field in time.
Brady, the master of detail and preparation, said he lost track of the Patriots’ timeout situation. You expect that from the Jets and Bills, or from a rookie quarterback. You never expect that from Brady.
“That’s just a terrible play by me. That should never happen,” he said. “I just lost track. I thought we had one timeout . . . I was just not thinking.”
“It’s obviously not what we were trying to do,” said Bill Belichick in a stroke of understatement.
The Patriots also couldn’t get anything going with the run game. After rushing for 215 and 160 yards in consecutive wins over the Jets and Vikings, the Patriots continually ran into a wall in Miami, rushing 30 times for 77 yards, a 2.6 average. The Patriots were adamant about establishing the run, rushing 17 times for 55 yards on first-down situations, and often found themselves in second- and third-and-long.
“That was the No. 1 job coming in, was stopping the run,” Dolphins defensive end Charles Harris said. “We felt like we had an advantage. We’re too talented not to dominate.”
The Patriots rushed 40 times for 175 yards in the first meeting, but the tables were turned on Sunday. The Dolphins held Sony Michel to 57 yards on 20 carries, and Rex Burkhead to 2 yards on four carries.
“Their run game is real simple,” Spence said. “We kind of knew what they were running. They ran a lot of kicks, a lot of post plays. And we stoned them all game, and then made them one-dimensional. They didn’t have nothing to run into but a brick wall, and that’s how it should be.”
The Patriots’ inability to rush in short-yardage situations crushed them on Sunday. They couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone at the end of the first half, and couldn’t put the game away with a touchdown at the end.
“We’ve got to make more yards in the run game and control the line of scrimmage,” Brady said. “We figured out a way to not finish it the right way.”
But it wasn’t just the Patriots’ offensive line getting pushed around. Their defensive line got gashed by the Dolphins’ run game, allowing 189 yards on 21 rushes for an eye-popping 9.0 average. Former Patriot Brandon Bolden hit them for a 54-yard touchdown run, and Frank Gore had a 36-yarder among his 12 carries for 92 yards.
The Patriots’ run defense had dominated the Jets and Vikings the past two weeks, in large part because they did a great job of disguising their defense and not letting the blockers get comfortable.
But the Dolphins were able to figure out the Patriots’ deception on Sunday, scoring 34 points in just 24:46 of possession.
“They were doing some funky stuff up front, but once we figured it out we went for 189 or something,” Dolphins guard Ted Larsen said. “Most teams you have a predictable look, and [the Patriots’ defense is] just not predictable. But I don’t think we struggled with it. We had some really nice runs, made some technique adjustments.”
Brady forgetting timeouts. Gostkowski missing kicks. The Patriots twice getting inside the 5-yard line but scoring only 3 points out of it. Getting dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. And, of course, allowing a 69-yard hook-and-lateral touchdown on the final play of the game.
This was Opposite Day for the Patriots.
“Maybe if they would have got 7 points before the half, again, it wouldn’t even have been that Hail Mary-type finish,” said Dolphins pass rusher Cameron Wake. “You’ve got to treat every game or every play like this could be the play that is the factor later on. You have to be on top of it, start to finish.”