Patriots let Dolphins hang around, and lost in devastating fashion
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 34-33 loss to the Dolphins:
■ That’s what happens when you leave points on the field and let the other team hang around. This was a devastating loss for the Patriots’ chances of getting the No. 1 seed, and that’s as bad of a loss as you will ever see in the NFL. This is devastating.
■ Maybe the Patriots coaches will reconsider using Rob Gronkowski as a deep safety on Hail Mary plays. He was too slow to catch Kenyan Drake on the final play.
■ The Patriots uncharacteristically left 11 points on the field, ruined a golden opportunity to score a touchdown and blow the game open at the end of the first half, and let a gimpy Ryan Tannehill march up and down the field.
It’s not often that a team blocks two punts and still loses. But the Patriots were sloppy and let the Dolphins hang around.
■ Tom Brady got off to a hot start, completing his first 10 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. But he slowed down considerably over the final three quarters, completing just 17 of his final 33 passes. Brady had some big throws on third down to extend drives, but his off-target swing pass to Rex Burkhead midway through the fourth quarter was a head-scratcher, and ended any chance of a Patriots touchdown.
And the sequence at the end of the second quarter, where Brady first missed a wide-open Chris Hogan for a touchdown, then took a sack instead of throwing the ball away, was inexcusable. The Patriots should have put a late touchdown on the board, or at minimum a field goal, but instead time ran out on them at the 2-yard line.
And usually reliable kicker Stephen Gostkowski had a rough day, missing an extra point and a 42-yard field goal. Both of his kicks tailed off to the right. Add in his missed 48-yarder last week against the Vikings, and it’s time to start worrying about the Patriots’ kicker.
■ The Patriots’ defense took a big step back after two great performances against the Jets and Vikings. The Dolphins had three touchdown drives of 75 yards, and another of 63 yards, and never needed more than six plays to get down the field. They couldn’t tackle Frank Gore, couldn’t slow down Kenny Stills, and let an inconsistent quarterback with a bad ankle go up and down the field.
■ The Patriots got dominated on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Patriots couldn’t get anything going with the run game. Sony Michel and Burkhead were continually running into a brick wall, and the team combined for 77 yards on 30 carries. They couldn’t create their own yards after contact, either. Burkhead had just 5 yards on four touches. The short-yardage running has been an issue all season, and was atrocious on Sunday.
And on defense, the Patriots got gashed by the Dolphins’ run game. Brandon Bolden ripped off a 54-yard touchdown, Gore had a 36-yard run, and overall the Dolphins had 189 yards on 21 carries, an average of 9.0.
■ One good sign with the defense, though: The Patriots had five sacks, including four times on third down. It’s one thing to get pressure on the quarterback, as the Patriots have done all season. It’s another thing to actually get the quarterback down and ruin the play, which they haven’t done as much this year.
■ Big comeback game for Gronkowski, who had a season-high eight catches and his second 100-yard game of the season (107). Gronk caught his third touchdown pass of the season, and had several big conversions on third down. He still doesn’t look like himself, but Gronk showed on Sunday that he is still an effective player.
■ And another solid game for Josh Gordon, who caught five passes for 96 yards and galloped through the Dolphins’ secondary on each one. But once again, he was quiet in the first half, with just one catch on one target for 18 yards. The Patriots have to find a way to get him involved more early in the game.