FOXBOROUGH — Coach Bill Belichick sang a familiar tune after Miami’s stupefying hook-and-lateral play handed the Patriots a 34-33 defeat Sunday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium.
“We have to do a better job,” Belichick said on a conference call Monday. “It starts with me.”
Trailing, 33-28, with seven seconds remaining, the Dolphins managed to string together a game-winning sequence that culminated with running back Kenyan Drake outracing a diving Rob Gronkowski to reach the end zone unscathed. Drake was too quick for the 6-foot-6-inch, 268-pound tight end, who hobbled, stumbled, and dived in an effort to make the tackle.
So, why have Gronkowski on the field for that defensive snap?
Belichick said the decision was made based on Gronkowski’s “ability to play the deep long throw.”
Although he acknowledged that the field position — the ball was on Miami’s 31-yard line — was “a little too far” for a Hail Mary heave, Belichick insisted that “a deep pass” was a possibility. He said the Patriots did not consider deploying a regular pass defense for the final play.
Still, of all players to sideline, why take out one of the faster Patriots in captain Devin McCourty?
“That’s the way we substituted that group,” Belichick said.
But in hindsight, does he wish McCourty had been on the field for the madness?
“I think there are lot of things that could have been better on that play,” he said. “I think there were a lot of things that could’ve been better in the entire game. I think the game was about a lot more than that play, but certainly, that play wasn’t a good one for us.”
Pressed about his decision to have Gronkowski on the field, Belichick reiterated that “a lot of things” could have been better but wouldn’t identify specific deficiencies. He said the team as a whole needs to improve its approach to situational football.
“Look, when the offense snaps the ball, there are a lot of different things they can do on every play,” he said. “When you’re on defense, you have to defend everything, all of the things that can happen, all of the eligible receivers out there and wherever they’re placed and so forth. That’s the way it is on every play. You’re not just defending one play.”
As for New England’s final play of the game, fourth and goal at Miami’s 4-yard line, Belichick said the coaching staff talked about going for the touchdown rather than the field goal. But the opportunity to kick a field goal and extend the lead to 5 points was too enticing.
“I felt like the points to make it a touchdown instead of a field goal game, that changes the whole thing,” Belichick said. “Like what happened in the Pittsburgh game yesterday. Needing a touchdown vs. needing a field goal, I think that’s significant. But, you know, you could make an argument for doing it the other way, I guess.”
The Patriots say the aftermath of Sunday’s loss is much like that of any other game.
“Every Monday, you have a meeting with coach and go over things,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said at Gillette Stadium. “It’s like we have every Monday. I wouldn’t say it’s anything different or special. Just need to correct the things we need to correct.”
“Every week is a different challenge,” center David Andrews said. “You can’t dwell on wins or losses. You can’t blow a team out, sit on that, and then get ready for next week.”
The locker room population Monday afternoon was sparse, but those present echoed a similar mind-set, downplaying the possibility the loss could wield a negative impact.
“We’ve processed what happened [Sunday] and we’re on to Pittsburgh,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “I don’t think there’s really much else to talk about.”
Up next for the Patriots are the Pittsburgh Steelers, who fell to 7-5-1 after a 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders Sunday. Although the Steelers haven’t beaten the Patriots since October 2011, Van Noy expects Heinz Field to be a “playoff atmosphere” because of the stakes.
“They need a win,” he said. “We need a win, so it’s going to be a highly competitive game.”
New England will secure the AFC’s No. 2 seed by winning the remaining three games on its schedule.
Brady has no concern about his knee
Quarterback Tom Brady said he has “zero concern” about his left knee after needing a moment to sit down on the field during the second quarter Sunday.
Following Gronkowski’s touchdown that put the Patriots ahead, 27-21, Brady was on his way to celebrate when he stopped running, sat down, extended both legs, and touched his knee. He stayed on the ground for about 10 seconds before jogging to the sideline with a slight limp.
“I think my knee brace just grabbed, and it just kind of twisted,” Brady said during his weekly WEEI appearance Monday morning. “It kind of dug in the wrong spot, so there’s no concern.”
Brady said he’s had his knee taped and braced due to a “little injury.” The 41-year-old has been limited in several practices since returning from the bye week.