By: Bob George/
December 21, 2004

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MIAMI -- Don't make with this "any given Sunday” malarkey. Remember, this was a Monday.

What, that didn't make you chuckle? If not, you can be forgiven. Not too many Patriot fans are chuckling right now. Hooting and cussing, that's more like it.

Leading 28-17 with 3:52 left in the game, the Patriots had a firm grip on this affair in Miami. The Patriots simply don't surrender third and fourth quarter leads. The 2-11 Dolphins had given the Patriots a good game up to that point, but the Patriots were simply too talented and too used to winning to let this one get away. You sat back in your chair and began to think about the Jets.

Right now, you're still sitting back in your chair, after having looked on with total stupefaction at something you haven't seen in a coon's age. You're slumped, you're angry, you're perhaps even amazed. A sure Patriot win suddenly became a shocking 29-28 loss at Pro Player Park. Here's a 2-11 Miami squad making the plays down the stretch, while Tom Brady suddenly morphed into Drew Bledsoe.

This was like the two straight blown saves by Mariano Rivera at Fenway Park back in October. This was the first time the Patriots had blown a halftime lead in 32 games. The Patriots simply don't lose when they lead in the second half. As Yankee manager Joe Torre said, "It doesn't always happen for you.” If Rivera can blow two saves, the Patriots can blow a late lead also.

For the first 56:08 of the contest, it was an efficient and slick Patriot offense, despite Brady having the interception bug, getting the better of a Dolphin team that was extremely good at running back punts and one-yard scoring runs. The Patriots were able to overcome a 71-yard first quarter punt return by Wes Welker, two interceptions by Sammy Knight and short scoring runs by Sammy Morris and Travis Minor and seemingly have the game in hand, leading by eleven points with just under four minutes to play.

The game then degenerated into a display of soft defense, exposed cornerbacks, a bad penalty in the end zone, and perhaps the two worst passes of Brady's impeccable career.

Oftentimes during the contest, the Patriots employed a strange defensive scheme where they brought in five linebackers and six defensive backs, and no down linemen. (This assumes that you classify Willie McGinest as a linebacker and not a defensive end.) This cute little scheme worked well up until the Dolphin drive after the Patriots assumed the 28-17 lead. The Patriots dared the Dolphins to run the ball and played soft zone just to keep everything in front of them and give up no worse than a field goal, and they paid dearly for it.

Starting at their own 32, A.J. Feeley began by finding Morris wide open over the middle for a dump pass that went for 15 yards. It was obvious right from this play that the Patriots would not attack Feeley and try to put the game away with a devastating wave of blitzes. After an incompletion, Feeley found Randy McMichael at the right sideline for ten yards, thanks to a nice cushion given by the Patriot defense. Chris Chambers ran the same play and gained six, then Morris gained eleven yards on a draw play with no defensive linemen to stop him. Who did stop him? Troy Brown. More on him later.

Miami is now at the Patriot 26. Morris took a right flat pass for seven, then after an incompletion, Feeley heaved one into the end zone towards Chambers. The ball landed some six feet to the right of Chambers, but Rodney Harrison was still draped all over him and pass interference was called. Harrison complained, perhaps that the ball was uncatchable, but the Dolphins now had first and goal at the one.

Morris got the ball and, for the third time this evening by a Miami back, dove over the line of scrimmage for the score. A failed 2-point conversion left things at 28-23 Patriots. The Patriots could do nothing with these halfback dives, not even bring up linebackers to try and stop it. Once burned, shame on you, twice burned, shame on me. What about three times?

The Patriots continued their uncharacteristic bad play on the ensuing kickoff. Needing to burn off seven seconds to get to the two-minute warning and deny Miami a free timeout, David Patten took the kickoff and bolted straight for the sideline. The Pats had to run one play before the mandatory stoppage, and David Bowens batted down a Brady pass at the line of scrimmage.

Two plays after the stoppage, Brady was rushed by Jason Taylor facing third and eight at his own 22. Brady stumbled to get away from Taylor, and began to fall to the ground. Inexplicably, as he fell, he lobbed a desperation pass right into the waiting arms of Brandon Ayanbedejo. This was a Bledsoe special. Patriot fans had not seen a quarterback make this kind of play since the 2001 AFC Championship Game, when Bledsoe did such a thing and wound up losing the ball on a fumble. Miami had the ball on the Patriot 21, but still needed a touchdown.

It came down to fourth and ten, still at the 21. Feeley dropped back, and lobbed a touch pass towards the end zone. Brown can do only so much. He simply got turned the wrong way and could not defend Derrius Thompson, who is four inches taller and not playing out of position. Another two-point conversion failed. 29-28, Miami.

But there was 1:26 left, and two timeouts. Not one single Patriot fan needed be nervous. This is how Brady wins Super Bowls. This was almost the same score as Super Bowl XXXVIII. That was 29-29. This was 29-28. This one didn't provide the buffer of an overtime should he fail.

Should he fail? Brady? Are you nuts?

First and ten at the 24. All Brady needs is to get Adam Vinatieri in range. Cripes, you probably think Vinatieri might fail also.

First play. Bowens plows in and sacks Brady for a nine-yard loss to the 15. Now you begin to rub your eyes and check to see if someone slipped you a mickey. Perhaps you blurted out a "Huh?” or two.

Second play. Brady under pressure. He rolls right and floats a lollypop into the right flat. There's David Givens, waiting for the toss. The throw was right to him. It would have been a first down. But the lollypop throw game Arturo Freeman plenty of time to step in front of Givens and make the unthinkable interception, sealing the Miami win.

Maybe it's just as well. Vinatieri would have probably shanked it wide right.

This shocking loss likely means that the road to the Super Bowl will go through The Ketchup Bottle instead of The Razor Blade. The Patriots now must somehow try and secure the first round bye, as San Diego and Indianapolis are breathing down their necks. These two teams play each other next week, and that will likely determine which of those two teams finishes ahead of each other.

It is clear that the Patriots stand or fall on their battered secondary for the rest of this year, but this was a game the Patriots simply let get away. Their defense on the second-to-last Miami possession was simply wrong and executed poorly. Special teams were horrible, especially in return coverage. And Brady simply had a bad day. You rarely see Brady make these kinds of mistakes, but he made them tonight on a national stage with John Madden gushing with all sorts of praise for the two-time Super Bowl MVP.

Miami has now made their season. Have the Patriots ruined theirs?