By: Derek Havens
It came down to the final drive, again.
Sunday’s contest against the Miami Dolphins was another nail bitter, and this time, New England came up short losing 24-20. The Patriots have had an up-and-down season, but now find themselves in unfamiliar territory fighting for the division championship and a spot in the playoffs later in the season than in recent years.
Here are five thoughts on the Patriots loss, in this week’s Monday Hangover. —
1) Dolphins Too Physical For Pats: Looking back at the game, Miami pushed New England around throughout the contest. The defensive backs were pushing the envelope and New England’s pass catchers were not able to match the physicality. Also, both offensive and defensive lines struggled. Overall, the Dolphins were too physical.
2) Defense Couldn’t Get It Done: The turnovers have gone away, and that’s a scary problem for the Patriots. In recent year’s, New England’s defense was able to create turnovers at the end of the game, but now for two straight weeks — the last 10 quarters of play — the Pats have not been able to capitalize with a turnover.
To pair with that, New England’s defense had an a few opportunities to get off the field and stop Miami on Miami’s last drive and failed to do so. The Pats had Miami in a 3rd and 15 and a 4th and 5 on the final drive, but could not stop Ryan Tannehill when the game was on the line. As they stand now, it seems the injuries suffered by the defense have reached a tipping point and could be the downfall of this team in January.
3) Not Enough Around Brady: After an eventful off-season, the offense ahead to evolve yet again. At the start, there was reason for optimism and I expected New England would be a top-tier offensive unit midway through the season.
Well, injuries have played a big role on the offensive line, tight ends and wide receivers. What’s left? A bunch of players that aren’t ready for primetime and simply put, Tom Brady doesn’t have enough around him anymore. The line was brought back, weapons were available to start the year, but now injuries have taken the toll. So many adjustments have been made, but only so match patchwork can be done before it is too much. Care for san example?
In the fourth quarter against Miami, the offensive line consisted of a backup at right tackle, two guys who have played like backups at center and right guard (Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly), and after Nate Solder suffered a head injury in the second week in a row, there was a third string (Josh Kline) at left guard because Logan Mankins was playing left tackle. Not pretty.
The trickle down effect? Shane Vereen, the Patriots best tailback in pass protection, was kept in the backfield to give Brady more time instead of going out for passes like he has in recent weeks. That’s just one example, and I could continue, but I am sure most of you get my point by now. In the most critical part of the game, there was too much to overcome.
4) Gostkowski’s Gaffe Critical: Stephen Gostkowski has been incredible all season, only missing three field goals going into week fifteen. On Sunday, however, he missed a 48-yard attempt in the third quarter. The bigger issue was kicking to the Dolphins on Miami’s final drive.
Gostkowski kicked the ball out of bounds, a penalty, and the ball was placed on the 40-yard line. When the Dolphins were faced with a 4th and 5 decision they went for it and converted. When the attempt happened, Miami was on the 45, but if the kick was a touchback instead, Miami’s on the 25 and probably kick the ball to the Patriots.
In a game like Sunday, you could play the “what if” game for a long time. In no way do I believe Gostkowski was to blame for the loss, as there were issues on all three phases for New England, but a that penalty was a tough one to take in a critical juncture of the ball game.
5) Looking Ahead: The Patriots, now 10-4 on the season, go on the road to face the Baltimore Ravens in week sixteen. If the Patriots win, they will wrap up their fifth straight division title in as many years. Going from Miami to Baltimore in back-to-back weeks is a tough task, but we’ll see how the Patriots respond following Sunday’s letdown.
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