It’s not every day you walk away from a loss feeling very good about things, but Bill Belichick should at least be relatively happy with the final outcome of Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins.
With the number two seed all locked up and a shot at home-field throughout the postseason on the line, Belichick had a choice to make. Push the envelope and go all-out to ensure each game for New England will be played at Gillette Stadium over the next month, or be conservative and try and take a shot at beating the woeful Dolphins with the bare minimum in terms of personnel and keep the rest out of harms way.
He seemingly chose the latter, and it wasn’t quite enough during the Patriots 20-10 loss to the Dolphins.
Sunday’s game was played with a cautious approach that didn’t exactly give the appearance of a team giving all they had to clinch home field. Having already lost to the Broncos earlier in the season, losing to the Dolphins meant that a potential trip back to Denver was a distinct possibility. It also meant that New England would have been left to hope that the Chargers could take down their division rival later that day and that Philip Rivers could beat the Broncos and secure the Patriots’ chances of playing all their postseason games at Gillette Stadium.
The bad news is, the Broncos, thanks to the triumphant return of Peyton Manning, beat San Diego, which means the Patriots may now have to play a road game in Denver to clinch the AFC and earn a return trip to the Super Bowl.
But Belichick’s plan, unlike last week’s gamble in overtime, at least worked out because New England escaped their final regular season contest seemingly without any further injuries. The one notable player hurt on Sunday was Tom Brady, who had Miami’s Ndamukong Suh land on the back of his ankle during the contest. Brady didn’t miss a snap after hobbling off the field and getting his ankle taped, but after the game he admitted that he was in pain, although he seemed irritated with the play.
“I’m pretty sore, yeah,” said Brady after the game. “But it will be all right.”
“I didn’t see the replay, so I’m going to be anxious to see it.”
As usual, Sunday’s game saw some notable names sidelined, with Julian Edelman remaining out, along with Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Sebastian Vollmer and Jonathan Freeney. Safety Devin McCourty returned from his ankle injury and was back in action, as well as wide receiver Danny Amendola. But overall, this was a team that was clearly not at full strength on either side of the football.
The good news is it seems like those players may be ready in time for the playoffs, which at the end of the day is the bigger prize. Given the staggering number of injuries this team has experienced this season, it appeared as though they were trying to play it as safe as possible. Brady’s pass attempts were limited and most of Sunday’s game saw them run the football during the majority of situations, regardless of the distance.
As a result, the Patriots opened the first half on Sunday with Brady attempting just five passes while rushing 21 times, with newcomer Steven Jackson getting 10 carries as New England started addressing a glaring issue. Coming into Sunday the loss of LeGarrette Blount continued to loom large and they haven’t had much of a ground game this season, so it was obvious that New England planned on trying to address that by giving Jackson a bigger workload. After all, this is a team that will be facing the best teams remaining in the AFC in the weeks ahead, so it only made sense to try and get him more involved.
In the second half, that workload diminished and the Patriots started to throw to get back in the game. Brady threw the ball twelve times in the third quarter while Jackson carried just three times for 6 yards, with one of those resulting in a 2-yard touchdown that knotted the score at 10-10.
But in the fourth quarter the Dolphins pulled away, scoring 10 unanswered points while shutting down a Patriots offense that couldn’t do much of anything. New England had the ball for just six minutes in the final quarter with just one first down, and Miami started coming fast and furious at Brady as soon as the Patriots became one-dimensional. They sacked him twice, and with two minutes to go and the game out of reach at 20-10, Belichick opted to wave the white flag and put in Jimmy Garoppolo to finish the game.
The loss dropped them to 12-4 on the season, but at the end of the day, no one will remember this game in another month if this team is in California. The loss hurts, but the bigger victory was the fact the Patriots came out of Sunday without any further losses as they get ready for the most important three game stretch of the season.
After losing to the Dolphins, the focus now shifts toward the postseason, which is the start of the road to Santa Clara. While that road could now ultimately run through Denver, the more important thing for Belichick and his team is to hit the rest button and get back to work. The Super Bowl won’t be played in Foxboro anyway, so it will ultimately come down to how they’re playing, not where.
“You know, we don’t really have any control over that,” said Belichick when asked if having home field is overrated. “I mean, whatever it is, it is. Wherever we play, we play. We’ve just got a lot of work to do, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
Sunday may have resulted in a loss in the record books, but getting out healthy ultimately makes the Patriots winners, which will be more important in the weeks to come.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary