After a Fluke Finish, Patriots Need to Move on

Bob George
December 9, 2018 at 8:44 pm ET

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The only thing missing from this game was some trombone player hanging out in the end zone.

Down to seven seconds left, trailing 33-28 with the ball at their own 31, and no timeouts left, the Miami Dolphins managed to pull off a wild play that fans of the University of California and Millsaps College would love.  Ryan Tannehill dropped back and hit Kenny Stills in the right seam.  Stills immediately lateraled the ball to DeVante Parker, who ran the ball along the right sideline for a few yards, then lateraled the ball to Kenyan Drake.  Drake shook off a tackle, cut back left, then cut back right and outran Rob Gronkowski, who was in there to defend a Hail Mary, to the end zone.  Miami emerged with a shocking 34-33 win on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, leaving the Patriots dumbfounded over not just the play, but how they could have surrendered that many points to the Dolphins.

Combined with Kansas City defeating Baltimore in overtime, the Chiefs now have a two-game lead in the race for the top playoff seed.  The Patriots missed a chance to clinch the AFC East, but it’s the possible loss of the top playoff seed that is more damaging.  Most every Patriot observer figured the Patriots would win their last four games.  Even despite the Patriots’ poor record in Miami in December (4-16), this was a game the Patriots needed to win, should have won, and still deserved to lose.

When you block two punts, you figure to win the game.  Albert McLellan enjoyed his fifteen minutes with two blocks of Ryan Haack punts, with the first of the two setting up a Patriot touchdown.  But the Patriots could never get any separation from the Dolphins, as the second blocked punt ended poorly, the Patriots left seven points on the field, and despite sacking Tannehill three times, the defense as gashed by the Miami rushing attack to the tune of 189 yards and a nine-yard per carry average.

This game featured nine lead changes, including the game’s crazy final play.  This was a record for both franchises against any opponent.  The biggest Patriot lead was five points, the 33-28 lead they should have protected.  The only leads Miami held were one point, including the final margin.  But the teams spent the entire game trading either touchdowns or defensive stands.

Tannehill sustained a seemingly severe ankle injury in the second quarter, but still managed to put up good numbers despite the rushing game being so successful.  He finished 14 of 19 passing for 265 yards, three touchdowns, and a near-perfect 155.1 passer rating.  Stills, Drake, Frank Gore and rookie Brice Butler all had long catches of 20 or more yards.  It wasn’t just about the rushing, it just seemed that way, but Tannehill played valiantly despite being hurt and under siege all game long.

But the Miami rushing attack was telling.  Gore, whose best days are behind him after several great seasons in San Francisco, had 92 yards rushing on 12 carries and a 7.7 average.  Then you have Brandon Bolden, who burned his former team for 60 yards on two carries, both of them for touchdowns.  Bolden found a big hold off right tackle in the second quarter for a 54-yard touchdown run.  On his second carry, he ran much the same play and scored from six yards out on the ensuing offensive possession for Miami.  Drake had 24 yards on six carries, as Miami was never contained rushing the ball all game long.

The Patriots lost this game more than Miami won it.  Every time the Patriots fell behind, they came back to take the lead.  But a few bad moments along the way, long before the final play, jumped up and bit the Patriots on the ankle.

After the opening drive of the game, a long and time-consuming drive which ended in a two-yard touchdown run by James Develin, Stephen Gostkowski yanked the extra point off the right upright.  Late in the first half, the Patriots had the ball at the Miami two-yard line with seven seconds left and no timeouts, and it was third and goal.  Tom Brady dropped back, tried to find an open receiver, then inexplicably took a sack by Robert Quinn, and time expired in the half.  After the game, Brady admitted that he thought the team still had one timeout left and took the blame.

On the opening drive of the second half for the Patriots, they drove from their 22 to the Miami 24.  The drive died there, but Gostkowski yanked a 42-yard field goal attempt wide right, giving the Patriots nothing to show for a very nice time-consuming drive.  This is seven points that the Patriots wound up needing badly in the end, and in the end proved more costly than some million-to-one shot lucky play.

Brady was 27 of 43 passing for 358 yards, three touchdowns, and a 112.4 rating.  Gronkowski, who caught passes better than he tackled running backs, had eight catches for 107 yards.  Josh Gordon had five catches for 96 yards, and Julian Edelman had nine catches for 86 yards.  Cordarelle Patterson had perhaps the most impactive catch of the day, a 37-yard touchdown catch up the right seam which at the time gave the Patriots a 20-14 lead in the second quarter.

The one area which really helped Miami defensively was the shutting down of the Patriot rushing attack.  The Patriots as a team averaged 2.6 yards per carry.  But the passing attack seemed to negate that edge Miami had, and in the end really wasn’t a key factor in the game.

Defensively, the Patriots did well in putting pressure on Tannehill, but he was still able to put up big numbers and was helped out greatly by his running backs.  But it was a very uneven performance by the Patriot defense, as the Patriots gave up touchdowns on three of the first four Miami possessions, then forced Miami punts in five of the next six possessions.  But the two second half possessions that weren’t punts were touchdowns.

The Patriots have to regroup quickly and head to Pittsburgh next week to meet a strong Steelers team which is sick and tired of losing at home to the Patriots.  The defense will be tested again by a great Steeler offense which is still clicking despite no LeVeon Bell.  This game may go a long way to shape how the AFC playoffs will be formed.

This game was a regular season game, not a playoff game, so you won’t keep seeing replays of the end of this game beyond this week much.  And that’s good, because this ending is a nightmare that Stanford fans who were alive in 1982 still go through.  It was a fluke play, but it worked and Miami won.  New England simply has to move on to Pittsburgh.

Easier said than done.

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