FOXBOROUGH – Poetic justice was served in the AFC. The top two teams in the conference got the first-round byes in the end and deserved it.
This was the worst time for the phrase “on any given Sunday” to punch the Patriots in the mouth. A 16-point favorite to beat the Miami Dolphins at home in December, the home team suffered an unthinkable 27-24 loss on Sunday at Gillette Stadium that may go down in history as the most shameful loss in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. The defense failed the Patriots today, allowing a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to the Dolphins after Tom Brady hit James White with a 13-yard screen pass to give the Patriots their first lead at 24-20. Ryan Fitzpatrick hit tight end Mike Gesicki with a 4-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds left to give the Dolphins the win. The play encapsulated the day for the Patriots, as Fitzpatrick riddled the Patriot secondary for 320 total yards and looked completely unstoppable all game long.
Combined with Kansas City doing their job at home with a 31-21 win over the Chargers, the Chiefs snatched the two seed from the Patriots based on their head to head win at Foxborough. The Patriots now have the three seed and have to play a Wild Card game for the first time since 2009. Their reward for blowing this supposed gimme win will be a home playoff date next weekend against the Tennessee Titans, who blasted the Houston Texans 35-14 on Sunday to secure the six seed. Another ex-Patriot, Mike Vrabel, will bring his cast to Gillette next weekend and take aim at the Patriots.
Brady was partly to blame for this loss as well as the defense. He finished 16 of 29 passing for 221 yards, 2 touchdowns, an interception, and a passer rating of 88.4. One of the touchdown passes was a dump pass to linebacker/fullback Elandon Roberts which went for 38 yards as the Dolphin defense was stymied on the play. Otherwise, Brady misfired all game long, receivers dropped passes, and nobody in the passing game looked like they were at championship level. Philip Dorsett had one catch for 50 yards to lead the team in receiving yards, but he was targeted four times. Four receivers had three catches, but N’Keal Harry was targeted seven times and Mohamed Sanu five times.
But the bulk of the blame goes to the defense. If Stephon Gilmore wins Defensive Player of the Year, it won’t be based on Sunday’s performance. Devante Parker trashed out Gilmore, catching eight passes for 137 yards. There is no other word to describe this other than unfathomable. Parker is good, but Gilmore made him look like Michael Thomas. Elsewhere, Albert Wilson had five catches for 59 yards, Isaiah Ford had seven catches for 54 yards, and both Gesicki and running back Patrick Laird each had four catches. Fitzpatrick was sacked twice, but otherwise looked very comfortable all game long and beat the Patriot blitz effortlessly and flawlessly.
Belichick also made Patriot Nation scratch their collective heads with a mismanaged end of the first half. Seemingly in a position for a double score around halftime, the Patriots stopped the Dolphins at their 21-yard line with 1:46 to go in the first half and the Patriots had all their timeouts with the score tied at 10. But Belichick didn’t call a timeout after the third down stop, and Miami punted the ball back to the Patriots. Instead of trying to at least get into field goal range, the Patriots ran Sony Michel twice and ran out the clock without making any attempt to score. The Gillette Stadium fans booed the Patriots off the field after making zero attempt to score. When asked about this in his postgame press conference, Belichick simply mumbled “If (Michel) had gotten a first down, we would have gone for it.”
Gilmore, who may have seen his chance at top defensive honors go up in smoke, said simply after the game that Parker “had the better day” and didn’t offer any substantive explanation. For Gilmore to have had such a dominating season against generally the top receivers of the opposition only to have such a bad game at home against Parker in a game that should have been an easy win, it will go down as one of the most inexplicable, if not simply shameful, single game performances by a single player in recent memory.
One thing that will eat at Belichick is the fact that three former assistant coaches, Brian Flores, Chad O’Shea and Jerry Schuplinski, all had a hand in the win. Flores, in his first season as head coach, went from a coach seemingly tanking the season to try and draft Joe Burrow to a legitimate man of the future for the Dolphins. The Dolphin defense never really looked bad, they harassed Brady into a substandard game, and the Dolphins committed no turnovers and never looked overmatched on offense. Buffalo has already morphed into a playoff team, and the Dolphins aren’t that far behind.
If the Patriots are to go anywhere in the playoffs, the rushing game will have a lot to do with it. Michel finished with 74 yards on 18 carries, while Rex Burkhead had 48 yards on six carries. The team averaged five rushing yards a carry. This element may help in keeping opposing defenses on the bench, but it will carry the team only so far if the passing game doesn’t improve and the defense doesn’t shake off the effects of their poor performance today.
So the Patriots now have one week to get ready for Tennessee next weekend. Along with Vrabel, former Patriots Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan will come back home to try and turn the tables on their former team and punch their ticket to a Divisional Round game at Baltimore. Instead of a week off and a possible home date with Kansas City, the Patriots would have to go to Kansas City for a second year in a row if they happen to get by the Titans next weekend. Ryan Tannehill has supplanted Marcus Mariota as the starting quarterback, Derrick Henry is one of the most formidable running backs in the league, and A.J. Brown will be a stiffer test for Gilmore than Parker was.
This will be a January the Patriots aren’t used to. The Belichick Patriots have never been to a Super Bowl after having to play on Wild Card weekend. The only Patriot team to win three games and make it to the Super Bowl was the 1985 team that got demolished by Chicago in Super Bowl XX. Odds and history are not with the Patriots this year. Talent may not be either, if Sunday is any indication.
But these are still the Patriots, and you never know. Watch the playoffs and keep your fingers crossed.
Posted Under: Patriots News