SOCIAL DISTANCING FROM HOME — The most disappointing element of Sunday’s loss at Miami was that the game was winnable until the very end, and the Patriots didn’t have the material to pull it off.
Bad run defense, bad tackling, bad quarterbacking, all of these shortcomings bedeviled the Patriots all season long. The Dolphins, primed for a playoff run which will be perhaps short lived but well deserved, officially eliminated the Patriots from playoff contention with a 22-12 win at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday. They did so by being mostly methodical in overtaking a team they are better than by a mile on paper. In other years, the Patriots win this game easy against a rookie quarterback. But this was a game where the rookie quarterback didn’t need to be good.
We will begin with the run defense. As a team, the Dolphins rushed for 250 yards as a team and a 6-yard average per carry. Salvon Ahmed (seriously, have you ever heard of this guy?) finished with 122 yards on 23 carries and a 5.3 average per carry. Matt Breida, a former 49er (and someone you likely have heard of) chipped in with 86 yards on 12 carries and a 7.2 average per carry. Patrick Laird had only two carries, but one of them was a back-breaking 12-yard run off right tackle on third and 8 at the end of the third quarter. Four Miami drives were ten plays or more, the last two of which yielded touchdowns in the second half as the Patriot defense began to tire greatly.
Bad tackling was a component of the bad defense. There are numerous plays where Miami gained more yards than they should have thanks to bad tackling at the point of attack. One play sticks out, a reverse to Lynn Bowden Jr. on the fourth play of the second half. Bowden took the pitch from Travis Ford (a former Patriot, remember?), and took off towards the left end. At least five players had the chance to stop Bowden for a loss, and Bowden turned it into a nine-yard gain. The drive ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Tua Tagovailoa to give Miami a 7-6 lead. This was just one of many plays that were turned into decent gains thanks to missed tackles.
Cam Newton cannot be the quarterback of the future for the Patriots, not that he will be expected to be. While his leadership, work attitude and deportment are above reproach, his on-field play has left much to be desired all year long. His final numbers are predictably pedestrian, but what happened on the final drive was just plain bad quarterbacking.
We’ll get back to that last drive in a bit. There were many overthrown balls, three of which stand out. On the first offensive play of the game, Newton had Jakob Johnson wide open in the left flat, a rarity that the Patriots would send the fullback out in a screen/flat pass pattern. Newton overthrew Johnson badly, and the Patriots went three and out.
You have not heard much from the two drafted tight ends, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Today, Newton was part of the problem. Asiasi was targeted with a pass in the first quarter, but Newton threw the ball too high and the ball went off his fingertips. Asiasi had a lot of open space to run after the catch if the ball had been laid in there properly. Then in the fourth quarter, Newton had Keene matched up against a linebacker in the left flat, but overthrew him on third and 5 from the Miami 24, and the Patriots had to settle for a field goal where if the ball was thrown properly, Keene may have scored.
Now, the final drive. Newton hit Jakobi Meyers with a 26-yard pass to begin, but the throw was low and Brian Flores challenged the play (and lost). The Patriots wound up at the Dolphin 30, first and ten. On first down, Newton took a sack from Jerome Baker for a loss of seven. But the Patriots recovered and had fourth down and three at the 23. Bill Belichick could have had a field goal to make it 22-15, but decided to go for it with only three yards to go. Newton dropped back, then got sacked again, this time by Emmanuel Ogbah. Ill-timed sacks have been an ongoing issue all season long, the most noteworthy ones being by Brian Hoyer in the Kansas City game, but much of the time, Newton has been nearly as guilty for not getting rid of the ball or calling for the correct checkdown.
The Patriots actually led, 6-0 at the half. The highlight was a very strange drive by Miami, which went 95 yards on 15 plays in the first quarter. On the final play of the quarter, facing third and goal at the three, Tagovailoa was pressured by Chase Winovich, and threw a hurried ball in the right towards Bowden. J.C. Jackson stepped in front of Bowden and made the pick, and the Patriots wound up driving 69 yards in 13 plays with Nick Folk kicking the first of his four field goals.
Newton finished 17 of 27 for 209 yards and an 86.8 rating. He also rushed for 38 yards on nine carries. Meyers had 111 receiving yards on seven catches, while James White chipped in with 52 yards on four catches. Sony Michel did manage 74 rushing yards with a 7.4 average per carry, which helped out a great deal with Damien Harris out with an ankle injury.
Amazingly, Newton had slightly better numbers than Tagovailoa. The rookie quarterback had 20 of 26 passing for 145 yards, one interception, and a rating of 73.4. Tight end Durham Smythe was the leading receiver with only 40 yards. This underscores how brutally effective the rushing attack was, and that Tagovailoa did not need to be outstanding for the Dolphins to win.
The loss eliminates the Patriots from the playoffs. They will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008, when Matt Cassel took over for an injured Tom Brady and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record, but four of the losses were costly as the Patriots wound up losing a ton of tiebreakers and became the second team in NFL history to miss the playoffs despite 11 wins.
The Patriots also insured that this season would not be a winning season. The last time that the Patriots finished at .500 or worse was 2000, Belichick’s first year with the Patriots (they went 5-11). The 19 straight winning seasons was just shy of the NFL record, held by the Dallas Cowboys from 1966 to 1986. This run of Patriot excellence is still remarkable, and though nothing lasts forever, it just didn’t seem that it would end on Belichick’s watch.
The Patriots have a Monday night game next week against Buffalo, and then finish at home with a Jets team that will be gunning for an 0-16 record and the top draft pick. Fans and experts will be clamoring for Belichick to play Jarrett Stidham at quarterback, which of course Belichick will likely not do.
So now it’s up to Miami to show us what they are really made of once the playoffs begin. They won’t find other defenses so porous against the run. And Tagovailoa’s best days are likely in front of him, not necessarily right now.
Meanwhile, the Patriots will be home watching. That’s still hard to wrap your brain around
Posted Under: 2020 Patriots Season