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Red Zone Offense, Penalties Doom Patriots in 17-16 Loss to Miami

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
September 12, 2021 at 8:44 pm ET

Red Zone Offense, Penalties Doom Patriots in 17-16 Loss to Miami(PHOTO: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
Posted: Sep 12, 2021 08:44
🕑 Read Time: 4 minutes

The Miami Dolphins defense was stout when it had to be all day long and held the Patriots to just 1-4 in the Red Zone…that was the difference in the game as Week 1 is in the books and the Patriots played a very uncharacteristic sloppy game, with four fumbles and nine penalties for 84 yards with many of them cutting into offensive drives. 

There is plenty of good and bad for the coaches to sift through when they watch the game film on this one. But Mac Jones in his first NFL start looked remarkably poised and in control. With the game on the line, he drove the Patriots down the field for what looked like a game-winning or at least a go-ahead score. But Damien Harris’ fumble at the Miami nine-yard line sealed the deal. 

Here are some quick observations from the game this afternoon. 

Patriots CBs Played Soft: Miami’s speed on the outside with Devante Parker and Jaylen Waddle was well discussed before the game. And they got a lot of respect, a lot of respect from the Patriots corners. They played as far off as I’ve seen a Patriots secondary play in a long time. 

That’s why those slants were so wide open all game. Parker and Waddle were killing the Patriots’ defense on those all game long. I was surprised they didn’t go to it more. Waddle is going to be a dangerous player in the NFL. 

Run Defense Was Better But Failed at Crunch Time: Remember the last time the two teams met and the Dolphins gashed them for more than 250 yards? Miami ran for just 74 yards on 23 carries, which is a 3.2-yard average. But after the Harris fumble, the entire stadium knew the Dolphins were going to run the ball and force the Patriots to burn their timeouts.  And they did just that. Miami closed it out, something the Patriots could not do. 

The pass rush wasn’t particularly effective although give Miami’s coaches credit, they were getting the ball out of Tua’s hands pretty quickly. 

Mac Jones Had a Very Impressive First Start: Jones looked in control throughout this one after an inauspicious start with the backward spike/fumble. Yes, the Patriots kept things simple, using short crossers over the middle. They kept the passes short but they consistently moved the sticks, but they couldn’t finish drives…give the Miami defense credit there (and yes, we’ll get to the penalties later). 

Jones was 29-39 for 281 yards with 1 TD and QB rating of 102.6. Not bad for a rookie making his first NFL start. He spread the ball around nicely completing passes to eight different receivers. His best pass may have been the beautiful drop in the bucket to James White on a wheel route…something that was sorely missed last year. 

He had a few moments of inaccuracy, but overall, Jones wasn’t the reason they lost and nearly pulled out a late win with him leading the way. There are no moral victories, but the coaches have to be pleased with what they saw from him for his first start.

The Patriots Have Tight Ends Again: Much was made about how much money the Patriots spent in free agency…and yes they certainly did, but in their first action with the team, after missing a good chunk of the summer, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry made some key catches in this game. Smith caught five passes for 42 yards on five targets while adding one rush for six yards, while Henry caught three for 31 on three targets. While it doesn’t sound like a lot, consider the floor where they are starting.

A year ago, the Patriots’ tight ends caught 17 passes combined on the season. This afternoon the new duo nearly got half of that production in the first game. They’ll see more production down the road but this too was a good start and reliable tight ends are a young (or old) quarterback’s best friend. 

Why Stats Can Be Misleading: The Patriots dominated time of possession with about 13.5 more minutes than Miami. They outgained the Dolphins 393 – 259, but sloppy uncharacteristic play cost them. As we mentioned above, they fumbled four times, losing two of them. 

But the penalties were killing the offense. Nine penalties for 84 yards including three (3) unnecessary roughness penalties. The defense held Miami to just 4-11 on 3rd down while the Patriots were 11-16. 

Nelson Agholor Makes a Splash On Day 1: The Patriots’ high-priced addition at WR had a very solid game catching five passes for a team-leading 72 yards including Jones’ first NFL touchdown pass, a seven-yarder in the first half. 

He made a couple of field-stretching pass receptions of 20 yards or more and held onto the ball, something that has been an issue with him, even when taking a couple of big shots. 

Damien Harris’ Fumble Ruined a Solid Day: Harris ran hard for 100 yards on 23 carries and caught two passes for 17 more. On the Patriots’ final drive, he was surging up the middle of the field trying to keep his legs moving when the ball was punched out at the Miami nine-yard line. 

They were in chip-shot FG territory and could have taken the lead, possibly gotten a second touchdown. But it was all for naught. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson was stripped in the first half after a very close play where it could have gone either way as his backside was close to touching the ground before the ball was ripped out by the Dolphin defenders. Bill Belichick hates ball security issues and Stevenson rode the bench after that. 

Defense Came Out Cold In Each Half: Miami’s first drive, they gashed the Patriots for 80 yards in 10 plays with Tua Tagovailoa running it in easily from the three-yard line. After the second-half kickoff,  Miami went right down the field again, 75 yards in nine plays, once again gashing the Patriots easily. 

Was it coaching or just being cold for the defense? It is unknown right now, but expect the coaches to use it as a teaching point. Between those drives, the Dolphins didn’t do too much. But the bottom line, it wasn’t good enough.

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Patriots Fumbled Away Jones Debut in Loss to Dolphins

About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at, as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Posted Under: 2021 Patriots Season
Tags: 2021 Patriots regular season Bill Belichick Devante Parker James White Jaylen Waddle Mac Jones Miami Dolphins New England Patriots Tua Tagovailoa

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