MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Some experts believe that the 2022 Patriots might begin the season 0-4, and Sunday’s game at Miami did nothing to dispel that thought.
Amidst a hail of players not making plays, key mistakes and an environment which is usually adverse for even good to great Patriot teams, the Patriots were gut punched by the Miami Dolphins, 20-7 on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. On a hot and humid season opener, the Patriots lost their fourth straight game against Miami, and are 1-5 here in this stadium over the last six years. It’s not as bad as the 1966-85 jinx, but it sure feels that way.
This is not an astounding Miami team. Under new head coach Mike McDaniel, the Dolphins played well but are elite only at the wide receiver position. Tua Tagovailoa defeated the Patriots once again, and is now 4-0 against the Patriots in his career, and you don’t understand why. He is at best a league average quarterback who seems to play just well enough to beat the Patriots. Guys like John Elway and Roger Staubach never lost to the Patriots. Tagovailoa is not and never will be in that pantheon of quarterbacks. But the Patriots still can’t beat this guy.
In a nutshell, here is basically why the Patriots lost this game.
The Patriots had three turnovers, and a whole boatload of other mistakes which they cannot allow to happen against a good team on the road. Mac Jones needed more elite offensive weapons over the offseason, but offensive guard Cole Strange, who was the first round draft pick, is not an elite offensive weapon. Jalen Mills was at the point of attack on that unbelievable touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle just before halftime, and not J.C. Jackson, who was allowed to leave as a free agent. Finally, it is never a good thing to play at Miami early in the season, but Jones did it with regularity at Alabama, in a state which usually is more humid than Florida.
The Patriots started right in with a gross mistake on their first drive of the game. Runs by Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson helped get the Patriots to the Miami 23. Jones then threw a lollypop lob pass to new Patriot/former Dolphin DeVante Parker (not Adams) into double coverage in the right corner of the end zone. Xavien Howard deflected the toss and the ball fell into the hands of Jevon Holland, who returned it 31 yards. Howard could have been called for interference on Parker, but in the end it was a bad throw into double coverage by Jones, and Parker was totally unable to win the jump ball against Howard.
The ensuing drive only resulted in a field goal, so it was only 3-0 going into the second quarter. It was still a manageable game, and the Patriot defense played mostly well coming up with some stops. During that drive, with Miami at the 50 facing fourth and one, Bill Belichick called time and most likely told his defenders to not jump offside. But Carl Davis Jr. did not get the message and jumped early, giving the Dolphins a first down on their way to that field goal.
One such stop gave the Patriots the ball at their own 15 for their first drive of the second quarter. On second down and ten, Jones dropped back to pass but did not see Brandon Jones coming in totally unblocked from his blind side. Brandon Jones strip sacked Mac Jones, and Melvin Ingram went two yards with the scoop and score to make it 10-0. Brandon originally lined up next to the linebackers, but at the last minute scurried up to the line of scrimmage and came in on a corner blitz. Mac Jones did not see it and did not check down once Brandon came up to the line. Trent Brown, the left tackle, slid to the right and wound up blocking the wrong man. Center David Andrews did not see it either and did not call out a blocking adjustment.
This sort of thing is partially a by-product of coaching and Mac Jones not yet able to read defenses at an elite level. Comparing Jones to Tom Brady is the ultimate in unfairness, but one thing Brady could do was to call audibles when he saw blitz packages or other defensive adjustments. At some point, Jones and Andrews need to step up their recognition of stunts like this, but the Patriots cannot be a winning team and fall prey to sudden blitz moments and not be able to adjust accordingly.
It was still 10-0 Miami coming down to the end of the first half. Miami had the ball on the Patriot 42 yard line, with 25 seconds left and facing fourth and seven. After a timeout, Miami decided to go for it despite it being fourth and seven. Amazingly, Tagovailoa was able to find Waddle wide open on the right side, beating Mills on an inside slant route. Waddle made the catch, avoided tackles by Kyle Dugger and Ja’Whaun Bentley and sprinted to the house, making it 17-0 at the half and taking the starch out of the Patriots in general. Mills continues to give up plays going back to last year, but this play here makes the loss of Jackson, as well as the demise of Malcolm Butler, much more consequential.
The third quarter showed some promise, as the Patriots held Miami three and out and then drove 92 yards for their only score of the afternoon. The drive was aided by two Miami penalties, one of them for 12 men on the field, and the other a holding call on Howard which negated an incompletion on fourth down and one. Ty Montgomery caught a six-yard scoring toss from Jones to make it 17-7 with lots of time to make it a good game.
Miami countered with a field goal, helped greatly by a 16-yard pass to Raheem Mostert where Myles Bryant had him stopped for a loss but did not finish the tackle.
Late in the fourth quarter, the last chance for the Patriots to win evaporated with their third turnover of the day. Jones hit Kendrick Bourne for 41 yards on a lob pass to put the Patriots into plus territory, but two plays later Jones hit Nelson Agholor in the left flat in a crowd. Kader Kohou hit Agholor immediately and stripped the ball, and Jaelen Phillips fell on the ball to seal the win for Miami.
Tagovailoa finished 23 of 33 passing for 270 yards, one touchdown and a 104.4 passer rating. Tyreek Hill had eight catches for 94 yards in his Miami debut, while Waddle had four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots did a good job stopping the run, as Miami had only 65 rushing yards for a team and a 2.8 yards per carry average.
Jones was 21 of 30 passing for 213 yards, one touchdown, one pick and an 87.2 passer rating. Jakobi Meyers had 4 catches for 55 yards. Most of Jones’ passes were of the lob variety, and very seldom did he zip the ball downfield. Jones did not look real comfortable in the pocket, due mostly to substandard blocking and receivers simply not getting open.
Jones underwent X-rays after the game, according to reports, and was unavailable to the media for his usual postgame press conference. No details were given as to why the X-rays were taken.
Next week the Patriots head to Pittsburgh, a team trying to reinvent itself with new quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett. This is a team looking to move forward following the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, but you could put Mason Rudolph in there and the Patriots would be hurting if they don’t figure out a way to fix all the mistakes they made against Miami.
Overreactions abound after Week 1, both positively and negatively. It could be that the Patriots will simply slide up a learning curve and things will be okay after these tough first four games. But a lot needs to be done, and you have to hope that Belichick has the material to make that slide up the curve.
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