The Patriots won a tough New Year’s Day game against the Dolphins 23-21 in the final home game of the season. The game was bittersweet as although they are still alive for the postseason, it may have been the last time Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty appeared at Gillette Stadium.
But although the Patriots won, it wouldn’t win many style points, like many of their wins (and losses) this year. Both teams came into this game banged up, with Miami missing their starting QB and OL and the Patriots missing key members of their secondary.
The defense, like most of this season, was very good. Like most of this season, the offense spent large parts of the game looking inept. And the Special Teams also spent much of the game, like much of the season, left one scratching their heads.
So, here are our grades this week for the Patriots-Raiders game.
Mac Jones had a streaky afternoon. On the opening drive, Jones, and the offense, looked good. They moved the ball, added a nice chunk play to Tyquan Thornton, attacked the middle of the field a few times (I mentioned as a key), and Matt Patricia dialed up a creative way to get Thornton open at the goal line for a TD. Wait…What? Yes, THAT Matt Patricia. It seemed like it was going to be a very good day.
But between that and a late 3rd Quarter FG by Nick Folk, the offense slipped back into that all-too-familiar mode of being predictable, slow-developing, sloppy, and eminently stoppable. That included Jones. He admitted after the game that he didn’t play well in the middle of the game.
Jones completed 20-33 for 203 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs for a passer rating of 98.4. He was inaccurate on the short outlet stuff, but he also threw some beautiful passes down the field. Lost in the middle of the game was a 29-yard dime to Hunter Henry on a corner route to convert a third down. Unfortunately, that drive ended up in a punt.
He threw another nice pass down the right sideline to Jakobi Meyers on a wheel route out of the backfield. They should be running more of those with Rhamondre Stevenson and Pierre Strong.
On the Patriots’ final 89-yard scoring drive, Jones was 5-7 for 55 yards, including a 23-yard pass interference penalty to put the game out of reach. Like many of this season’s games, Jones wasn’t great, and he wasn’t bad. He was good and took care of the ball.
Running Backs: C
Rhamondre Stevenson’s best play came on a 2nd and 19, where he was hit at the line of scrimmage, broke tackles, and rumbled for 18 yards. He’s done that all season. He ended up with eight carries for 42 yards. Damien Harris returned from injury and took a lot of heat off Stevenson with 50 total yards, 32 yards rushing, and 18 receiving.
The duo combined for 74 yards rushing on 17 attempts, which wasn’t great, but Miami was controlling the trenches against the Patriot OL. Stevenson, who admitted last week that he was wearing down, whiffed on a pass protection rep and had a drop on a play that looked like he had an opportunity for extra yardage.
Wide Receivers: C+
Tyquan Thornton had three catches for 60 yards, including the game’s first TD. He appeared to have another, but he stepped out of the back of the end zone. His 24-yard chunk play on the first drive was a really nice grab, and he kept his feet inbounds next to Miami’s bench. The 29-yard catch down the left seam was a nice catch on a high pass between two defenders.
Jakobi Meyers was his normal reliable self with six catches for 48 yards and a TD. The score was a good catch by both him and Jones. They recognized the Dolphins didn’t have their coverage right and just went off on an audible at the line. Although Meyers landed hard and was slow to get up. That will have to be watched closely.
Nelson Agholor got the start over Kendrick Bourne, I was going to say it was a surprise, but nothing surprises me when it comes to the Patriot offense. He didn’t have a catch. When Bourne finally got in, he was whistled for a false start. But when the Patriots were backed up at their 11-yard line, they called on Bourne, who responded with a 16-yard gain that got the team moving for their game-clinching TD drive of 89 yards.
Tight Ends: B+
Hunter Henry was justifiably questionable to play this week. He missed nearly the entire week of practice after getting injured against Cincinnati. And he had two excellent plays that were outstanding but didn’t register on his stat line.
On the opening drive TD, he was bunched with Thornton at the 7-yard line. At the snap, Henry pushed off the defender at the line of scrimmage and sealed both off long enough for Thornton to catch the pass from Jones. At the end of the game, he smothered the Dolphins’ onside kick attempt. Two excellent plays.
And…he had one of his most productive days this season, catching five passes for 52, including a beautiful pass from Jones on a corner route down the right side. Henry toughed it out and had a fantastic game. He also played every offensive snap. Matt Sokol was activated and played 10 snaps.
Offensive Line D
The Patriots offensive line was operating at normal effectiveness, which equates to “Not Very.” Out of the 21 rushing attempts, 10 went for 3 yards or less. And the blame isn’t on the running backs. Miami’s defensive line dominated in the trenches.
Although Mac Jones was getting the ball out faster than anyone else in the league on Sunday, an average of just 2.35 seconds, he was sacked three times and hit five more. Jones was under duress for the majority of the game.
Defensive Line: A-
The Patriots’ defensive line was excellent on Sunday, having an overall super-effort against Miami. The Dolphins wanted to run the ball on Sunday, and they ran it 27 times for 86 yards for an average of just 3.2 yards.
The line settled in and really shut down the running lanes in the 2nd half. Christian Barmore was huge in this game, literally and figuratively. He had a sack and four QB hits, consistently pushing the pocket from the interior. They really missed him, but he returned with a bang. He pushed the pocket, allowing Carl Davis to break through for another sack.
The linebackers were not a big part of the pass rush this week. Matthew Judon had just one tackle, and Josh Uche had just a single QB hit. Going against a banged-up Miami OL with backups in there, we expected them to have a big game. Miami’s OL struggled in pass protection when they were healthy, but it didn’t work out that way.
However, Ja’Whaun Bentley continues his excellent season. He led the group with nine tackles, including blowing up a screen pass and a TFL. Jahlani Tavai had six tackles of his own. Raekwon McMillan and Anfernee Jennings didn’t play as much but both contributed with splash plays.
Perhaps I’m being a tad too generous here, but with the cornerback position hit hard with injuries and facing the Dolphins’ talented WR group along with TE Mike Gesicki, we weren’t expecting the kind of results we saw.
The team essentially went with two corners Jonathan Jones, who was playing hurt, and Myles Bryant, along with four safeties. They took advantage of their depth at safety to fill in the holes and played zone but weren’t giving up huge cushions underneath.
They held Hill to 55 yards and Waddle to 52. The secondary did a great job of taking away the deep shots and the yards after the catch from those two. I’m usually critical of Bryant, but he made a couple of open-field tackles that were difficult enough and terrific. The one he made on Hill was a great play. Jones had a really nice interception along the sideline, grabbing a pass that was behind Hill and bounced off his shoulder pads. Jones did a great job of toe-tapping to stay inbounds.
But the star of the show was definitely Kyle Dugger. His interception in the third quarter turned the game around. Miami was ahead 14-10, and seemed to be in control. With Miami facing a 3rd and 15, Dugger initially showed blitz but dropped back deep at the sticks, where Teddy Bridgewater lost him.
When Bridgewater tried to fire the ball on the right side, Dugger read it and jumped the route, easily picking it off and returning it 39 yards for a pick-six and a 16-14 lead for the Patriots. It was a lead they would not relinquish. Dugger had turned the game around. It was his 3rd defensive touchdown of the season and the seventh for the team.
Special Teams: D
Sunday was another bad game for the STs. Brendan Schooler, who has had an excellent rookie season, made a rookie mistake during a punt block and got a 5-yard penalty for running into the punter. But it changed a 4th and 6 into a 4th and 1. The Miami offense then converted it, and they scored a TD.
Michael Palardy was awful; on the Patriots’ side of the field, he had punts of 34, 37, and 38 yards, handing the Dolphins good to great field position. He had two punts go into the end zone without one inside the 20. The return units produced very little.
Nick Folk missed another extra point but did have a 49-yard FG. Hunter Henry helped the group with a nice recovery of an onside kick.
The coaches had an uneven day; the defensive coaches deserve high marks for coming up with a nice game plan and ensuring that the players executed it. The defense shut down the running game and held Hill and Waddle in check.
Offensively, the team had an impressive first drive with a …wait for it, creative play to get a red zone TD. But then, things went right back to where they’d been, with nothing going on until the 3rd quarter field goal. The offense then went on an 89-yard TD drive where they looked fine. The Special Teams had another bad game.
We’re on to Buffalo.
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Posted Under: Patriots Report Card
Tags: Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Damien Harris Devin McCourty Jakobi Meyers Jaylen Waddle Kendrick Bourne Kyle Dugger Mac Jones Matthew Judon Miami Dolphins New England Patriots Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rhamondre Stevenson Teddy Bridgewater Tyquan Thornton Tyreek Hill