The Patriots fell to Miami in their season opener for the second year in a row, as a sloppy start put New England into an early hole that they were unable to climb out of, dropping the contest 20-7.
It was the fourth-straight loss for the Patriots to their divisional rivals, as the revamped Dolphin attack made the clutch plays they needed to, while Miami's defense won the turnover battle with a key end-zone interception and fumble-six in the first half that set an early tone, and then a forced fourth-quarter fumble that erased New England's comeback hopes.
Here are the key takeaways from loss...
Mistakes dig an early deficit
The Patriots strung together some pretty good plays out of the gate during their first possession, moving down the field with seven plays that nicely blended some successful runs and effective passes. After a sporadic summer, it appeared early on that the Patriots were finding a stride on offense, making it all the way to Miami's 22-yard-line.
On the edge of the red zone, Mac Jones went to one of the team's best plays from training camp, an attempted fade to DeVante Parker in the end zone, but the pass was deflected and intercepted, short-circuiting what was almost a solid start. The Dolphin cornerback had a handful of Parker's jersey on the play, prompting the Patriots to look for a flag that was never thrown. Thus, the tone for the start of the game was set and would continue through the end.
The defense also hurt themselves on their own first drive with an offsides penalty by Carl Davis on a fourth down that gave Miami a new first down without even having to attempt a play. However, the Patriots D would bounce back, getting a tackle-for-loss by Adrian Phillips and then a forced fumble from Deatrich Wise that held the Dolphins to a field goal on their opening drive.
But things would get worse for the offense on their third possession with a free rusher delivering a shot to Mac Jones that forced a fumble which Miami recovered for a touchdown. That extended their lead to 10-0 as the Dolphins took control of the game. Protection issues were a problem for much of the summer and they carried over into the season, putting New England into an early double-digit hole.
Defense allows late-half dagger
With the Patriots hanging by a thread, down 10-0 with the end of the first half fast approaching, the defense allowed a 10-play, 92-yard touchdown scoring drive that extended the lead to 17-0 at halftime, the same deficit they faced in last year's regular-season finale.
The score came on a fourth-down attempt, as Tua Tagovailoa delivered the pass to Jaylen Waddle who then split the Patriots defenders for the score, a 42-yard strike that put an exclamation point on a half that Miami dominated.
While some of the early miscues might've been expected, the poor display of situational football was another nail in the Patriots coffin on the day and it came at a time when the competitiveness of the game was hanging in the balance.
Second-half signs of life
After a disastrous first half, the Patriots turned things around in the third quarter, forcing a punt initially and then putting together a 15-play, 92-yard drive that Mac finished off with a checkdown touchdown to Ty Montgomery who rolled into the end zone for the first points of the season.
It looked like the drive would fall short on 4th-and-1, but an illegal contact penalty kept it going, as the Patriots caught some second-half breaks as well.
The offense's balance and use of quickened pace helped open some things up, with Jonnu Smith getting involved while Jakobi Meyers continues to be money in the bank when targeted. Overall the Patriots simplified offense translated to limited personnel package use, essentially they simply swapped between Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith as they stayed in 11 and 12 personnel groupings.
The defense gave up just a field goal in the second half, as they corrected some things from the first half and forced enough punts to give the team a chance to get back into it. But the offense couldn't do their part, stalling out near midfield in the fourth quarter as they looked to close it to a one-score game. Then, Nelson Agholor's fumble with under five minutes to go was the final nail in the coffin.
While mistakes hurt the Patriots in the first half, they executed better in the second half on both sides of the ball, but the lack of explosiveness and clutch plays by the offense continue to hamper the attack.
Patriots are 0-1
Despite a full offseason and a number of changes across the staff and roster, Sunday's opening loss looked a lot like one of the Patriots losses from 2021... self-inflicted mistakes, bad situational football and not enough game-changing plays to make a difference. Turnovers played arguably the biggest role of all.
What would it have looked like if the Patriots could've played a cleaner game, especially without the giveaways? That's what they'll be looking for next week in Pittsburgh.
Yes, it's only Week 1 and there's a long road to go, but any optimism that an uneven summer was an illusion has now fallen by the wayside. There's a lot of work to be done if the Patriots are to get back on track and start beating good football teams again.