The Patriots and Dolphins went back and forth in a key AFC East divisional game with major playoff implications as the Pats pulled away in the second half, securing a season-saving 23-21 victory.
The first half saw both teams score a touchdown before the defenses began to step up the pass rush pressure, which held both offenses in check en route to a 7-7 halftime tie. With the Patriots offense going three-and-out on the first two possessions, Miami took advantage of field position and pulled ahead 14-7 in the third quarter.
That's when the Patriots defense did what they do best, producing takeaways and points as two third-quarter interceptions, including a pick-six by Kyle Dugger, opened the door for New England to pull away despite another stagnant offensive day, though the offense would put together a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to finally put them ahead for good, their second of just two on the day.
Here are six key takeaways from the big win that keeps the Patriots' playoff hopes alive heading into the final week of the regular season!
Good start by NE
The Patriots picked up an early 7-0 lead after forcing a Dolphins punt on their initial possession and followed it with a 10-play, 67-yard touchdown scoring drive. It was a good start thanks in part due to penalties and bad decisions by Miami, who had two third-down penalties that resulted in conversions for the Pats.
Another pass to Tyreek Hill that was ruled out of bounds likely would've been overturned and ruled a good catch if Miami had challenged the play but they did not. Miami also dodged a bullet when Jabrill Peppers forced a fumble that was ruled dead due to forward progress being stopped. That play was in significant contrast to last week when Rhamondre Stevenson was not ruled down due to forward progress well after being stopped and the fumble counted. The disparity was striking from that play to this one and Miami maintained possession.
The story of the drive otherwise was Tyquan Thornton, who recovered from a drop on a deep pass last week against the Bengals and chipped in a big 24-yard catch on the drive then finished it off by grabbing a seven-yard touchdown to give the Pats a 7-0 lead.
While the Patriots did get two third-down conversions thanks to penalties, they converted the last one on their own, scoring a rare touchdown in the red zone on a pivotal third-and-six. They've been the lowest-ranked team in the red zone in the NFL this season and showed some good play design from the coaches and execution by Mac Jones. It was just the second time this season they've scored a touchdown on their opening possession with the first coming against Minnesota.
After taking the 7-0 lead, New England's defense allowed a 13-play, 75-yard drive that took over seven minutes and ended with a two-yard touchdown rush by Tyreek Hill that tied the game up in the second quarter.
The drive came with an interesting sequence that began with the Dolphins lining up to go for it on fourth-and-one from their own 41. They'd false start though and decide to punt it away, but Brenden Schooler's running into the kicker penalty on the punt made it fourth-and-one again, so Miami again decided to take advantage of the renewed opportunity and go for it. This time they'd convert for a first down and continue their way on to the end zone.
New England missed a golden opportunity to get off the field and paid the price for it. The game would settle in for the rest of the first half without any scoring, as the two team's pass rush helped stunt the opposition. Carl Davis stood out just before half with New England's first sack of the day to help the Patriots hold off a lead-taking Miami scoring drive.
The Pats would counter with a nine-play, 51-yard drive of their own, with another big play to rookie Tyquan Thornton serving as the biggest highlight, a 29-yard catch on a critical third-and-five. A 49-yard Nick Folk field goal made it 14-10.
Miami breaks through
The game became a back-and-forth punt-fest with one Dolphins missed field goal mixed in as the first half progressed, the 7-7 tie lasted well into the third quarter. The Patriots had two three-and-outs to start the second half and the second resulted in Miami getting a starting field position on New England's 41-yard line to set up their second score of the game.
They'd instantly strike big, hitting Jaylen Waddle for a 23-yard pass on the first play that looked a lot like the touchdown Waddle scored just before halftime in Week 1. This time solid tackling prevented the score, but just four plays later Teddy Bridgewater would flip a short touchdown pass to Raheem Mostert to give Miami a 14-7 lead in the third quarter.
It was a five-play, 41-yard drive after New England had forced two-straight punts on defense. But with the Pats offense mustering just seven total yards on the first two drives of the second half, it wasn't enough to hold off Miami.
Dugger gets the turnovers rolling
With the game hanging in the balance in the third quarter, Kyle Dugger came through for the defense with another huge play, picking off Bridgewater and taking it back to the house for a game-changing score. It was a record-setting play for the Patriots in multiple ways, four-straight games with a defensive score, a third score on the season for Dugger which was the first time that's happened since 1970 for a Patriot defender, as well as the team's seventh defensive score of the year.
The pick-six made it 16-14 Patriots with Nick Folk missing the extra point, as the momentum suddenly flipped sidelines. With the offense struggling to move the ball, the 2022 Patriots did what the 2022 Patriots have done all season, get much-needed points from alternative methods.
Now in his third season, Dugger has continued to build on a breakout season that has seen him making more and more impact plays, none bigger or more needed than this one.
Jonathan Jones would keep the pick party rolling on the next Miami possession with Skylar Thompson entering the game after Bridgewater suffered a finger injury. Facing a third down play, Tyreek Hill bobbled the pass and it bounced into Jones' waiting hands. He tapped both feet down and picked up the Patriots second-straight takeaway as the game began to shift more and more in New England's direction, something compounded by Miami's move to their third-string quarterback.
Pats close it out
Leading 16-14 the Patriots offense strung together their first touchdown-scoring drive since their first drive of the game, putting the contest away with a final score that iced it. After being haunted by mistakes at the end of games, Mac Jones and the offense made sure they rewrote the script of the last two games, orchestrating an 11-play, 89-yard drive that did need some help from a pass interference penalty that accounted for 22 yards.
Jakobi Meyers was a beast on the drive, securing a big third-down conversion, drawing the pass interference penalty, then finishing things off with a third-down touchdown catch.
The Patriots defense had to make two final stops to secure the victory, with an unfortunate injury to Jonathan Jones striking late before Miami tacked on a final score with 1:04 left to make it 23-21. The game came down to a final onsides kick which was recovered by Hunter Henry to finally seal the win.
Patriots are 8-8, playoff hopes still alive
With the win the Patriots even their season record at 8-8 and keep their playoff hopes alive heading into the final game of the season, a road trip to Buffalo to face the Bills.
Challenged with a collection of backups in key spots for the Dolphins, the Patriots were able to do enough in all three phases, pulling away in the second half thanks to a big boost from multiple defensive takeaways when they were most needed. The performance didn't flip the script on what we've come to know about the 2022 team but reinforced this team's formula for victory... a good start, limited mistakes and a clutch, devastating-mistake-free finish were once again enough to get the Patriots a victory.
Now everything is on the line next week against the Bills in Buffalo, a spot where the Patriots stole a windy victory last season but were overmatched in the playoff rematch. That lone win was the only victory by the Patriots in their last six matchups against Buffalo as New England will have to flip the recent script if they're to punch their playoff tickets.
But with something to play for in the final regular season the 2022 Patriots have at least made things interesting until the end.