The Patriots' loss to the Dolphins was highlighted by two big shortcomings -- the inability to stop the run or finish drives with touchdowns. New England allowed a season-high 250 yards on the ground, the majority of which came in the second half as Miami put the game away with two extended drives that both saw explosive runs.
Offensively, the Patriots had some success moving the ball and managed enough offense to keep themselves in the game, but ultimately not getting into the end zone for a second-straight week and the defense's inability to get off the field, keeping them from ever getting control of the game. Miami held the ball for 20 of the final 30 minutes and never allowed the Patriots offense to get closer than the Dolphins 18-yard line.
Add it all up and Miami earned the win in crunch time, while New England faded down the stretch and saw their playoff dreams squashed.
Here's what stood out after reviewing the television copy for a second time.
Enel Powerful Play of the Game: J.C. gets interception number eight
After a first possession three-and-out, the Dolphins found their stride on the second drive and showed how they'd attack the Patriots defense for the rest of the contest. Aside from two catches by Adam Shaheen for 15 yards each, it wasn't an explosive drive, just one that picked up positive yardage on every down and faced just a single third down that was only one yard long.
By the time the Dolphins got down to the Patriots' two-yard line, it felt like things were unfolding too much like they had against the Rams, with New England just unable to ever get Miami behind the sticks. The Patriots defense has settled in as far their personnel was concerned, with a set group of run stoppers and a set group of pass defenders. The problem was that the run stoppers couldn't make enough plays to allow the pass defenders to make an impact throughout the game. New England had just two tackles-for-loss in the entire game.
However, this play was the exception, with the Pats putting their pass rush front in and Chase Winovich winning his one-on-one matchup with the right tackle, forcing a hurried and ill-advised throw by Tua Tagolvailoa. J.C. Jackson was patient in letting the bunch formation sort itself out, before finding his man and exploding toward him, arriving in the perfect spot just as the ball did as well.
It was Jackson's eighth interception of the game and the kind of play the Patriots have needed all season long to maintain their brand of complementary brand of football. Despite Miami's long drive, the interception was a brief glimpse of hope that the defense would be able to force enough mistakes to keep the team in the game. Unfortunately, that hope was short-lived.
Still, Jackson's big play was enough to be this week's Enel Powerful Play of the Game. A restricted free agent this offseason, Jackson should be back in the mix in 2021 after a breakout season that has him just one interception off the league lead.
Scoop six called back
Despite failing to score a touchdown for the second-straight week, the Patriots offense had success moving the ball between the 20-yard lines. Hard running by Sony Michel and underneath crossing patterns to Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd and N'Keal Harry were all productive. But as they closed in on the red zone, the sledding got tougher.
With the first half winding down and the Patriots up 3-0, they were eyeing a chance to go up by two scores. After a QB draw for two yards, then an incomplete deep shot, Newton was forced to scramble on third-and-8 as Miami took away the crossers that had been effective. Newton broke the pocket and headed for the right sideline, where he was met by Byron Jones, who alertly knocked the ball out of Newton's hand. Xavien Howard was on the spot, picked it up and appeared to have himself a scoop-six before the play was reviewed and overturned due to a fortuitous bounce off a Miami defender while he had one foot out of bounds.
The Patriots would settle for a field goal and 6-0 lead that they'd take into halftime but this missed opportunity would set the stage for a dominant second half by the Dolphins. Even when the 2020 Patriots are moving the ball, it remains a fine line between success and failure, with situation and scheme required to make up for shortcomings.
This was a bullet dodged, but really it was just a sign of how perilous the Patriots required road to victory is.
Miami sets the tone to start the third quarter
Down 6-0, the Dolphins came out of the locker room at halftime and recaptured the magic of their early 15-play drive, but this time it would take them just nine plays to go 72 yards, aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty. Similar to their performance against the Rams, the Patriots defense just couldn't make any plays in the backfield, giving the back time to see the hole develop and pick up solid yardage on every carry.
The Dolphins specifically looked to attack the edges of the defense, where the Patriots struggled with contain once again. The loss of Ja'Whaun Bentley to injury didn't help matters, as Anfernee Jennings was inserted alongside Terez Hall as the off-the-ball linebackers in the middle.
It's hard to get past the Patriots defense's performance against the run in this game. To allow a season-high in rushing yardage to a lowly-ranked and undermanned backfield like Miami's was particularly tough to swallow. All year long the team has relied heavily on Lawrence Guy, who continues to be one of the only consistent front seven forces. Offenses have had no problem running away from Guy and exploiting the inexperience on the edges of the defense.
Another big part of the problem has been the tackling and yards-after-contact, where it seems like teams are picking up an extra yard or two on most of their carries. For a defense that has long prided themselves on being sound tacklers and winning the line of scrimmage, the 2020 Patriots have only had a couple of games this season with those kinds of solid performances. The last two weeks have been the antithesis of them.
Meyers for 35
Jakobi Meyers has been one of the few bright spots on offense this season and he'd break 100 yards for the second time this season against the Dolphins. It wasn't a totally clean game for Meyers though with a tough third-quarter fumble that kept the second-half momentum firmly in the Dolphins' favor. It was a tough play for Meyers, with the ball thrown behind him on a crosser that never really gave him a chance to secure the catch.
But credit to the defense for getting a quick-change stop on the Miami drive that started in New England territory, and credit to Meyers for bouncing back with his biggest play of the game on the Patriots' next possession.
This was one of the rare plays where everything happened on time and it resulted in the Patriots' best offensive play of the game, with Newton throwing in rhythm to Meyers on a quick slant. Most impressive was Meyers' ability in the open field to pick up extra yards. This has been largely missing this season and Meyers made a strong cut, along with a strong finish that allowed him to pick up an extra 10 yards after contact.
It was a glimpse into how big plays can happen when everything is working together. It's less about separation and elite athletic skills and more about simply executing the offense. Though the drive would flame out at the Miami 35-yard line, the Patriots would re-take the lead on the drive, 9-7. It would be their last lead of the game.
Relentless 4th quarter drives seal it for Miami
Down 9-7 with just over four minutes left in the third quarter, Miami would only get two more possessions in the game, but they were enough because the Patriots defense had no more answers for their attack. The final two drives went 14-plays, 90 yards, and 11-plays, 75 yards with both ending in touchdown scores that put the game away.
The featured piece was again the run game, as the Dolphins put up 175 rushing yards in the second half alone which would've been their fifth-highest game total this season.
The biggest play of the first drive was a 31-yard run by Salvon Ahmed which saw Chase Winovich pushed off of the edge. For those wondering why Winovich has ended up back in mostly a passing-down role, this was an example of the improvement the second-year player needs to make to be an every-down player.
The biggest play of the second drive was a 24-yard run by Matt Breida up the middle of the Patriots defense. Terez Hall and Shilique Calhoun were single blocked as Breida picked his way through the line untouched, exploding into the second level for the big gain. It was eight runs, just three passes as the Dolphins tacked on their final score of the game for the 10-point win.