MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Several times this season, the Patriots have pulled out remarkable wins in games that they really should have lost. Sunday in South Florida, however, felt much more like a missed opportunity. The Patriots mostly out-played the Dolphins, with the exception of a momentum shift in the end of the first half and all third quarter, before mounting another comeback late in the fourth.
This time it wasn't enough, as the defense couldn't hold onto the lead.
The Patriots had an opportunity not only to win the AFC East with a victory over the Dolphins, but also lay claim to the top seed in the AFC Playoffs by virtue of Denver's loss last Thursday night. However, New England's latest comeback effort, though valiant, came up painfully short in the shadow of the Miami end zone.
"It's all pretty disappointing," Mankins continued. "You feel like you had enough chances to win the game – and not just that last drive, but throughout the game. We had multiple chances in the red area and just couldn't get enough touchdowns. It was just one of those days when they'd stop you or you stopped yourself. I kind of felt like we were stopping ourselves today."
"We didn't make enough plays to win the game," a clearly dejected defensive end/co-captain Rob Ninkovich stressed. "It all comes down to execution, and making key stops in key situations of the game, and we just didn't do that. That's reasons for losing. We knew what was on the line… We didn't deserve to win if we didn't make the plays to win."
The game was almost won by New England, though, when wide receiver Danny Amendola got his hands on a pass in the end zone with under a minute to play. But the Dolphins defender knocked it loose. Amendola was left shaking his head at his locker inside Sun Life Stadium later.
"I'd like to have that one, yeah," he admitted. "Game's on the line.
"That was a goal of ours," he said of the missed chance to clinch the division title. "Bottom line is we wanted to win this game. Gotta watch film, get better, and prepare for next week. That's all you can do."
Other observations from Sun Life Stadium Sunday afternoon:
…New England got off to a decent start on their first possession, driving deep into the Dolphins red zone before settling for a field goal. However, it was encouraging to see the offense, which has struggled to put points on the board early, at least move the ball and come up with three to begin the contest. It was the first time the Patriots scored on their opening drive since the Jets game on Oct. 20.
…Special teams played a critical role in the first half. Both team's punters had nice kicks deep in the other side's territory, and Miami botched a field goal attempt when the snapper and holder weren't on the same page and the snap hit the holder in the facemask. New England recovered and took over possession. Stephen Gostkowski then missed a rare field goal attempt on the first drive of the second half. Then, right after the Patriots reclaimed the lead late in the 4th, Gostkowski drew a penalty for sending his kickoff out of bounds, giving the Dolphins the ball at their own 40-yard line. That costly kick wound up helping the Dolphins engineer their game-winning touchdown drive.
…CB Kyle Arrington went out of the game with what looked like a cramp after the Patriots took a 10-0 lead just before the half. He was replaced by Marquice Cole, and on the very next play, Tannehill threw to Cole's man, Mike Wallace, who fought through two poor tackling efforts by Cole and a trailing safety Steve Gregory to race for a touchdown that took the wind out of New England's sails just when they looked like they'd built a nice cushion going into halftime. Overall, the Patriots secondary's tackling efforts left much to be desired.
…Rookie WR Josh Boyce made some nice catches against the Dolphins, but also dropped a couple passes he shouldn't have.
…Michael Hoomanawanui's return from a left knee injury was a triumphant one with his amazing, one-handed touchdown catch at the end of the 1st half. He said later, though, that he would gladly have traded the play for a Patriots win.