The math is very simple at this late stage. If the Chargers beat the Raiders in Sunday Night Football, New England gets the fifth playoff seed in the AFC and travels to Cincinnati sometime next weekend. Should the Raiders upend the Chargers, the Patriots would drop to sixth place and have to face the Bills in Buffalo on Wild Card Weekend – a third meeting between the AFC East rivals in the past month.
Either way, the 10-7 Patriots must travel somewhere to start the upcoming postseason. Why? Because it doesn't matter the decade, the head coach, the quarterback, or even the records of the two teams – New England always seems to have difficulty winning games in Miami. Such was the case yet again in the 2021 regular season finale.
Two facts were clear before this latest Patriots-Dolphins clash kicked off: 1) New England already had a ticket punched for the playoffs, and 2) Miami had already been eliminated. How much, therefore, would the 'Phins put up a fight in this regular season finale?
It sure looked like the Tua Tagovailoa-led bunch was taking this game seriously on the opening drive, marching 77 yards in 13 methodical plays to take an early 7-0 lead. Then, Mac Jones helped double the Dolphins' lead with a pick-six on his first throw of the day.
The Patriots, of course, still had something meaningful at stake. A win could have gotten them as high as the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. Yet, they didn't show much urgency in the early going.
They finally started exhibiting signs of life after Miami took a 17-0 lead in the 2nd quarter. However, in what has become a troubling trend down the stretch, for the third time in the final four Patriots games, New England has been slow to get started.
Mac Jones on the day
Incompletions vs. MIA
|Total||Throwaways||Overthrows||Underthrows||Batted Passes||Drops||Passes Defensed||INT|
Incompletions in 2021
|Total||Throwaways||Overthrows||Underthrows||Batted Passes||Drops||Passes Defensed7||INT|
On the Jones INT, it looked like veteran Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard read the Patriots' 3rd-and-1 pass play perfectly when he allowed the receiver he was covering to continue running downfield as Howard jumped Jones' pass to another intended receiver. Howard stepped up and in front of the throw to intercept it before racing 37 yards for the score.
A second Jones miscue proved costly when he lost a fumble on a botched QB-center exchange as the Patriots were driving for a likely 3rd-quarter score in Dolphins territory. Soggy conditions may have contributed to the turnover (a steady rain began falling by the early 2nd quarter), but also Ted Karras having to move from left guard to center in place of David Andrews, who was on the sideline for a few plays having an equipment issue taken care of.
As has been the case in the two other recent losses over the past month, Jones helped give his team a spark in the late stages, but once again, it was too little too late to complete a comeback from double-digit deficits.
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New England made several uncharacteristic plays in this game – a Devin McCourty dropped INT, Brandon Bolden's helmet-to-helmet penalty on a Dolphins fake punt that otherwise would have come up short were two early ones.
In the second half, penalties on Deatrich Wise and Jalen Mills allowed Miami to extend an eventual touchdown drive on the Dolphins' first possession of the 3rd quarter. This, after New England managed to trim the Miami lead with a field goal to open the second half.
Then, another special teams miscue when Lawrence Guy committed an illegal formation penalty before a Dolphins punt on 4th-and-1, which gave Dolphins a new set of downs. That infraction wound up costing New England three points as Miami kicker Jason Sanders connected on a 49-yard field goal at the end of that extended drive.
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The regular season's over, but for at least another week, New England's season isn't. Which is why we need to pay close attention to several players who suffered injuries in this game.
Starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn had to leave early on with an ankle problem. Backup Justin Herron took his place. Rookie D-lineman Christian Barmore needed medical attention with less than two minutes left in the game. He appeared to suffer a right leg injury during Tagovailoa's 11-yard run that essentially sealed the victory for Miami.
Rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson missed a stretch in the middle of the game with what was announced by the team as a head injury (those are usually later confirmed as concussions). Even though he managed to come back into the game and contribute with some significant runs, his status this coming week in practice warrants monitoring for potential delayed side effects.
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Meanwhile, wide receiver Nelson Agholor saw his first game action since a concussion in Indy. Though he only caught one pass for 23 yards, he had a consequential impact when he caused the Dolphins to commit a PI penalty in the end zone. This led directly to Damien Harris' 1-yard TD plunge that cut the Miami lead to a field goal with less than three minutes to play.
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On both of New England's rushing TDs, fullback Jakob Johnson threw important initial blocks to open up lanes for Bolden and Harris on their respective scoring plays.
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Powerful Play/Player of the Game presented by Enel
Brandon Bolden. The veteran running back scored two TDs, one on the ground, another through the air. His 66 combined yards from scrimmage were one of the main reasons New England had a chance to mount a comeback in this otherwise out-of-reach loss.