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Game Observations: Dolphins run Pats out of postseason contention

2020-GameObservations-pdc-wk-15

In a battle of injury-decimated AFC East teams, the Patriots couldn't solve the Miami rushing attack, allowing 250 yards on the ground, and couldn't find the end zone for a second-straight week, losing their eighth game of the season and putting an end to their playoff hopes for 2020. It was a disappointing ending for the Patriots, allowing a season-high in ground yardage and showing many of the same issues that were exposed last week against the Rams.

The Pats did get some complementary play from their defense, who got a score-saving interception, and their special teams, who chipped in with field position plays and went four-for-four in field goals, but could not produce enough offense to put Miami in a deficit that would've taken them out of their gameplan.

Instead, Miami just kept running all over the Patriots, all the way to a much-needed victory, putting up double-digit drives four times in the game, as they had the kind of consistency the Pats could not find with their offense.

Here's everything that stood out in a season-defining road loss.

- Last week, the Patriots got a rough start from their defense, this week their offense was up first and produced -3 yards on their first possession with an incompletion to fullback Jakob Johnson, an option that was pitched to Sony Michel and a wide receiver screen to Damiere Byrd. The defense would be better though, forcing a three-and-out with a good third-down tackle by Shilique Calhoun that held Patrick Laird just short of the sticks. Calhoun had a good start to the season and had been missed in recent weeks

Personnel notes...Justin Herron started at left tackle in place of Jermaine Eluemunor...He was joined by rookies Devin Asiasi and Michael Onewenu as starters...Tashaun Bower saw time as a starter on early downs...Ja'Whaun Bentley headed to the locker room in the second quarter with an arm injury...Dalton Keene appeared to rotate in with Asasi...Stephon Gilmore would leave the game in the second quarter with a knee injury...J.J. Taylor would enter the game in the third quarter...David Andrews would be replaced by James Ferentz in the fourth quarter.

- The second offensive possession saw a nice catch-and-run by Jakobi Meyers (11 yards) and a hard run up the middle by Sony Michael for 16 yards, but they'd flame out again, with a dropped pass by Devin Asiasi prevented what might've been another nice gain. As they've done for most of the season, the special teams gave the team a boost, downing Jake Bailey's punt on the two-yard line. It was a great play by Matthew Slater to prevent the touchback.

- The poor field position wouldn't stop the Dolphins as they put together their best drive of the game, methodically going down the field and facing just two third downs as they got all the way to the Patriots' three-yard line. On a key third-and-goal, Chase Winovich hit Tagovailoa just as he threw the ball and J.C. Jackson picked up his eighth interception of the year, ending the 15-play, nine-minute drive with zero points for Miami. It was a classic bend-don't-break drive, but the inability to stop the run continued to be a concern as it has been most of the season, especially last week against the Rams.

- As has often been the case this season, the spark provided from the defense, helped get the offense going and they'd put up a 12-play, 69-yard drive after the interception. Nick Folk made his 22nd-straight field goal, this one from 45 yards, to give the Pats the 3-0 lead. Sony Michel's 17-yard run was the longest play of the drive, as the rest were all eight yards or less and they'd fail to convert the only third down they'd face on the drive. It was nothing flashy or explosive, just an effective drive that broke the scoreless tie.

- Adrian Phillips would deliver a big sack to start the next Miami possession, which was then compounded by a false start. They couldn't escape the hole and would be forced into a quick three-and-out. It was a nice bounce-back drive for the Patriots defense as the success on first down took away Miami's ability to ride the run like they did previously.

- The Patriots offense would get rolling again, with a 21-yard third-down checkdown to James White standing out as the biggest play of the next drive, along with a 12-yard catch by N'Keal Harry. They'd dodge a bullet though when Cam Newton scrambled and fumbled on a third down in Dolphins territory. It was scooped and taken to the house, for what looked like a go-ahead touchdown, but after further review, the ball was ruled down where the Miami defender touched it while being out of bounds. It was a fortuitous turn of events for the Pats, who would then go ahead and add a 36-yard Nick Folk field goal to extend the lead to 6-0.

- Stephon Gilmore was injured on the next drive, going down after sliding to the turf and holding his knee. He was helped off the field and normally this would be a catastrophic injury at this point in the season when the Patriots were gearing up for a playoff run, but at this point, the number one concern is Gilmore and his health for the future. Entering the final year of his deal a significant injury would complicate things significantly.

- The Dolphins would keep pushing after the Gilmore injury, going for it on fourth down with just ten seconds left before halftime and getting a timely conversion that set up a field goal attempt from 52 yards out, Miami would miss the attempt, keeping the score at 6-0 going into the half. It was a good stand by the Pats defense but still an 11-play drive by Miami that saw them convert two third downs and one fourth down. Josh Uche's speed continues to pop off the screen, he's athletic in space and is starting to show up consistently.

- Miami would start the second half off with another strong, sustained drive. Luckily the Patriots didn't bite on a double reverse that looked like it was going to be a deep pass, instead, they held Miami to a short gain on the play. Unfortunately, the Miami drive would continue all the way to the end zone, having to convert just one third down that was only a single yard. Salvon Ahmed would take it in from a yard out for the first touchdown of the game, handing Miami a 7-6 lead. It was a nine-play, 72-yard scoring drive, and featured just one pass.

- It wouldn't take long after falling behind for things to get worse, as Jakobi Meyers fumbled after a 20-yard catch, giving the Dolphins back the ball near midfield. Meyers has been reliable this season but with Miami's ballhawking defense, this was the kind of mistake that they feed off of. Luckily, Jonathan Jones would draw a holding call two plays later that would set the Dolphins offense back 10 yards and ultimately set up a fourth-down situation. They'd attempt a fake punt and convert it for a first down before it was called back for two penalties as Kamu Grugier-Hill failed to report as eligible to the officials. The Patriots were dodging quite a few bullets in this game, with the Dolphins seemingly being on the verge of breaking the game open at a few different points, but hurting themselves with mistakes.

- Meyers would bounce back on the next drive, busting his coverage and making a 35-yard catch-and-run to get the Patriots in business on Miami's side of the field. He'd make another dynamic catch on third down that came up just short of the first down marker, setting up Nick Folk's third field goal of the game, this one from 45 yards that gave the Patriots back a 9-7 lead. The drive showed impressive mental toughness from the second-year receiver.

- The Patriots run defense continued to struggle to contain Miami's ground attack, as Ahmed ripped off a 31-yard gain around the right edge on the ensuing drive. It looked like Chase Winovich had gotten pinned inside on the play as Miami continued one of their best rushing games of the season despite being shorthanded. It was even more apparent when the Dolphins converted a third-and-8 with a draw on the drive. The Patriots would take a Too Many Men penalty coming out of the break, with 12 defenders on the field, before Tua would take it in for a touchdown a few plays later, their second-straight long touchdown drive. Miami would convert the two-point conversion with a hook-and-ladder as they reached into their bag of tricks to take back the lead, 15-9.

- Damiere Byrd's catch on third-and-15 was a big one to keep the Patriots ensuing drive going, Byrd would pick up 24 yards on the play. Byrd and Meyers continued to chip in with significant plays, while Sony Michel ran hard in his first expanded action since September, but the Patriots just couldn't seem to find any consistency or rhythm on offense despite some bright spots scattered over the course of the game. The offense couldn't get another third-down conversion though, settling for a fourth Folk field goal that made it 15-12 with just under nine minutes to go in the game.

- Down just three points, the Patriots defense couldn't find any answers to get a fourth-quarter stop, watching the Dolphins reel off big rushing plays, highlighted by a 24-yard gain by Matt Breida. The Dolphins would score after another double-digit play drive and make it a 22-12 game with just over three minutes left in the game.

The Patriots would mount a final drive that flamed out, giving the Dolphins the deserved win and keep their playoff hopes alive, while sending the Patriots to 6-8 and out of playoff contention.

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