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Game Observations: Shocking Dolphins loss costs Patriots playoff bye week

It was a disappointing end to the Patriots 2019 regular season, as they came out flat and blew a late lead, losing 27-24 to the Dolphins.


It was a disappointing end to the Patriots 2019 regular season, as they came out flat and blew a late lead, losing 27-24 to the Dolphins. The loss, plus a win by the Chiefs, means that New England falls to the third seed in the AFC and will be playing on Wild Card Weekend for the first time since the 2009 season.

After a week spent hyping this as a playoff game, the Patriots had as bad of a start as they've had all season long and couldn't find any consistency in the game, a recurring theme this season. They watched the Dolphins jump out to a 10-0 lead, but would claw their way back in with some solid work by the ground game and a 50-yard pass to Phillip Dorsett. After Miami retook the lead at 17-10, Tom Brady would find fill-in fullback Elandon Roberts for a 38-yard touchdown that again tied the game.

The Dolphins would again take the lead midway through the fourth quarter on a 32-yard field goal. Down 20-17, the Patriots would put together an eight-play, 60-yard touchdown-scoring drive to take their first lead of the game. But the defense could not hold it, giving up a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown-scoring drive that won the game for the Dolphins.

Here's everything that stood out during an unfortunate end to the regular season for the 12-4 Patriots.

-The Patriots expected the Dolphins to be aggressive on special teams and that played out immediately on the first drive, as the Dolphins put their punt team out but then had punter Matt Haack line up at quarterback and attempt a downfield pass that fell incomplete. Matthew Slater was in coverage as the Patriots were prepared and didn't burn a timeout.

-Julian Edelman only came on the field for the Patriots first third down of the game, as it appeared the team was going to manage his snaps a bit, but that went out the window after the offense sputtered and Edelman was back out there for every snap. Still, Edelman was ineffective, finishing with just three catches for 26 yards.

-Miami played loose in the first quarter, moving the ball with downfield with two plays of 28 and 21 yards to DeVante Parker while Stephon Gilmore was in coverage on him. Their second drive of the game went 12-plays, 80 yards as they had surprising success. New England's defense would hold at their nine-yard-line and force a field goal that opened the scoring with a 3-0 Miami lead.

-For all the talk of this being a playoff game for the Patriots this week, they came out flat, with the offense struggling to reproduce any the rhythm of last week's game against the Bills. Fitzpatrick completed seven-of-eight passes for 91 yards while Brady was just two-of-four for 10 yards in the opening quarter. Brady was uncharacteristically off despite the pass protection being solid for much of the game.

-After punting to open the second quarter, Matthew Slater made another impact special teams play, keeping the ball out of the end zone, while Justin Bethel downed it at the Dolphins four-yard-line. These kind of plays have been a key feature of the 2019 Patriots this season and it was a nice boost after the offense couldn't move the ball on their first two drives, pinning the Dolphins deep.

-The Patriots defense would force a punt after a nice third-down pass defensed by Gilmore on Parker that prevented another big gain, but New England's slow start would go from bad to worse. After a Mohamed Sanu drop, Brady would throw a pick-six that extended Miami's lead to 10-0. It was Brady's first pick six since 2017 and his first ever against the Dolphins as former Patriot Eric Rowe took it into the end zone.

-Sony Michel would finally bring a spark to the offense with 25 total yards on three-straight carries, before Rex Burkhead came in and picked up 14 on the next down. With Brady and the passing game out of sorts, the ground game started to get things rolling. But the drive flamed out at the Dolphins seven-yard-line with back-to-back incompletions to Harry and Sanu. They'd settle for a 25-yard Nick Folk field goal. Harry was hurt on his target in the end zone after coming down hard but would return.

-After a Miami three-and-out, Brady found Phillip Dorsett for a 50-yard downfield pass before halftime and Sony Michel would finish it off a couple plays later from four yards out, tying the game. Despite the sputtering start by the offense, an explosive play quickly changed the tenor of the game. With back-to-back scoring drives the Patriots showed good resiliency, but it was still troubling to see as bad a start as we've seen from the 2019 Pats. The ending would be worse.

-Most telling though was the Patriots approach to getting the ball back with three timeouts and over a minute left before the half -- two-straight running plays and no timeouts called as the clock expired. It seemed like the coaches were conceding a poor half of offensive football. Brady had a 34.0 first-half passer rating.

-The offensive problems continued into the second half as the Patriots opened with another three-and-out as Mohamed Sanu was stopped well short on a third-down reception. Sanu just can't seem to get going in the Patriots offense despite getting numerous opportunities in critical spots. Sanu would make a couple plays later in the game.

-The Dolphins tricks continued on their first drive of the second half, using a double-pass screen that might've scored had Dont'a Hightower not blown it up. Hightower was the only player who could've made the play as a convoy of blockers descended on him, but he was able to get free and get the stop. But Fitzpatrick would take it in himself a few plays later as the Dolphins jumped back in front 17-10. It was a nine-play, 82-yard touchdown-scoring drive with a lot on the line for the Patriots defense.

-The Patriots would tie the game back up with Brady finding linebacker/fullback/special teamer/captain Elandon Roberts on a wheel route up the sideline for a 38-yard touchdown. Roberts had been wide open on a previous play and Brady went back to him with the team in critical need of a big play. After upping his fullback reps last week, Roberts took it to a new level in this game with a huge, game-changing play. He was Brady's 77th different touchdown target and the score would move Brady past Peyton Manning and into second place all time with his 540th touchdown pass.

-After trading punts, the Dolphins would again take the lead on a 32-yard field goal after a nine-play, 49-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter. It was a nice hold by the Patriots defense, but a long drive to an offense playing their final quarter of the season was not a reassuring sign and would prove even more fatal on the final drive of the game.

-Brandon Bolden hasn't been a dangerous kickoff returner this season but gave the Patriots a nice boost with his return after the Dolphins went up 20-17, setting the offense up on their 40 to start the drive. They'd get down inside the red zone, with Sanu coming through with his second third-down conversion of the half with a big 22-yard catch. James White would finish things off, taking a screen pass into the end zone to put the Patriots up 24-20.

-The Dolphins wouldn't go away though, putting together an impressive final drive through the air to get all the way into Patriots territory. After 13 plays, Miami got into the end zone and retook the lead with 24 seconds left. It was a methodical drive in crunch time. The offense has had their struggles all season, but to see the defense give up the game-winning drive with so much on the line was a major disappointment, especially when it was the supposed strength of the team this year.

The Patriots end the year 12-4 and will now face the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card Round, date and time is TBA. It's hard to recall a more disappointing end to a regular season, with a bye there for the taking with a win against a four-win team. They'll now lose a vital weekend of rest and immediately have to face a tough Titans team that beat them last year and has all the necessary pieces to do it again. After seeing what the Dolphins did, Mike Vrabel's squad should feel confident they have the pieces to do the same thing.

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