BOSTON (AP) _ The New England Patriots believed they needed to get better despite rolling to a 12-1 record.
Now they need to get smarter.
Two ill-advised plays by two of their best players quarterback Tom Brady and safety Rodney Harrison led to a stunning 29-28 loss to the struggling Miami Dolphins, who trailed by 11 points with three minutes left Monday night.
We didn't get outmatched physically,'' defensive end Richard Seymour said Tuesday on WEEI-AM.I just think, mentally, we didn't do a good enough job of being in the right places at the right time.''
Despite the loss to the 3-11 Dolphins, just the Patriots' second defeat in 29 games, New England can clinch a first-round playoff bye with a win Sunday at the New York Jets. The Patriots will begin practicing for the game on Wednesday after coach Bill Belichick gave them Tuesday off.
The Patriots have clinched the AFC East title but won't have home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs if Pittsburgh wins one of its two remaining games.
It would have been much easier had they shown the poise and intelligence that helped them win two Super Bowls and 21 straight games before losing to Pittsburgh on Oct. 31. They won their next six games, wrapping up the streak with a 35-28 win over Cincinnati last weekend.
``We are going to need to play a lot better,'' Brady said after that victory gave the Patriots a 12-1 record.
Trailing 28-17 on Monday night, Miami had a second-and-3 at the New England 19-yard line with 2:21 left. A.J. Feeley threw to the back of the end zone where Harrison ran into Chris Chambers. The defensive pass interference penalty put the ball at the 1, and Sammy Morris scored on the next play, making it 28-23.
Harrison argued, but replays show he interfered with Chambers.
Whether it was a good call or a bad call, I should have been in a better position,'' Harrison said on WEEI.That play will stick in my mind'' until the next game.
The Patriots got the ball back with 2:07 left but didn't keep it very long. After an incompletion and a 1-yard run by Corey Dillon, Brady flipped a short pass under pressure from Jason Taylor. It was picked off by Brendon Ayanbadejo, who returned it to the New England 21.
Had Brady taken the sack, the Patriots could have punted and forced the Dolphins to drive more than half the field. Instead, on fourth-and-10 at the 21, Feeley hit Derrius Thompson for the go-ahead touchdown.
``If those come up again, you just try to make a better decision,'' Brady told the radio station.
A similar play came up eight days earlier when Brady tripped after taking the snap and. While sitting on the ground, he completed a 7-yard pass in the third quarter against Cincinnati.
I don't want to do that too often,'' he said after that game.The percentages are against you on plays like that.''
Against Miami, Brady's pass went off target because he was hit as he threw.
Even Dolphins coach Jim Bates was surprised that Brady put the ball up for grabs.
That's one thing Tom Brady doesn't do,'' Bates said Tuesday.When he's pressured, he'll take a sack. And his decision-making is probably the best in the NFL. For him to make a throw like he did when we had him under wraps is totally uncharacteristic.''
The Patriots and Brady have been so consistently strong that the impact of one loss can be magnified. Brady did match his career high of four interceptions, but also threw three touchdown passes, and the Patriots scored first for a league-record 19th straight game.
Everyone's so used to winning that it's kind of a shell shock when we lose,'' Harrison told WEEI.Any time you lose a disappointing game like this, you're ready to get back on the field, probably the next day.
``We're going to be excited about getting the bitter taste out of our mouth.''