In an amazing comeback that had fans reminiscing of the not-too-distant past, the Patriots briefly kept their playoff hopes alive with a 27-24 overtime win over the Miami Dolphins. But it was all for naught as the afternoon wound down.
With the Jets win over the Packers, the Patriots hopes of taking the AFC East were dashed. The earlier Cleveland win also destroyed any wild card possibility.
Despite giving up 185 yards on the ground to Ricky Williams and Tom Brady having a so-so game, the New England defense held Miami to three points in the second half while the offense did what it had to do, rallying from a 21-7 deficit.
When Ken Walter laid into a beautiful punt, pinning the Dolphins at their own 2-yard line to begin their second possession of the game, the fans and the defense rose to the occasion. Williams was dumped for a yard loss, just escaping a safety, on first down. On third down, Milloy nearly had a deflected pass for an interception but in shifting the ball to his outside arm, he lost the grip before establishing possession and the play was ruled incomplete.
Still, Miami was forced to punt from its own end zone and the Patriots took over on the Dolphins 39. After Brady hit Patten for 6 yards he kept the ball on second down. Adelwale Ogunleye hit Brady and the ball popped loose. Zach Thomas scooped it up for a 22-yard return and the game's first opportunity for New England was thwarted by the turnover.
That missed chance proved costly as Miami wound up on the scoreboard first, two series later. Starting at its own 36, Miami ran a reverse to Chris Cambers – a play they had run earlier as well – for a huge gain of 45 yards. Two plays later Williams ran it in from 8 yards out and the Dolphins had a 7-0 lead inside of four minutes in the first quarter.
Miami added to that lead when Williams straight-armed his way around Victor Green from 14 yards out to cap off a 9-play drive that spanned 87 yards. On the drive, Williams had 55 of those yards.
Down by 14, New England needed something good to happen and it did when they decided to feature Kevin Faulk on its next drive. Running for 34 yards on four attempts and catching for another 23, Faulk helped his team down to the Miami 11 where Antowain Smith finished the drive with an 11-yard scoring run.
All that work was quickly negated when Miami took over with little more than two minutes left in the half and managed to move the ball 76 yards in around a minute. The two big plays were a 30-yard draw play to Williams and a 33-yard touchdown pass from Fiedler to James McKnight who beat two Patriots defenders down the left sideline on the play.
With little more than a minute left, New England got some of those points back when Vinatieri nailed a 41-yard field goal. On the drive, the two Davids, Givens and Patten had grabs of 13 and 18 respectively. The half ended with the Patriots looking uphill at a 21-10 deficit.
After the Patriots went three and out to start the second half, Miami gave the Patriots a steady diet of Ricky Williams but despite his strong running, the Dolphins were held to a 47-yard field goal attempt which was missed by Olindo Mare on their first series.
New England continued to chip away at the lead with a 36-yard Vinatieri field goal. Miami's Derrick Rogers dragged down Smith by the grill for a big facemask call that helped the Patriots to the Dolphins 22 during the drive.
The defense certainly did its part, keeping Miami off the scoreboard during the entire second half until Brady, throwing from his own 27 to begin the Patriots fourth drive of the half, had his pass tipped and picked off by Brock Marion. That gave the Dolphins excellent field position but once on the Patriots 10, the drive stalled and the Patriots suffered minimal damage with a 28-yard Mare field goal.
Those three points, however, gave Miami a 24-13 lead with 4:59 left in the game. New England needed two scores and from the looks of things, Brady seemed to have some problem with his throwing arm, twice doubling over in pain after prior passes.
Beginning at his own 32, Brady played through the pain and went to work, completing passes to Patten for 4, 6 and 20, Edwards for 4 and Brown for 5 and the eventual 3-yard touchdown strike. New England received a big break when, on second and 10 from the 33, Jamar Fletcher was called for pass interference on David Givens. That was a 30-yard penalty and set up the touchdown pass. Now down by five, Brady rolled right on the two-point conversion try and found Fauria in the back of the end zone. The tight end leaped and made the catch.
New England was down by a field goal with 2:45 remaining and things got very interesting when the Patriots lined up for the onside kick but Vinatieri kicked long. The ball bounced on the goal line and instead of taking a knee in the end zone, Travis Minor picked it up and was summarily dumped on the 4-yard line.
Gillette Stadium came alive as Fiedler threw two incompletes on first and second down. On third and 10 he was chased out of the pocket and bought down on the 10. With 2:18 left, Miami punted.
As the momentum shifted the Patriots way, the pressure mounted on Miami. Mark Royals shanked a 23-yard punt and New England took over at the Miami 34. Smith carried on second down for 9 yards to bring the proceedings down to the two-minute warning and the ball to the 25. But a Smith no-gainer on third and 1 brought on fourth down. New England lined up as if to go for it but only to run more time off the clock. Brady called time out, Vinatieri came on to hit the 43-yarder and the game was tied at 24 with 1:09 left.
The fired up Patriots defense sacked Fiedler for a loss of 6 from his own 12-yard line. Williams ran for 10 and then was dumped for a loss of 2. Once again the defense rose up and the game headed to overtime.
Not only did the Patriots win the coin toss, Mare miss-hit the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, a penalty that set the Patriots up at their own 40.
After an incomplete wide receiver pass by Patten, the trickery continued with a direct snap to Faulk who rambled 15 yards. Faulk factored in again on a 20-yard sideline pass that was reviewed but left as called on the field.
The Patriots were first and 10 from the Miami 25. Faulk ran for 1, Brown caught a 7-yard pass, Vinatieri came on for the 35-yard field goal and just like that, the magic was back.
On the day, Kevin Faulk had one of his most productive and meaningful of his career with 53 yards on the ground and another 70 on 9 catches with a touchdown.
Then there was Vinatieri. The Pro Bowler was 4 for 4 on his field goal attempts including the one to tie the game in regulation and the game-winner in overtime.
The Patriots season ends at 9-7 and all eyes are now on what the off season will bring in terms of changes.