There are few places where Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots struggle with any consistency.
Miami is certainly one of those places.
Thanks to a razzle-dazzle, 69-yard touchdown for Kenyan Drake as time expired, New England left Hard Rock Stadium with the shocking 34-33 loss that was the fifth defeat in six trips to Miami and extended the strange history of the Patriots struggles in South Beach.
On a day when Brady's passing attack carved up the Dolphins defense, the final play will get the blame for the loss, but plenty of plays prior to Rob Gronkowski's flailing failing tackle attempt came up empty led to the defeat.
Missed kicks, curious coaching decisions and overall struggles on defense put the Patriots in position to lose on a crazy highlight-reel game-ender that dropped New England to 9-4 on the season. The loss further muddied the playoff picture in the AFC and hurt the chances of the defending conference champions securing the No. 1 seed with the Chiefs beating the Ravens in overtime.
A week after arguably their best win of the season in a complementary dismantling of the Vikings, the Patriots made costly mistakes in all three phases to lose to the Dolphins.
Beyond extending its history of curious struggles in Miami, Sunday afternoon's loss also continued the Patriots issues playing on the road this season.
"We need to coach it better, play it better," Belichick said of the final play, though his words could have gone for other plays in the game as well.
"We were just trying to make enough plays to win, but we didn't."
Before turning the page to next Sunday evening's trip to Pittsburgh for a key AFC matchup with the Steelers, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the loss in Miami.
Tom Brady – Though it will get lost in the loss, Brady had maybe his best game of the season. TB12 completed 27 of 43 passes for 358 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 112.4 rating. His 37-yard touchdown pass to Cordarrelle Patterson might be his best throw of the season and the prettiest touchdown for New England to date. Brady's one big mistakes was taking a sack on the final play of the first half with no timeouts, allowing the clock to run out without getting a field goal in a game where neither team ever led by more than six points. It was a rookie mistake by the 19-year veteran who admitted afterwards that he thought he had a timeout, but otherwise Brady was tremendous in Miami, where he often struggles.
Rob Gronkowski – Like Brady, Gronkowski had one of his better days of the season right up until he missed the tackle with the game on the line in a spot he probably never should have been put in. Gronkowski caught all eight passes thrown his way for 107 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown. The big tight end took advantage of soft zone coverage and linebackers around him to take it to the Dolphins, proving that reports of his demise are a bit premature.
Albert McClellan/Punt block team – Few Patriots fans may even know who McClellan is, given that the veteran special teamer and backup linebacker joined the team midseason after being cut by the Ravens. But McClellan had a huge day in Miami with not one but two blocked punts. His first came up the middle late in the first quarter, giving New England possession at the Miami 18 to set up Julian Edelman's 2-yard touchdown. McClellan got his hands on another Matt Haack punt late in the second quarter, though it went down as a 2-yard punt to give New England possession at the Dolphins 15. This time the Patriots failed to score when Brady was sacked, allowing time to run out on the half.
Stephen Gostkowski – It's been a very good season for New England's kicker, but a week after missing a 48-yarder in the win over the Vikings things got even worse for Gostkowski. He missed his first PAT attempt of the game in the first quarter, forcing the Patriots to chase points in a close game from the get-go. Gostkowski then added to the bad day pushing another kick wide right to miss a 42-yard field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter, keeping the visitors from adding to a 27-21 lead. Even one of his good kicks, a 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, just squeaked inside the right upright. Prior to last week Gostkowski had not missed a kick shorter than 50 yards this season, he's now done so in consecutive weeks.
Jason McCourty – The veteran cornerback was coming off an impressive performance against the Vikings, but the Patriots No. 2 cover guy struggled from the opening minutes in Miami. McCourty was chasing veteran Kenny Stills all over the field, allowing a 7-yard touchdown in the first quarter. McCourty allowed a couple other longer gains to Stills in the first half, including a 21-yard and a 43-yarder. Stills finished with eight catches for 135 yards and a touchdown, the only Dolphin to catch more than a single pass on the day.
Run defense – The Patriots run defense had its issues on the edges a week earlier against Dalvin Cook and the Vikings. Things got worse, and the middle of the unit was more to blame, against the Dolphins. Miami ran it 21 times for 189 yards (9.0 avg.) and a pair of touchdowns. Former Patriot Brandon Bolden had two carries for 60 yards and two touchdowns, including a 54-yard long, on plays that were just the second and third rushing attempts of his first season in Miami. Each of the four Dolphins who ran the ball had a run of 11 yards or longer. Aging stud Frank Gore led the way with 12 carries for 92 yards (7.7 avg.). Miami just had too many holes to work with that were way too big.
Coaching – Give Belichick credit, seemingly every time his team loses he says the team was "outcoached" or "needs to coach it better." That was certainly true in the loss in Miami. It's hard to imagine that Brady wasn't made aware that he was out of timeouts on the final play of the first half and couldn't take a sack. If he wasn't reminded of that, that's on the coaching staff. But seemingly the worst, most alarming coaching decision of the day was having Gronkowski on the field for the final play. With the Dolphins at their own 31, it wasn't a Hail Mary situation but rather a razzle-dazzle spot. While Gronkowski might make sense on the former, he's not seemingly a good option on the latter when athleticism and tackling are in need. Devin McCourty was not on the field. It's hard to figure out why Gronkowski was the last line of defense on Drake's touchdown, but he was. And it didn't end well.
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