The bottom is that the Patriots literally and figuratively limp into the postseason following Sunday afternoon's 20-10 defeat in Miami.
The loss, New England's fourth in the last six weeks, dropped the team to 12-4 on the season and failed to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the second straight week. Denver kicked off the 4:15 contest with a chance to lock up the No. 1 spot for the Broncos with a victory over the Chargers.
New England had seven players inactive well before the kickoff in Miami – Dont'a Hightower, Sebastian Vollmer, Justin Coleman, Jonathan Freeny, Sealver Siliga, Chandler Jones and Julian Edelman – and with LaAdrian Waddle scratched after a pregame workout couldn't even fill out a 46-man game roster.
But Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski suited up. And Danny Amendola, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty returned from injury.
Yet New England didn't seem to know what it wanted to do – play to win or roll into the postseason simply happy to be healthy. And the seeming indecision led to a failure on all levels.
Beyond the loss, Brady was battered around until he was replaced by Jimmy Garoppolo for the final series. He limped off after taking a bit hit from Ndamukong Suh in the first half and had to have his right leg/ankle taped up.
Brady took the beating despite the fact that the passing game wasn't really an option, especially early. The quarterback threw just five passes, with four completions for 20 yards in the first half. Those completions were either shovel passes or screens, with Brandon LaFell notching the only wide receiver/tight end reception in the first 30 minutes, that play going for a 1-yard loss.
And though the Patriots were trying to run, it wasn't a successful plan behind a struggling offensive line. New England's 21 first-half attempts led to a 3-yard average.
All told, it led to just three points and a 10-3 halftime deficit.
Even with the Patriots tying the game on the first drive of the second half – the big play a 68-yard catch-and-run for James White – the offense never really got anything going with any consistency.
While the offense was struggling, so was the pass defense. Ryan Tannehill piled up 350 yards passing with a pair of touchdowns on the way to victory. Miami had three receivers with more than 70 yards. That allowed the Dolphins to convert nearly 50 percent third downs while New England was below 30 percent. New England had more than a first down on just three of 12 drives, punting seven times including five in the second half.
Whether the Patriots were all-in trying to win or not, the performance on the field at Sun Life Stadium was far from good enough to get that done. Motivation may have been poor, but the execution was putrid.
"We obviously didn't do enough things well enough today to win," Belichick said. "We'll get back at it."
As for the mindset of the conservative, run-heavy offense Belichick said it was, "Same as it always is, move the ball and score points."
The attack failed on both accounts and the result was a road loss in the finale that capped more than a month of struggles for New England.
"I didn't think we did anything well enough today, so that includes everything," Belichick concluded. "We have a lot of work to do."
Before turning the page to the bye week and then the opening of the postseason in the divisional round, here is a look at the highs and lows from a lackluster season finale in Miami:
Jamie Collins – The young Pro Bowl linebacker's skills were on full display early against Miami, including man coverage with a pass breakup on Dolphins leading receiver Jarvis Landry. He also had an early tackle for a loss on rooking running back Jay Ajayi as well as a near stunning pick on a throw over the middle in the third quarter. Collins, playing without Dont'a Hightower by his side yet again, finished the day with six tackles, two for a loss, and a pair of passes defensed.
Run defense –Though the unit struggled a bit early on, a week after being pretty poor in New York, Alan Branch and Akiem Hicks got things together to make life tough on Miami. Lamar Miller finished with just 60 yards on 19 attempts, 29 of which came on an early burst up the middle. The Dolphins averaged just 2.8 yards per carry as a team on 34 attempts. Hicks, in particular, was a beast all over the front, finishing with five tackles including one for a loss.
Steven Jackson –The veteran running back continued to knock the rust off in his second game in New England. He was far from dominant, finishing with just 35 yards on 14 carries for a 2.5-yard average. Jackson had a 2-yard touchdown run and a long of 6 yards. He also had a nice 20-yard screen pass. The running back position has struggled for months now, but Jackson showed just a taste of an ability to move the chains and get in the end zone. On a day that was pretty bad across the board, an optimist could say Jackson will be better when the rest of the passing game is back in New England.
Logan Ryan – The third-year cornerback struggled for the second straight week. Ryan allowed a DeVante Parker touchdown and then allowed Greg Jennings a deep ball down the left sideline. Miami seemed to avoid Malcolm Butler most of the day and instead threw at Ryan and Leonard Johnson with alarming regularity and ease.
Marcus Cannon –The only way New England could really take a loss in Miami was if Brady got hurt. That was the fear in the second quarter when Cannon allowed Ndamukong Suh to get round him and hit Brady low, causing the quarterback to limp off and get re-taped on his right leg. Brady returned the next series, but Cannon continued a trend that's seen the New England's line make the Patriots quarterback uncomfortable. Center Bryan Stork was also among those guys up front who struggled in the losing effort.
Devin McCourty – The good news is the New England defensive captain returned to action from an ankle injury. Bad news is that McCourty didn't play well. The veteran was on the bad end of the Dolphins passing attack too often as Ryan Tannehill put up more than 350 yards through the air. McCourty allowed Jordan Cameron to score a short touchdown. He gave up a key reception to Dion Sims as the Dolphins were trying to run out the game. McCourty was late to help Ryan at times. It was a bad day for the back end and McCourty was a part of the problem.
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