Having given a little bit of time and thought to the “Miami Miracle” we witnessed this past Sunday, some questions need answering.
Not the least of which would be a straight answer to this one – “why was Rob Gronkowski on the field for that final play against the Dolphins?”
"I didn't think it was going to get to me," Gronkowski said afterward. "I've never really been a part of anything like that."
Well then. There are more questions than we can possibly expect answers to, in the aftermath of one of the most stunning endings – in defeat – in New England Patriots history. Not THE most stunning defeat, however.
Or have you forgotten history, like the infamous ‘4th and 2’ against the Colts in 2009, or Ben Dreith’s roughing-the-passer call on Sugar Bear Hamilton in 1976?
Sorry to jar your memory banks on those plays, but let’s face it. Those mistakes occurred in postseason play.
Still, Sunday’s gaffe is gonna rank right up there.
Tweeted the NFL: “The @MiamiDolphins game-winning 69-yard touchdown on the final play against New England is the longest play from scrimmage to win a game with no time remaining in the fourth quarter since the 1970 merger.”
The ‘Miami Miracle’ will be played over, and over, and over, and over again in South Florida, on the national networks, and any time the Patriots (or anyone else) put themselves in a similar situation for the foreseeable future.
It was an incalculable, almost ghastly way to end a game, for anyone other than the winning team. It was the type of play you watch unfold in horror and in excitement all-at-once, the kind of play where you ask yourself “is this really happening?” as it is taking place right in front of your eyes.
Reaction to it within mainstream media and social media, both in positive and negative forms, has been entertaining to say the least.
It is undoubtedly a gleeful, joyous play for anyone pulling for the Dolphins, or rooting against the Patriots – which may very well be most of America outside of New England. Get used to seeing it, get used to talking about it, and get used to its existence. Plays like that one rarely happen, and almost never happen here.
So, embrace the horror. It ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The Patriots are sure to get their full of it this week in film sessions, and the only way they’ll reduce the size of the stains from their brains will be to win from this point forward. Win it all, and it becomes a mere comical footnote on the road to another championship.
Or, it will be emblazoned on this season’s epitaph, should the year end in defeat short of the ultimate goal.
You see, the Patriots control their destiny when it comes to considering the ‘Miami Miracle,’ just as they controlled the outcome of the play itself. And the play was an unmitigated disaster. Hard to sugar-coat it, for sure. But the play doesn’t have to live on in infamy.
No, the play gets relegated to the history books and museums as an oddity – nothing more – should this team figure out a way to move forward, successfully, from here.
But boy, are there questions. We’ll all be asking our fair share over the next few days. Will we get any answers?
“I think that’s human nature, emotionally and mentally, to question what happened,” Matthew Slater said to Boston Sports Journal.com. “But I think that we have the type of men in this locker room who have resolve and character and we’ll be able to move past this.”
That will certainly be up to the players, and not to the stunned, disappointed and disgruntled fans. It’s the players who remain in control of their destiny on this one.
Let the revisionism begin
There’s so much to nitpick from this one, it begs a couple of questions. Are our thoughts and ideas so far-fetched, that we’re the crazy ones? Or have the Patriots completely lost their sensibility when it comes to game-plans, play-calling and execution?
Or are they just not very good at any of those?
Defensively, the idea behind beginning with six men-in-the-box, which is where the team started out, seemed like a sure invitation to trouble. The Patriots haven’t been great at stuffing the run to begin with this season (ranked 15th in rush defense, 15th in yards per attempt). Only recently have they become adept at plugging any gaps and not overshooting the play and wrapping up backs for minimal yardage.
Oh, and tackle Danny Shelton was inactive for the Dolphins, too.
The first Miami drive of the game, leading to a touchdown, resulted in 53 rushing yards on only three carries. The Patriots allowed an astounding 9.0 yards per carry, all told, to the Miami backs, which included ex-Patriot Brandon Bolden gouging his former teammates for 54 yards on a single carry.
75-year old Frank Gore (just kidding, Frank) rushed 12 times for 92 yards, which is 7.7 yards per carry.
Two of the four Miami plays for more than 30 yards in the game were rushes, not passes.
The “D” did appear to adjust in the second half by moving an extra player into the box and kept the team in position to win until the final, fateful play. But taking such a big step backwards, after making such a big move forward for Minnesota, begs another question.
What are these guys thinking? Or, what are we thinking?
TB12 isn’t immune
No, Tom Brady can’t avoid the scrutiny surrounding this meltdown. Especially since he was a major part of it, before the final blow was struck in the end.
There are surely two plays, at least, that Brady wishes he had the chance to do-over. They just happened to be the final two plays of the first half, where if the Patriots score, the ‘Miami Miracle’ becomes moot…and probably never happens.
The first one, on 2nd and goal at the Miami two-yard line with 17 seconds remaining before the half, was an overthrow to an open Chris Hogan in the back of the end zone. With typical TB12 accuracy on that toss, New England takes a two-score lead into the locker room, rendering Stephen Gostkowski’s misses (an extra-point and a 3rd quarter, 42-yard field goal attempt) moot as well.
The second one can only be described as a brain-cramp. Brady took a sack by Robert Quinn back at the Dolphins’ nine, thinking he had a time out remaining. He did not. It had been taken three plays earlier after his completion to Gronkowski to reach the two-yard line in the first place.
Time then ran out in the first half, before another snap could occur. Ouch.
"That was a terrible play by me," Brady said. "I lost track, I thought we had one timeout. I was just not thinking. So it was just a play that should never happen."
But it did. And it was costly.
The “O” doesn’t pass either
It’s hard to place too much blame on an offensive unit that produces 33 points in a game. Unless they should have produced more, which the Patriots did not.
After 27 first-half points in a race-horse, neck-and-neck result with the Dolphins’ offense, the second half produced a mere two field goals and 162 total yards, with only 120 of those through the air. 7-of-10 converting on 3rd downs in the first half, just 2-for-6 in the second.
And 0-for-2 in the second half within the red zone, while hitting on 3-out-of-4 in the first.
The 3rd quarter alone had some rather rough play in it – a chop block from Shaq Mason, a drop from Julian Edelman (one of two for the day), Marcus Cannon getting whipped by Cameron Wake forcing Brady into an incompletion by hitting his arm on a third down, and a Cannon false start later in the period preceded a Brady sack on the final play of the quarter.
There is plenty of blame pie to slice and pass around in this one, certainly. But at this point in the season, baking any kind of a blame pie is a big part of the problem.
Sometimes, you applaud the other guys for cooking it up and dishing it out to you.
But when it boils over or burns in the oven all on your own watch, well, maybe it’s time for the chef to change up the recipe.
Buried within the rubble
If the Patriots had somehow managed to avoid the ‘Miami Miracle,’ the guess here is that we’d be talking about the improvement within the special teams’ play.
Especially the play of Albert McClellan, who got his hands on a couple of Miami punts, and that of John Simon. Simon had a 4th quarter sack on a 3rd and one play that eventually led to the Patriots’ go-ahead score (a 32-yard field goal) four-and-a-half minutes later by Gostkowski.
It was McClellan’s punt block in the first period that led to New England’s first go-ahead score, but his second one in the 2nd period went for naught after Brady’s miscalculation of time outs at the end of the quarter.
McClellan’s play was special, sure. Especially for a mid-season pickup. It’s a mere footnote today, however.
Desperados on display
And we’re not referring to the final snap of the Patriots-Dolphins game, either.
No, this will be a storyline for the upcoming week, as New England prepares to play on the road at Pittsburgh. The Patriots aren’t the only team desperate to get out there and atone for their errors this past weekend.
The Steelers blew a golden opportunity to get at least a leg-up on the Patriots for a playoff bye, by losing at Oakland 24-21. The Raiders’ Derek Carr tossed a touchdown pass to Derek Carrier with 25 seconds left, then watched as Chris Boswell slipped on a game-tying FG attempt and had his kick blocked.
QB Ben Roethlisberger missed the 3rd quarter and part of the 4th with an apparent rib injury but returned in time to lead his team on a six-play, 70-yard drive to take a 21-17 lead. A lead that they eventually lost.
Which means the Steelers need a win over New England to stay ahead of Baltimore in the AFC North. Their season is teetering on the brink of potential elimination from the postseason, altogether.
Nothing like a little desperation to liven things up at the end of a season, right?
John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is in his 26th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.