10 Dec 18
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — A totally out-of-character slip-up by Tom Brady cost the Patriots three points at the end of the first half.
An even more peculiar last-second decision by Bill Belichick may have cost them a win.
Per usual, the Patriots’ visit to Miami was a wild, unpredictable affair. The trio of Rob Gronkowski, Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman accounted for 335 yards (289 receiving yards, 46 via penalty). Brady was slinging the ball all over the field. The Pats defense, meanwhile, was gashed for 255 yards on 23 touches by Dolphins running backs Frank Gore, Brandon Bolden and Kenyan Drake. The final 55, credited to Drake, were a doozy.
Several Patriots defenders said they knew a lateral-type play was coming. Belichick obviously wasn’t certain of that.
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On his conference call Monday, Belichick indicated that Gronkowski was on the field to defend a deep throw that would fall short of the end zone (and maybe Miami would lateral from there if it reached the 10-yard line or so).
When considering Ryan Tannehill’s arm strength, perhaps Belichick recalled the final play of a 2013 win over Miami when Tannehill chucked the ball about 65 yards in the air. It was easily intercepted by Duron Harmon.
This time, Tannehill only needed to throw it 24 yards. Drake did the rest. The Patriots secondary botched the play from the beginning. Gronkowski wasn’t capable of saving them.
Here’s the position by position breakdown of the Patriots’ stunning 34-33 loss at Miami.
Tom Brady flashed tremendous arm strength for most of this game.
In the second quarter, he connected with Julian Edelman for a 16-yard gain on a third-and-10 out route. On the next snap, he hit Cordarrelle Patterson on a pin-point strike down the middle for a 37-yard touchdown.
This was arguably Brady’s best game of the year. It was his first outing of 350-plus yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers since Week 2 of the 2017 season. The velocity of his throws stood out consistently.
It wasn’t perfect, however. Believing he had one timeout left, Brady took a sack at the end of the first half and allowed the clock to run out. Prior to that, Brady missed an open Chris Hogan in the back of the end zone.
RUNNING BACK: C-minus
The efficiency just hasn’t been there. Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead have combined to carry 48 times for 142 yards in the past two games.
Simply put, they’re not creating many yards that aren’t already available.
Late in the fourth quarter, Michel had a 38-yard run called back because of a James Develin holding penalty.
Michel delivered a nasty stiff-arm to Dolphins defensive lineman Akeem Spence on a 7-yard run in the third quarter, but otherwise struggled to make plays.
James White received only seven touches. It was the third time this season that White has touched the ball fewer than eight times. The Pats lost all three games.
WIDE RECEIVER: A
Josh Gordon is getting better every week. He’s a terror after the catch. On his first reception of the game, Gordon dragged Dolphins cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick 8 yards after securing the grab.
Julian Edelman continued his history of burning the Dolphins. The Pats converted all six third downs when Tom Brady targeted Edelman (and were 2-for-2 when he targeted Rob Gronkowski).
Edelman torched rookie cornerback Cornell Armstrong on a pivot route for a 2-yard touchdown.
Gordon consistently beat coverage on slants and comebacks. He turned an 8-yard hitch into a 29-yard gain midway through the third quarter. In the fourth, Gordon drew a 41-yard pass interference flag on a deep route down the left sideline.
As great as Brady’s throw was on the 37-yard touchdown, it was also a terrific catch by Cordarrelle Patterson.
TIGHT END: A-minus
It’ll be interesting to see which way this goes for Rob Gronkowski.
He was ridiculed on sports talk shows for his clumsy attempt at tackling Kenyan Drake in the closing seconds. There’s surely been discussion of Gronkowski’s declining athleticism. But, truth is, Gronkowski should have never found himself in that position. Most tight ends would look similarly helpless.
This should serve as a confidence-building game for Gronkowski. He dominated the Dolphins, topping 100 yards for the first time since Week 1. He converted a third down with a 15-yard gain in the second quarter, then snagged a high pass for a 16-yard touchdown on the ensuing play.
Next up: A Pittsburgh defense that is annually shredded by Gronk.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B-minus
The big fellas up front are partially responsible for the struggles on the ground.
On a third-and-1 in the first quarter, Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso shot the gap to hit Rex Burkhead 2 yards behind the line. Trent Brown didn’t block Alonso, or anyone for that matter, on the play.
Brown wasn’t terrible, but he had trouble with Robert Quinn’s speed off the edge. Quinn got close enough to Tom Brady to make the quarterback uncomfortable on several plays, including Brady’s misfire to Chris Hogan in the end zone at the end of the first half.
Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake beat Marcus Cannon to hit Brady’s arm on a third-down incompletion in the third quarter. Later, the Pats didn’t identify a Bobby McCain blitz. Shaq Mason and David Andrews double-teamed the nose tackle, and McCain came through unblocked.
Brady received very good protection on his 37-yard touchdown to Cordarrelle Patterson. And on the 16-yard score to Rob Gronkowski, Joe Thuney did an excellent job sliding across the line to pick up Wake.
DEFENSIVE LINE: D-plus
The Pats were handled at the point of attack by the Miami offensive line.
Malcom Brown got blown off the ball by Laremy Tunsil on Frank Gore’s 36-yard run. Trey Flowers got pancaked by pulling tackle Jesse Davis on an 11-yard Kenyan Drake run around the edge (and two Patriots pursuing from the backside tripped over Flowers once he hit the ground). The play set up Brandon Bolden’s second touchdown of the day.
On a 43-yard completion to Kenny Stills in the second quarter, Ryan Tannehill had all day to throw against a four-man rush of Flowers, Brown, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise.
There were some bright moments. Defensive tackle Adam Butler freed Flowers for a sack on a stunt. Butler also supplied the interior pressure on a sack that was officially credited to Flowers (Tannehill appeared to trip over the feet of his own player as he spun away from Butler and linebacker John Simon).
Flowers forced a fumble on the opening play of the second half, but it was recovered by Miami.
Dont’a Hightower wrecked Ryan Tannehill for a 9-yard sack on an early third down. On the play that preceded Hightower’s sack, Kyle Van Noy brought pressure up the middle and forced an errant throw that was nearly intercepted by Stephon Gilmore.
Veteran John Simon also brought frequent pressure. This was his best game as a Patriot.
But the Patriots allowed 200 yards to Miami running backs even if we subtract Kenyan Drake’s last-second heroics. There were far too many mistakes at the second level.
The Dolphins had one-on-one blocks across the board as Brandon Bolden cruised untouched for a 54-yard touchdown. Elandon Roberts couldn’t get off the block of Travis Swanson. Later, Roberts missed a tackle in the open field against Frank Gore, who turned a 3-yard catch into a 24-yard gain.
Hightower got fooled on an early read-option by Tannehill.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D-plus
OK, we’ll start with the final play. It was a mess for the secondary.
Jonathan Jones was in position to make the tackle and end the game as soon as Kenny Stills caught the ball, but he ran past Stills. He appeared to be trying to make a play on the ball.
J.C. Jackson didn’t look to be moving full speed after Drake when the running back was on the sideline (at one point, Jackson oddly jumped instead of charging toward Drake, perhaps anticipating a backward pitch to DeVante Parker).
Stephon Gilmore seemed concerned about a lateral to his side of the field. He never aggressively pursued Drake.
As for the rest of the game? Jason McCourty struggled mightily against Kenny Stills. McCourty was replaced by Jackson in the Patriots’ base defense.
Gilmore allowed a touchdown on a post route to Brice Butler.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus
The Pats blocked two punts, although the second one didn’t go down in the box score as a block. But the ball traveled 2 yards. Let’s be honest. It was blocked.
Albert McClellan got matched up against Dolphins longsnapper John Denney and easily beat him both times.
According to Pro Football Reference, only six times since 2000 has a team blocked multiple punts in a game.
McClellan’s first blocked punt directly led to seven points.
Special teams also cost the Pats four points, as Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42-yard field goal and his first extra point of the season.
Clearly, Bill Belichick did not utilize the right personnel when the game was on the line.
If Belichick was indeed guarding against Miami throwing deep to the New England 10-yard line or so (Ryan Tannehill’s range seems to be about 65 yards), perhaps Josh Gordon or 6-foot-4 safety Obi Melifonwu would have been better options than Rob Gronkowski. Both players can high point the ball, and both are more athletic than Gronkowski in the event that an open-field tackle is needed.
That’s all easy to say now, of course. The Pats will likely reconfigure their end-of-game personnel packages going forward.
Belichick has been criticized for kicking a field goal on the Patriots’ final drive, but that’s viewed as the correct call from here.
If the Pats were stopped on fourth down, Miami would have taken over inside its 5-yard line with 15-18 seconds left. The odds were against the Dolphins advancing the ball to the Patriots 40 —just as the odds were against them scoring a touchdown on a hook-and-ladder — but in that case a field goal would have won the game.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
Josh Gordon: Emerging as a legitimate stud receiver.
Julian Edelman: Converted six third downs. His 2018 numbers are nearly identical to his stats from 2016, the best year of his career.
Rob Gronkowski: The game could serve as a turning point for Gronk.
BACK OF THE PACK
Bill Belichick: Nobody’s perfect. Even Belichick slips up occasionally.
Jason McCourty: Solid player all season, but this was one of his worst games.
Patriots LBs: 255 yards from scrimmage for Miami running backs is outrageous.