For the previous 11 seasons, the New England Patriots have not only made the playoffs, but won the division each year. During the Brady/Belichick dynasty, the Patriots reigned terror over the rest of the division, winning the AFC East in 17 of the past 19 seasons. However, 2020 has been a different story as this past Sunday, the Patriots lost the division title to the Buffalo Bills and were eliminated from the playoffs altogether after their 22-12 loss to the Miami Dolphins. This result came as no surprise, however, as the Dolphins are 9-5 and competing for a playoff spot, but also, Miami has been a place of horrors for the team in recent years. The Patriots have now lost six of their last eight trips to Miami. Here is my breakdown of their most recent loss.
As the season draws to a close, the Patriots will be facing a decision about what to do with their quarterback situation going forward. Cam Newton has struggled this season and his contract will expire after their season finale against the New York Jets. With plenty of good QB talent available in the upcoming NFL Draft, Newton is essentially auditioning to return as the starter or possibly elsewhere. Against the Dolphins, he had his fourth-highest passing total of 2020 with 209 yards on 17 of 27 attempts. He had great chemistry with receiver Jakobi Meyers all game long as Meyers finished with 111 yards on seven receptions. James White also finished with 52 yards on four receptions out of the backfield. He was not spectacular or productive, but he did lead four scoring drives and made some solid throws. The offense is incredibly limited and it appears more and more Newton simply does not have what it takes to lead an effective offense consistently. It is highly possible he will be a backup in 2021.
Damien Harris, who has been the starting running back since Sony Michel suffered a quad injury back in Week 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders, was forced to miss the game due to an ankle injury. Michel was thrust back into the starting lineup and showed his explosiveness with 74 yards on 10 carries. He looked like his best self and I wish the team gave him more than 10 carries in the game.
The offense was decent but what held them back from leading the team to a victory is the offense stalling on every drive entering Dolphin territory. The Patriots had six drives in opposing territory and not one of them resulted in a touchdown. They kicked four field goals, punted once and their last drive saw them turn the ball over on downs to seal the game for the Dolphins. The Patriots are now the fourth-worst red zone offense in the NFL when it comes to scoring touchdowns there, emphasizing just how limited their personnel is. The Patriots need to add playmakers this offseason in the worst way.
The Patriots’ defense faced a rookie QB without two of his top targets, DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, and running back Myles Gaskin. This was set up as a game the Patriots’ defense could have a field day against. In the first half, they did just that as J.C. Jackson picked up his eighth interception of the season in the end zone to stall a 15-play, 95-yard drive by the Dolphins. Chase Winovich applied the pressure to force Dolphin QB Tua Tagovailoa into a poor throw, allowing Jackson to come up with the play. The rest of the first half, the Dolphins could not score any points as the Patriots pitched the first-half shutout.
However, the second half was a completely different story as the Dolphins’ offense found a rhythm as they scored 22 points with two rushing touchdowns from Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa was productive enough to give the Dolphins valuable yardage over the air, finishing with 145 yards on 20 of 26 attempts. This loss was only the sixth time head coach Bill Belichick lost to a team starting a rookie QB as the Patriots’ head coach. The real damage was done on the ground as Miami rushed for 250 yards as a team, the highest the team has allowed this season. Salvon Ahmed rushed for 122 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown while Matt Breida rushed for 86 yards on 12 carries. They had major problems stopping the run, allowing the Dolphins to control the ball for over 37 minutes. Ultimately, this was the main reason the Dolphins found so much success in the second half offensively.
The Patriots’ appeared to have allowed the Dolphins to convert a fake-punt in the third quarter. However, an illegal touching penalty on the Dolphins nullified the play, allowing the Dolphins to punt back to the Patriots. Other than that, the main special teams contribution was from kicker Nick Folk, who nailed all four of his field goals to provide all 12 Patriot points on the day. He continues his stellar season as he has now hit 25 of his 27 field goals. If he hits all his remaining field goals this season, he will eclipse his career-high in field goal percentage of 91.7% in 2013.
With the Patriots out of the playoff chase officially, it is now time to build for the future as they will face the division-champion Bills on Monday Night Football, Dec. 28.