FOXBORO – Quick hits/thoughts after Sunday saw the Patriots punt away a chance at a first-round bye following a 27-24 shocking defeat to the nothing-to-play-for-but-pride Dolphins:
• The much-ballyhooed defense didn’t make a play with the game on the line while the offense continued the season-long trend of just limping along.
If you want to know why the Patriots won’t be taking a knee on wild-card weekend, look no further than the lack of clock management that was displayed by Bill Belichick during the closing stages of the first half.
In a 10-10 game and 1:51 on the clock, New England got a stop on third down as Miami running back Patrick Laird was stuffed for no gain. The ball was on the Dolphins’ 20-yard line and the Patriots still had three timeouts.
Instead of conserving seconds for Tom Brady and the offense, Belichick let the clock drift down to one minute, five seconds before Miami punted the ball away. Laird was stopped with 1:45 showing on the scoreboard.
Do the math and Belichick let 40 seconds fall by the wayside. In the NFL, that’s what you would call an eternity.
Miami still had all of its timeouts, yet was Belichick concerned about the offense pulling a three-and-out that would give the Dolphins another shot before the end of the half?
“We didn’t want to give the ball back with their timeouts at the end of the half,” said Belichick.
In essence, Belichick gave the offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels a no-confidence vote. Instead of seeing if Brady could orchestrate something that would at the very least would have put New England in field-goal range, Belichick opted to play it a little too close to the vest. Regardless of the level of football, the aforementioned scenario screamed for the signaling of a timeout by the head coach.
The Patriots did get the ball back with 57 seconds left and with all three timeouts still at their disposal. The ball was on the New England 25. Again, why not dial up a few screen plays knowing that you still have three opportunities to stop the clock before the halftime buzzer sounds?
Just like the decision to let the clock continue to run after stopping Miami on third down, the rationale behind a negative two-yard run by Sony Michel that was followed by a seven-yard run by James White seemed very odd. It was as if Belichick couldn’t wait for the first half to be over even though there was still 23 seconds left after the play by White – not to mention three timeouts at the ready if needed.
The move to jog off the field after White’s run prompted the Gillette Stadium to voice their displeasure over the Patriots’ lack of aggression. Granted, Brady’s numbers through two quarters were ghastly – 5-for-12 for 92 yards and an interception that resulted in pick-six by former New England cornerback Eric Rowe – but what about the two-minute drill? Guess not on this afternoon.
“We weren’t executing great, so I can understand the decision,” said Brady when asked about the running the ball to end the first half.
Maybe Brady understands, but in a tight game that went down to the wire, you would like to believe every second counts. In a shocking twist, Belichick opted to wave the white flag and you can make a strong case that it came back to bite the Patriots.
• With nothing to play for except draft positioning, Miami let it all hang out there with an offensive approach that seemed perfect for a sandlot game.
From asking the punter on the game’s first series to pass the ball on fourth down, to calling a half-back option in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 17-17, the Dolphins played free and easy. Besides dialing up plays that might as well have been drawn up in the dirt, Miami found quite a bit of success when it came to running slants and crossing routes.
Surprisingly, the Patriots didn’t press the Miami receivers at the line of scrimmage and paid dearly for it. Devonte Parker came up with eight receptions on 11 targets for 137 yards while fellow Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson (three catches, 42 yards) and tight end Mike Gesicki (two catches, 20 yards) also found room to operate in the middle of the field after hauling in passes from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (320 yards on 28-of-41 passing).
“They did a good job. They did a better job than we did. Simple as that,” said Belichick when asked about the Dolphins surging behind a crossing scheme that seemed to catch the Patriots completely off guard.
“They made some tough plays and we didn’t make enough,” said cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was one of the guilty culprits against the Dolphins’ repeated desire to make plays over the middle.
• Brady ended the first quarter with two completions on four attempts for 10 yards. In the second quarter, he failed to get on the same page with White and Julian Edelman and it proved costly as Brady threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
“It was just a bad throw,” said Brady. “I hate turning the ball over.”
If not for the 50-yard completion to Phillip Dorsett and the 38-yard screen pass that linebacker/part-time offensive contributor Elandon Roberts took to the house for a touchdown, Brady on Sunday would have been 14-for-27 for 133 yards. You can blame the lack of talent around him, but Brady deserves to shoulder some of the blame why the Patriots let a golden opportunity to rest up for the divisional round slip through their grasp.
“It was a great chance for us to not play next week. We didn’t take advantage of it,” said Brady. “We just didn’t play good enough and we all wish we would have done a better job. Certainly I do.”
The Brady who was on-target and decisive in the division-clinching win against the Bills was nowhere to be found Sunday. In the second quarter with the Patriots faced with a second-and-goal from the Miami 7, Brady was short on his throw in the end zone to rookie N’Keal Harry. On the next play, Brady overshot Mohamed Sanu by plenty. The Patriots were forced to settle for a field goal that cut Miami’s led to 10-3.
Brady’s inability to connect with Harry or Sanu stood out on a day when even more postgame questions about his health were raised. It’s known that Brady has been dealing with an elbow injury, though he insisted he felt fine.
“I certainly didn’t do a good enough job. We’ve got to do a better job next week,” said Brady.