The New England Patriots have been living on the edge over the last few weeks, as nearly all of their games have been decided in the last minute. This happened again today, but they fell just short in another comeback, and fell to the Dolphins by a score of 24-20.
Here are four immediate takeaways.
1. Gronk’s Absence Affects Red Zone Production
We all knew that being without tight end Rob Gronkowski would hurt this New England offense, and it is already apparent that the red area is where they miss him the most. The Pats had no trouble moving the football between the 20′s, as they racked up 453 total yards of offense. But when it came time to produce in the red zone, they failed to punch it in. They traveled inside the 20 yard line four times today, and they only came away with one touchdown. That won’t win you many football games, particularly when the playoffs start. Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, and Josh Boyce are all talented football players, but because of their size, it is hard for them to get open in a condensed space, making it tough for Brady to find an open guy. When Gronk was in there, Brady always had someone to lean on, because of how big Gronkowski is. The Patriots will have to find some way to get around this red zone difficulties, because if they don’t, another early round exit in the playoffs will befall the Pats this January.
2. Defense Fails To Hold Up
The Patriots run defense had another solid outing today, holding Miami to 89 yards on 23 carries. But this was overshadowed by the play of the back end, as they couldn’t stop the Dolphins when it really mattered. Ryan Tannehill threw for 312 yards and three touchdown, including the game winner to Marcus Thigpen with 1:15 left in the fourth quarter. Mike Wallace burned Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole all game long, finishing with six catches, 105 yards, and a touchdown. The pass rush got to Tannehill four times, and in my opinion, it was the best performance by the front four in quite some time. Granted, the Dolphins have one of the worst offensive lines in the league, but whenever you get to a quarterback that much, you have to give some credit to the defense. Overall, the New England defense didn’t play too bad for the majority of the contest, but when they had to get a stop, they couldn’t do it, and that is something that will need to be fixed over the next couple of weeks.
3. Amendola And Edelman Have Huge Days
I have been saying all season long that the combination of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola was lethal, and eventually we would see results. Well I think 23 catches, 270 yards, and a touchdown can be considered results, as both of these guys tore up the Miami secondary. Tom Brady targeted them 10 times on the Patriots final drive, showing how much trust he has in their ability to get open against the defense. I really like how they are peaking at the right time, and without Gronkowski, Amendola and Edelman will be the go to guys for Brady, as the most important football of the year awaits.
4. Relying On Brady To Make A Comeback Every Week Will Eventually Hurt You
As I mentioned before, this Patriots team has been involved in some crazy finishes over the last couple of weeks, and although they have came out on top recently, everybody knows that you can’t win all of them, which is exactly what happened today. You simply cannot rely on your quarterback to pull off miracle wins every week, and expect to win all of them. Tom Brady is a special quarterback, but the amount of pressure that Brady and his team puts on themselves at the end of the game can be too much, and it cost them a chance to clinch their division today. When the playoffs roll around, New England must play a solid 60 minutes of football, so they don’t have to rely on Brady and the offense to make some magic happen in the last few minutes of every ball game. When you play championship-caliber teams, you probably won’t win these “miracle” games, making it extremely important to play better over the first 58 minutes of the contest.