In a back-and-forth offensive battle, the Patriots squandered an excellent opportunity to clinch the division and punch their playoff ticket.
It’s rare to see an NFL team win a game as time expires, a la MLB’s “walk-off home run.” Rarer still is when a team pulls out that win by successfully executing multiple laterals.
The Pats have actually been uncharacteristically mediocre all year on special teams, ranking 17th in the league entering Week 14, and it finally cost them in the worst way imaginable. ESPN’s Mike Reiss called the loss “nightmarish,” and it might be the perfect word to describe how events unfolded in South Beach.
Backed up on their own 31-yard line, quarterback Ryan Tannehill fired a pass to Kenny Stills that only got the Dolphins to about midfield. After two quick laterals, Kenyan Drake was off and running, ducking and dodging poor tackle attempts by multiple Patriots defenders – one of which was Rob Gronkowski – all the way to the goal line. 50 yards later, the whole Miami team was celebrating with their fans in the end zone, and New England was left pondering what might have been.
It’s bad enough the Patriots let a golden opportunity to clinch the AFC East slip through their fingers. But the way they did it was even worse – missing field goals, botching extra point attempts, and allowing a hobbled Tannehill to throw for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The much-maligned defense finally looked to have turned the corner after impressive performances against the Jets and Vikings. Now it’s fair to wonder if the unit actually improved, or if it just had a couple decent showings in back-to-back weeks.
You can bet Bill Belichick is going to absolutely blast his players when reviewing Sunday’s game tape with them. He won’t stand for the way his team seemed to sleepwalk through that final play, as if only the Dolphins knew they still had a shot at winning.
Even Brady, who largely played a terrific game (358 passing yards and 3 scores), might hang his head a bit when considering the points he cost his team at the end of the first half. With no timeouts and just seconds left, he took a sack on third down that bled out the clock. Throw the ball away, and the Pats probably would have had time to attempt a field goal.
All is not lost of course. The Houston Texans slipped against the Colts, which means that at least for now, they remain tied with the Patriots but lower in the playoff standings, due to their head-to-head loss in Week 1. The Pittsburgh Steelers somehow found a way to lose in Oakland to the lowly Raiders. And if New England wins out over the final three weeks of the season, they will assure themselves at least a first-round bye in the postseason.
Of course, a win today and a Chiefs loss in overtime would have been even more desirable and significant, as it would have catapulted the Patriots into the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage.
Both are still technically attainable, but it’ll take a lot more to break right now. Kansas City would have to lose two of three against the Chargers, Seahawks, and Raiders, while New England would need to finish perfect against the Steelers, Bills, and Jets. It’s not impossible, but it’s tricky.
First article of business though: picking up a win on the road next Sunday at Heinz Field. A victory over the Steelers would go a long way toward legitimizing this team’s Super Bowl aspirations.
Let’s hope the Patriots move on from this loss quickly and go to Pittsburgh with a renewed sense of urgency and determination.