Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots will have to wait until next season to get their revenge on Brian Flores and the Miami Dolphins.
Against the odds, the ex-Belichick assistant posted a 2-0 record against the Pats this season, winning Week 1 in New England before burying Mac Jones in a hole that was just barely too deep to dig out of on Sunday.
Of course, the Patriots are headed for the playoffs and the Dolphins — despite their recent seven-game winning streak against exclusively also-rans — are not. Put some truth serum in Flores, and he’d undoubtedly say that attaining New England’s level of success would mean more to him than his petty little vengeance.
Heck, it probably wouldn’t even take the serum to get him to admit that.
Though the final score of this contest looks lopsided in Miami’s direction, it took a Tua Tagovailoa desperation third-down scramble and a last-second defensive touchdown on a gadget play to prevent what likely would’ve been a game-tying (or game-winning) Patriots drive after the team trailed 27-10 midway through the fourth quarter.
Without much at stake (the Buffalo Bills made sure of that by whomping the Jets and securing the AFC East), the Patriots would be wise to look at the positives from this near-comeback — though, yes, there are a few things to be very wary of as the playoffs approach (for one of these two teams; again, not you, Miami).
3 things we learned from Patriots’ loss to Dolphins in Week 18
3. Dont’a Hightower and Defense Must Get Healthy
The Dolphins offense — reliant on Duke Johnson, who is literally Duke Johnson — put up an extremely impressive first half, especially on the ground or through the air, with all their focus on Jaylen Waddle.
Two things can be true: the Patriots were certainly softer on defense than they would’ve liked to be, and a lot of what Miami accomplished would not have been possible with Dont’a Hightower rushing the passer, alongside Myles Bryant and Kyle Dugger in coverage.
Tagovailoa was mistake-free, though the Dolphins’ offense was impressively one-dimensional; he completed 15 passes for just 109 yards on the day, 54 of which came on the very first drive of the game, a seven-minute, 26-second tone-setter.
From that point on, Miami pressed on undeterred by Kyle Van Noy, Matt Judon and the rest of Hightower’s compatriots; New England couldn’t stop the run or a nosebleed, getting gashed for 195 total rushing yards.
Depending on the outcome of Raiders-Chargers Sunday night, the Patriots will either be heading on the road to face Buffalo and Devin Singletary or Cincinnati and Joe Mixon, two emergent rushing attacks (though Bills quarterback Josh Allen is certainly more impressive on the ground than Joe Burrow). No matter who Belichick’s next opponent is, having a full-strength Hightower (or a gutting-it-out Hightower) could change his team’s defensive outlook.