MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The defense is simply a shell of its former self.
That’s the only way to view that side of the football after the Patriots suffered a heartbreaking 24-20 loss to the Dolphins Sunday afternoon.
The Patriots of the first six games of the season would never let Ryan Tannehill drive 60 yards over nine plays for the game-winning touchdown with 1:15 left. The Patriots of the first six games wouldn’t let Tannehill throw for 312 yards and three touchdowns, or let Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline combine for 11 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown. The defense of the first six games wouldn’t go two straight games without forcing a turnover, as the Patriots have now done.
This is a unit that has lost Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, of course. And the secondary is banged up, with Aqib Talib (hip), Kyle Arrington (groin), and Alfonzo Dennard (knee) working through injuries. Arrington briefly left the game in the second quarter, and Tannehill immediately targeted his replacement, Marquice Cole, who allowed Wallace to slip past him for a 39-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
The defense is running on fumes at this point in the season. Jason Campbell threw for 384 yards for the Browns, and Case Keenum almost pulled off an upset for the Texans. The only reason the Patriots have been competitive is because Tom Brady and the offense have pulled off impressive comebacks with last-minute drives.
The Patriots (10-4) will eventually clinch the AFC East and likely a first-round playoff bye, but the defense hardly looks like a championship unit.