Thirty-four thoughts on the Patriots’ 34-33 loss to the Dolphins . . .
1. We knew coming in to the Patriots’ matchup with the Dolphins Sunday that bizarre circumstances often occur during the visit to Miami, no matter how good the Patriots are and how mediocre the Dolphins are at the given moment. The Patriots have lost more than they’ve won there in Tom Brady’s career. They’ve lost to Joey Harrington and A.J. Feeley, who didn’t defeat much of anyone. They’ve lost in bewildering and unexpected ways. But they’ve never lost like this, and never will again.
2. The Dolphins beat the Patriots on the final play of the game, and let’s put it this way: The Duriel Harris-Tony Nathan hook-and-lateral in the 1981 playoff game with the Chargers is no longer the most extraordinary trick play in Dolphins history.
3. With seven seconds left, Kenyon Drake took a lateral from Devante Parker, who had taken a lateral from Kenny Stills, and outran the Patriots defense for 52 yards and the winning touchdown as time expired. When you saw it the first time, you probably couldn’t believe it. Now we’ll be seeing it forever.
4. It was so strange — and yet so typical of how twisted things can get for the Patriots in Miami — that the last line of defense was not a McCourty brother or Duron Harmon or Patrick Chung, but Rob Gronkowski, who was in the game to defend a Hail Mary and ended up diving helplessly to the turf as Drake crossed the goal line.
5. The loss might be as damaging as it was shocking. At the time of the loss, the Chiefs were in overtime with the Ravens, and a chance for the Patriots to slide into the top seed Sunday in the AFC playoff race was possible. Instead, the chance to clinch their 10th straight AFC title is on hold, and they missed a chance to put the Houston Texans, who fell to 9-4 with a loss to the Colts, in the rear-view mirror. Their degree of difficulty just grew.
6. The botched coverage — and man, is it going to be interesting to watch the film and see which Patriots were jogging behind the play — was the devastating mistake, but it was far from the Patriots’ only mistake Sunday. They were downright brutal at times at situational football, and in areas where they usually thrive.
7. Tom Brady botched a possession inside the Miami 20 at the end of the first half, coming away with no points. Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal and an extra point. The defense struggled to stop 73-year-old running back Frank Gore (12 carries, 92 yards) and the Miami running game, which picked up 189 yards on 21 carries. Brandon Bolden – the former Patriot backup – ran for two touchdowns, including a 54-yarder.
8. Then there’s Gronkowski the safety. There’s certainly an element of second-guessing after the fact here, but he probably should not have been on the field on defense given that Ryan Tannehill, playing on a bad ankle, may not have been able to reach the end zone on a Hail Mary attempt. And there are probably more laments to be found.
9. But they nearly won the thing too, and that’s the only goal in Miami: Get the hell out of there with the win. The Patriots blocked a pair of punts, both by Albert McClellan. Gronkowski’s quickness is still lacking, but otherwise he was in pretty close to vintage form on offense, with 8 catches on 8 targets for 107 yards and a score. The defense battered Tannehill.
10. Gronkowski’s touchdown was impressive. Dolphins defensive back Bobby McCain thought he was going to come away with an interception, but Gronkowski boxed him out and plucked the ball out of the air as McCain lunged for it. One more reason to appreciate Gronk while he’s still here.
11. Through three quarters, James White had one touch – a 6-yard catch. Strange to limit the usage of a player who entered just three catches shy of Tony Collins’s single-season franchise record for receptions by a running back (77 in 1986). I had no idea Collins held that record. Did you?
12. With three touchdowns (and 7 total rushing yards) in the last two weeks, James Develin is close to officially becoming the new Mosi Tatupu, the brute you have to give it to on the goal-line to get you those 6 points. I’m not sure they’ve figured it out yet, but we have to be getting to the point where opposing defenses have to at least have a clue that Develin could get the ball in short-yardage situations.
13. Then again, opposing defenses never seemed to figure out that a direct snap to Kevin Faulk on a 2-point conversion was likely, or that if Mike Vrabel was in on offense in goal-to-go situations, Brady wouldn’t hesitate to throw to him.
14. Gostkowski bounced the extra-point attempt off the right upright after the Patriots’ first touchdown, his first miss after making his previous 37 this season. He barely knocked through the extra-point on the Patriots’ second touchdown.
15. When a certain Dolphins running back broke off a 36-yard run on his team’s first possession, play-by-play voice Ian Eagle punctuated the call by saying, “Frank Gore, future Hall of Famer.’’
16. It’s absolutely true – he trails only Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders on the all-time rushing list. But I can’t say I’ve ever watched him and thought of him as a Hall of Famer. He’s a tribute to decent quality over a long time more than anything else.
17. I think we all figured going into this one that arguably the biggest play of the first half would be a tag-team effort between Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber.
18. Of course that’s exactly how it played out. McClellan, signed by the Patriots in November after the Ravens, for whom he had played beginning in 2010, cut him, blocked Matt Haack’s punt like he was an honorary Mutombo.
19. Humber, signed a week after McClellan in an effort to boost their lagging special teams, jumped up and rebounded the punt, giving the Patriots the ball at the Miami 18. Five plays later, the Patriots had the lead again at 13-7, with Brady finding Julian Edelman for 2 yards and a touchdown.
20. That play should have looked familiar to anyone who wore out their Super Bowl XLIX DVD — or heck, to anyone who paid attention during that game. It was a replica of Edelman’s 3-yard touchdown catch that gave the Patriots a 28-24 lead with just over two minutes remaining.
21. It probably hasn’t gained as much notice as it should nationally, but it’s obvious — and a relief — to anyone who follows the Patriots that Edelman is as close as can be to the player he was before his knee injury.
22. He had seven catches in the first half for 70 yards, including the touchdown, and finished with 9 for 86 yards overall. His biggest play other than the touchdown came at 5 minutes, 50 seconds in the second quarter, when, trailing 21-20, Brady found him on third and 7 to continue a drive that would end with a Cordarrelle Patterson touchdown.
23. Edelman will drop one once in a while — he actually had one that helped stall a drive on a second-and-8 pass thrown his way on the first possession of the second half — but he’s as reliable as he ever was.
24. The Patriots scored 21 points in the second quarter alone, but it should have been more, with their final possession of the half — and a chance to go up 34-21 into the break — an utter mess.
25. Thanks to another deflected punt by McClellan, the drive practically started in Free Points territory at the Miami 13. Turned out it was No Points territory.
26. Brady threw away one pass in which James White appeared to be open out of the backfield. He missed a wide-open Chris Hogan in the back of the end zone, rushing his throw with Robert Quinn closing in. And then he made one of the strangest mental mistakes I can recall in his career.
27. Under pressure on third and goal from the Miami 2, he pump-faked, appeared on the verge of escaping, then toppled over as Quinn closed in for the hit. Brady’s decision to not throw the ball away cost the Patriots at least 3 points — time ran out while he was still picking himself up from the turf and Gostkowski didn’t get a chance at a chip-shot field goal.
28. To put it another way: That’s the kind of play you expect the instinctively challenged Tannehill to make, not Brady.
29. The blunder of the game obviously came on the final play, but until then the Dolphins’ Kenny Stills was poised to be the goat, in part due to what looked like a lack of effort. In the fourth quarter, he failed to reach the attainable first-down marker on second down, setting up a third and 1.
30. John Simon, who had 1.5 sacks and looks increasingly like a keeper, buried Tannehill on third down, and Miami had to punt. Then, on the possession after Stills slid short of the first-down marker, a Tannehill dart went through his hands on third and 4, forcing another punt.
31. It would be inaccurate to suggest the Patriots defense was even adequate in the first half considering Miami put 21 points on the scoreboard and Bolden had twice as many touchdowns (2) as he had previous carries (1) this season.
32. But, one thing the Patriots D did do well is consistently siege Tannehill. He threw just eight passes in the first half, and the Patriots sacked him three times before knocking him from the game late in the half when one of his lineman rolled up his ankle.
33. Naturally, the Patriots picked up a fourth sack on the first drop-back of his replacement, the iconic Brock Osweiler. I still can’t believe that guy beat the Patriots a couple of years ago when he was a Bronco.
34. I can believe his current employer beat the Patriots Sunday. It’s the fifth time the Dolphins have done so at home in six years. But it’s going to be awhile before many of us comprehend how it happened.