It’s impossible to maintain that what happened in Miami Sunday afternoon could the worst Patriots loss in the Big Belichick era, especially when you consider the trio of Super Bowl losses.
But is it the worst regular season loss for the New England Patriots, a franchise littered with examples of futility over the years? Sure.
We could also argue that Belichick has never looked worse after a game that didn’t involve benching Malcolm Butler.
Where would you like to direct the frustration? Stephen Gostkowski left four points on the field by missing an extra point and a field goal. Tom Brady left at least a field goal try out there at the end of the first half after forgetting how many timeouts his team had. Stephon Gilmore let what seemed to be an easy pick-six slip through his fingers, which would have been a pretty big coup for a defensive unit that did everything but pay for fossilized Frank Gore’s early-bird, postgame special at Old Country Buffet.
The Patriots should have won this game by 18 points. But Belichick wasn’t going to let his name be omitted from the list of those committing dopey mistakes. The Patriot Way, I guess.
Which is how the Miami Miracle was born.
Really, the Patriots never should have been in the position they were in during the final seconds of what turned out to be a 34-33 win for the Dolphins, thanks to a statistically-improbable double-lateral surprise that the Patriots — or anyone — never could have seen coming.
Except that, maybe they should have.
The Zapruder film didn’t have as much to unpack as the final minute of this farce can claim. Let’s start with fourth-and-goal from the Miami four-yard-line with 21 seconds remaining. The Dolphins had no timeouts, yet Belichick elected to have Gostkowski kick the field goal, thereby preventing Miami from stealing a win if it were to somehow lob itself into field goal position. I get the argument that the impossible can still happen, just from further away, but if you score the touchdown, the game is over. If you don’t score, at least you’ve pinned Miami at the four-yard-line with 20 seconds on the clock.
If the Dolphins pulled off what they managed to do beginning at the four-yard-line rather than the 31-yard-line, maybe Rob Gronkowski has an extra second or two to catch up with Kenyon Drake.
Maybe with the ball at the four-yard-line, he’s not out there in the first place.
Yet, there he was. All six-foot-six-inches of Gronkowski’s frame, awaiting the deep Hail Mary ball that everybody but Belichick, apparently, knew wasn’t coming off the arm of Ryan Tannehill.
Manning. Brees. Rodgers. Hell, Jeff George. You want to put Gronkowski in Hail Mary protection against those guys, with arms that justify the deep threat, then fine. But Ryan Tannehill is going to step back and chuck the ball 75 yards as if we just stepped into the Tecmo Dimension?
“Yeah, well they could throw it deeper,” Belichick said. “They could have run the Desperado-type play, which is kind of an in between 20-yard pass, then it turned into a Desperado.”
That still doesn’t explain why the battered Gronkowski is a better defensive option in that situation over, say, Devin McCourty, but it would be daft to expect that Belichick feels the need to explain himself.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t do a good job on that today. We need to obviously coach it better, play it better,” he said.
It was Belichick’s baffling decision-making that led to everything. It was laughable to the point where Tannehill admitted after the game that his reaction before the play was simply, “Gronk’s on the field? We got this.”
Now, let’s add in the fact that the Patriots rushed four players at Tannehill for whatever boneheaded reason, along with the fact that Kyle Van Noy served as a predator to keep Tannehill from escaping the pocket. It was a difficult premise for sure, seeing as Tannehill spent most of the game limping on an injured ankle and had to be considered a serious threat to run.
“It’s football,” Gronkowski said. “Just the way it ended, I mean, it sucked.”
The sycophant spin on all this might be that such an idiotic turn of events should create some level of fire in team spirit. I haven’t heard any “Belichick let it happen to rally the troops” theories quite yet, but we’re still days away from Pittsburgh.
It was Belichick’s fault that he couldn’t finish sewing up the mistakes his players made in the final minute of play. Maybe the Patriots deserved to lose such an uneven effort. Maybe Belichick sent that message by calling upon a Miracle from the South Beach heavens.
Or maybe he could have just stood there after the game and said, “My bad.” For once.
It will be Belichick’s fault if the Patriots have to travel to Kansas City this postseason. All thanks to the Miami Miracle. Which will ultimately lead to the New England Novelty next month.
What’s Wild Card Weekend like anyway?