FOXBOROUGH — With 24 seconds remaining in New England’s regular-season finale Sunday afternoon, Patriots fans started shuffling out of Gillette Stadium.
Those still in their seats sat in silence.
Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki had just caught a 5-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick for the go-ahead touchdown, capping a 75-yard, 13-play drive. After kicker Jason Sanders hit the extra point to give Miami a 27-24 lead, the hushed home crowd seemed stunned.
Fans piped up when quarterback Tom Brady took the field moments later. “Bra-dy, Bra-dy,’’ they chanted, hopeful the offense could salvage the team’s hopes of a first-round playoff bye. But Brady’s shaky performance throughout the game had foreshadowed what was to come.
Three incompletions and a chaotic sequence of laterals later, the Patriots retreated to the locker room, set to play a wild-card game for the first time since 2009.
“We didn’t play the way we’re capable of playing,’’ said Brady, speaking at the podium still in his game pants and cleats. “It ended up costing us. Just too many bad mistakes.’’
The struggles started well before that final drive. On the Patriots’ first drive of the game, they went three-and-out. On their next, they totaled 24 yards on five plays. On their third drive, early in the second quarter, Brady’s off-target pass intended for Julian Edelman was intercepted by former teammate Eric Rowe, who ran the ball 35 yards into the end zone. The easy pick-6 was Brady’s first since 2017.
“Just a bad throw,’’ Brady said. “Bad throw.’’
Brady connected on just 16 of his 29 pass attempts, with several misfires sailing out of reach of Phillip Dorsett and N’Keal Harry. His 55.2 completion percentage marks the sixth time in seven games he has been unable to hit at least 60 percent of his passes. For parts of that stretch, Brady had been limited in practice with an elbow injury.
So, was he feeling OK physically on Sunday?
“Yeah, I feel good,’’ said Brady, who was a full participant in every practice this week. “I have no problems.’’
Besides lamenting his pick-6, he didn’t have much to say about his outing.
“I could always do things better,’’ Brady said. “I don’t think there was one particular thing other than, obviously, I hate turning the ball over. I just don’t think we did a good enough job. I certainly didn’t do a good enough job.’’
Several players still expressed confidence the team will be able to find its rhythm — even if their postseason path just got more complicated.
“We expect to play better, but it’s over now and we have to prepare for next week,’’ said running back James White. “We are still in the playoffs, and everything we want is still in front of us.’’
“Let’s not mope around and feel sorry for ourselves,’’ said Matthew Slater. “We are in the playoffs. Our team has worked hard, and we should be appreciative of where we are.’’
For Brady, his sights are strictly set on next weekend.
“I think we got to think about trying to win one game,’’ he said.