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Mac Jones gave the Patriots and their fans as good a performance as they could’ve hoped for in his first-ever NFL game.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to win.
A few costly Patriots mistakes, including a fumble by Damien Harris as New England was driving in the red zone to take the lead, helped the Miami Dolphins hold on for a hard-fought 17-16 division win.
Here’s how the action unfolded Sunday afternoon.
7:19 p.m.: Three straight kneel-downs from the Dolphins ice the game, and that’s it from Foxborough. 17-16, Miami wins.
Mac Jones was very good in his first NFL game (29-of-39 passing for 281 yards and one touchdown), but the costly fumble from Damien Harris and the drop from Jakobi Meyers on the previous possession — both in the red zone — will haunt the Patriots tonight.
7:14 p.m.: Jacoby Brissett gets the first down on a QB sneak. Patriots are out of timeouts with two minutes left. That’ll just about do it.
7:13 p.m.: Patriots take their final timeout. 3rd-and-1 coming. Moment of truth time.
7:12 p.m.: Miami rebounds from a holding penalty on first down with a 13-yard completion to DeVante Parker to set up 2nd-and-1, then Malcolm Brown dives ahead for a big first down with 2:36 left in the game.
Patriots cornerbacks have struggled badly against slant routes today and haven’t done much to limit yards after the catch.
New England just took its second timeout. One remaining with the two-minute warning still to come.
7:07 p.m.: Disaster strikes as Damien Harris fumbles inside the 10-yard line with 3:18 left in the game.
Harris has been excellent all game, racking up 23 carries for 100 yards to this point. But that’s a costly mistake with the Patriots driving to take the lead late in the game.
That’s also the Patriots’ fourth fumble of the game (two lost).
7:00 p.m.: New England benefits from an absolutely brutal decision by Tua Tagovailoa to get the ball back via interception.
Heavy pressure forced the Dolphins quarterback to escape the pocket to his right. But with Matthew Judon in pursuit, Tagovailoa opted to throw the ball into coverage instead of throwing it away. The throw got tipped around before landing in cornerback Jonathan Jones’s hands for the pick.
Once again, Judon has been everywhere this afternoon.
6:52 p.m.: The Patriots put together another strong drive, but a rough drop from Jakobi Meyers on 3rd-and-4 in the red zone kills the touchdown opportunity.
Jones might tell you he should’ve put it on Meyers better, but that was very catchable and would’ve allowed the receiver to turn up the field for a first down.
Instead, New England has to settle for a Nick Folk field goal to make the score 17-16 in favor of the Dolphins. Hopefully Meyers doesn’t end up regretting that one too much later.
6:42 p.m.: Third quarter in the books, with the Patriots driving toward Miami territory.
Jones has had back-to-back impressive plays: stepping up against pressure and firing to Kendrick Bourne, who made a weaving run after the catch that was unfortunately wiped out due to a blindside block penalty by Shaq Mason; and a throw to Hunter Henry over the middle for a first down.
The rookie quarterback is now 20-of-28 passing for 228 yards.
6:39 p.m.: Newly acquired offensive tackle Yasir Durant is now in the game at right tackle as the Patriots have apparently benched Justin Herron. Trent Brown hasn’t been seen since the first quarter.
6:35 p.m.: The Adrian Phillips show just wrecked that Miami drive quickly.
First, the veteran safety stuffed Salvon Ahmed for a 3-yard loss on first down. He then stuffed a screen to Myles Gaskin on third down to force the punt. Once again, the defense rebounds from a tough drive with a much better one.
The Patriots got a nice punt return from Gunner Olszewski, but a personal foul on Matthew Judon pushed the offense back to its own 28-yard line.
6:30 p.m.: Arguably Mac Jones’s most impressive drive of the day ends in a Nick Folk field goal to make the score 17-13 Dolphins.
But even though the Patriots offense didn’t get points out of it, the rookie quarterback provided some glimpses of star power.
He gave us two of his best plays of the afternoon in this 14-play sequence: a deep sideline throw to Nelson Agholor for 21 yards while getting smoked by a defender, and a beautiful wheel route to James White for 26 yards. The White throw was simply perfect: dropped in right over the running back’s shoulder with a linebacker in pursuit.
Jones hasn’t been perfect in his debut, but he’s easily been the best rookie quarterback to take the field in the NFL today.
The problem: the Patriots offense continues to commit sloppy penalties that make their drives more arduous than they need to be (including a flag for illegal formation deep in their own territory) and have started to struggle to protect Jones, who’s gotten hit six times.
6:10 p.m.: The Dolphins started off the second half just the way they started off the first: with an easy scoring drive.
Tagovailoa completed a 33-yard jump ball to DeVante Parker over good coverage from J.C. Jackson to get things rolling, followed by chunk plays by Jaylen Waddle and Myles Gaskin to get Miami into the red zone.
Miami then scored on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa to Waddle, whom the Dolphins have been trying to get the football in any way possible. (For good reason, too: he has four catches for 61 yards already.)
Jason Sanders’s extra point makes it 17-10. The drive took just over four minutes.
5:51 p.m.: That’s the end of the first half. The score is now 10-10 Dolphins after a field goal from Jason Sanders.
After a big pass completion to Jaylen Waddle to start Miami’s drive, the defense once again stepped up when it needed to.
Jalen Mills broke up what would’ve been a touchdown pass on a fade route to Albert Wilson, and Josh Uche ended all hopes for six points by taking down Tagovailoa for his first sack of the year.
The first half stars: Mac Jones (14-of-19 for 133 yards and a touchdown), Damien Harris (11 carries for 77 yards), Nelson Agholor (four catches, 51 yards, one TD), Kyle Van Noy (one sack and multiple pressures) and Matthew Judon (tackle for loss, general destruction).
5:37 p.m.: There it is folks: Mac Jones’s first touchdown pass goes to Nelson Agholor, who’s having a nice game.
He tossed it quickly to Agholor short of the goal line, and the receiver spun away from a tackle to get in standing up. Nick Folk’s extra point makes it 10-7 Patriots.
The Dolphins helped out the Patriots a bit with a roughing the passer penalty on Mac Jones by former Patriot Elandon Roberts. It was a good play by Roberts to blow up the play-action in the backfield, but he hit Jones low to bring him down.
Damien Harris was shaken up on the drive after a short catch-and-run but returned to the field.
5:22 p.m.: Yet another Patriots drive stalls out after just four plays.
Mac Jones started things off with a beautiful pitch-and-catch to Nelson Agholor on a quick play-action in-cut. It was perfectly layered over the linebacker’s outstretched arm and into a tight window.
But a pretty deep post throw to Jakobi Meyers got broken up at the last second by ex-Patriot Jason McCourty, and a third-down throw was batted down at the line of scrimmage by Emmanuel Ogbah.
But the defense holds up their end yet again, forcing a Miami punt after just four plays themselves. Devin McCourty almost came up with a pick on Tagovailoa’s errant third-down throw but couldn’t hang onto the diving attempt. Nonetheless, he and the rest of the unit have stiffened up remarkably since that first series.
Time to see if the Patriots offense can take advantage of decent field position at their own 37-yard line.
5:14 p.m.: New England’s defense nearly got burned by a busted coverage on 3rd-and-10, but Miami’s Jaylen Waddle dropped what would have been a first-down grab.
The Patriots shook off a 23-yard completion to DeVante Parker to force a Miami punt. J.C. Jackson had two passes defended on the drive, including a brilliant breakup on Parker after the receiver’s big catch.
Mac Jones and the offense are back in business at the 20-yard line with 9:11 left in the first half.
5:05 p.m.: The score is now 7-3 Miami after a 27-yard Nick Folk field goal caps off a 14-play, 65-yard drive.
A costly holding penalty by Isaiah Wynn wiped out a big run from Damien Harris that would’ve had the Patriots down at the Dolphins 1-yard line, effectively killing the chance for a touchdown.
Before that, Mac Jones had completed two nice passes to Jakobi Meyers to keep the chains moving and is now 9-of-11 for 77 yards with three third-down conversions.
But he also had a quick throw to Meyers against pressure get tipped off the receiver’s hand and almost get picked off; Meyers had to fight to save the ball from getting intercepted. But no harm done in the end.
4:59 p.m.: The first quarter is in the books, and running back Damien Harris is feeling it right now.
Just ripped off his second run of more than 15 yards today and picked up another Patriots first down a moment ago.
The Patriots have 2nd-and-2 at the Miami 44-yard line. Still 7-0 Dolphins.
4:53 p.m.: New England’s defense forces a badly needed three-and-out after Matthew Judon almost singlehandedly snuffs out the drive.
First, Judon stuffed Gaskin in the backfield for the second time today to create a 3rd-and-long situation; then he demolished Miami’s right tackle to force Tua Tagovailoa to run into the arms of former Dolphin Kyle Van Noy for the sack.
The Patriots’ offense has the ball back at their own 26-yard line after a punt.
4:49 p.m.: The Patriots’ second drive ends early as rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson fumbled after a short catch and run. The play was ruled a fumble on the field, and the ruling was confirmed upon review.
Dolphins get the ball back at the Patriots’ 48-yard line.
4:46 p.m.: Right tackle Trent Brown left the game on the Patriots’ first drive with a calf injury. Backup tackle Justin Herron has taken his place.
4:39 p.m.: 7-0 Dolphins.
Miami got everything they wanted on their 10-play, 80-yard drive, from ripping off big gains on quick throws to moving the Patriots defensive line with ease to create easy holes for Myles Gaskin.
Tua Tagovailoa then punched it in on a 2-yard touchdown off a read-option keeper.
New England gets the ball back hoping to improve on a promising first drive that faltered in Dolphins territory.
4:35 p.m.: Things started off great for the Patriots offense, who got the ball first after Miami won the toss and deferred. Damien Harris ripped off a 35-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, and the Pats ran the ball three straight times for another first down.
Then things fizzled out.
Mac Jones got sacked after Miami’s Christian Wilkins blew by Jonnu Smith’s block and threw the ball backward for a fumble (recovered by Smith). The Patriots couldn’t get the yards back and had to punt.
4:16 p.m.: The Patriots take the field to a roaring crowd just before the game. The rookie quarterback Mac Jones leads the team onto the field to “Crazy Train” from Ozzy Osbourne.
If the Patriots win this, they’ll get an early leg up in the AFC East standings after the Bills and Jets lost their openers.
3:53 p.m.: When the Dolphins took the field for warmups, it was Liam Eichenberg taking the starting reps at left tackle rather than Austin Jackson, the normal starter on the left side. Jackson missed practice all week after testing positive for COVID-19 last weekend but was activated for the game Sunday morning.
If the Dolphins second-round pick indeed makes the start for Miami at left tackle, he’ll have quite the task ahead of him to keep Matthew Judon, Josh Uche and the Patriots’ talented edge rushers off of Tua Tagovailoa.
3:40 p.m.: Nelson Agholor has officially been spotted in uniform catching passes from Mac Jones in warmups. All systems go for today.
He’s also donning his new number (15) after having switched with N’Keal Harry last week.
3:35 p.m.: A sudden cheer went up from the early attendees at Gillette Stadium a few minutes ago as Mac Jones took the field for warmup tosses. Not sure if you’d heard this before or not, but the rookie first-round pick is about to make his first NFL start.
Moments before, Nick Folk hit two long field goals toward the north end zone in warmups: one from 52 yards and another from 57. The latter kick just snuck over the crossbar and bounced in off the curved support holding the posts up.
He doesn’t quite have Quinn Nordin’s leg, but the Patriots are ready to trust the veteran Folk as their kicker in Week 1.
3:12 p.m.: Here is the list of inactive players for the day: OLB Ronnie Perkins, K Quinn Nordin, CB Shaun Wade, OT Yodny Cajuste (hamstring), TE Devin Asiasi, RB J.J. Taylor.
The biggest surprises among them, if you can call them that, are Nordin, Asiasi and Taylor.
Despite not making the initial 53-man roster, it appears the Patriots intend to use Nick Folk as the starting kicker after elevating him from the practice squad. Assuming New England elevates Folk again next week, it could mean Nordin might be headed for the practice squad himself.
Meanwhile, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith must be healthy, because the Patriots will be relying on them as the only two true tight ends on the roster for this game (though Jakob Johnson can play there in a pinch).
Taylor’s inactivity this Sunday means rookie Rhamondre Stevenson is set to play a large role as the primary backup to Damien Harris and will also likely get chances to return kickoffs as well.
3:09 p.m.: Mac Jones will have one of his top weapons on offense after all.
Nelson Agholor warmed up with other active players a few hours before kickoff and is on track to play after being limited in practice this week. Cornerback Jalen Mills also looks to be available and will likely start opposite J.C. Jackson.
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