5 takeaways from the Patriots’ crucial late-season win over the Dolphins

New England heads into the regular season finale with a playoff spot on the line.

Matthew Judon Patriots-Dolphins
Matthew Judon celebrates the Patriots' win over the Dolphins. Winslow Townson/Getty Images

The Patriots outlasted the Dolphins 23-21 on Sunday, keeping playoff hopes alive with one week to go in the regular season.

New England moved to 8-8, grinding out a vital win with timely offense and effective defense.

Here are a few takeaways:

The offense struggled again, but made enough plays to win.

Mac Jones finished the game 20 of 33 for 203 yards passing with two touchdowns. He managed to avoid turnovers — an underrated accomplishment in the context of the game — and showed some of his ability when given time in the pocket.

Still, it was far from an ideal display from New England. After scoring on their opening possession, Jones and the Patriots were largely absent until midway through the third quarter. It was stretch that included four punts and an end-of-half sequence in which the offense simply ran out the clock.


Many of the issues stemmed from offensive line struggles, which once again couldn’t consistently protect Jones. Miami was able to create pressure, recording a pair of sacks and four quarterback hits.

If the Patriots are going to compete against the Bills in Week 18, Jones and the offense will have to find a way to be more consistent.

The defense created turnovers and made the difference in the win.

Though the Patriots were facing Dolphins backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (and finished the game against third-stringer Skylar Thompson), the matchup against Miami presented several challenges. The greatest of these were the injuries in the Patriots’ secondary — missing a trio of cornerbacks — while facing the speedy Dolphins duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

In the end, Waddle managed three catches for 52 yards, while Hill grabbed four passes for 55 yards. Neither player was completely shut out, yet it was an encouraging display from New England’s patchwork secondary. Jonathan Jones even created a turnover when Hill bobbled a pass in the fourth quarter:

In the end, it was turnovers that proved to be the difference in the game. On top of Jones’s interception, Kyle Dugger’s 39-yard pick-six was a momentum-swinging play.

New England would have even added a third interception had Devin McCourty held on when a miscommunication between Hill and Bridgewater left him all lone with the ball in his sights. In the moment, however, the play ended in disappointment for McCourty, who committed a rare mistake and dropped the would-be pick.

Kyle Dugger continues to make clutch plays.

Having already scored two defensive touchdowns in 2022, Dugger added to his haul on Sunday by intercepting Bridgewater in the third quarter and running it back to restore New England’s lead.

It was yet another timely play from Dugger, who finished the game with five total tackles and a pair of deflected passes to go along with his interception score.


The 26-year-old’s combined instincts and athleticism have made him a weapon in Bill Belichick’s defense. Amid all of the injuries in the secondary, Dugger was one of several standouts for the Patriots in a week when it was absolutely needed.

Special teams problems

With regular punter Jake Bailey on injured reserve due to a back injury, the Patriots once again turned to backup Michael Palardy.

Palardy looked shaky for much of the day, failing to land any punts inside the 20-yard line (booming multiple punts into the end zone for touchbacks). On other occasions, he couldn’t seem to hit the ball deep enough.

On back-to-back punts to open the second half (following consecutive Patriots three-and-outs), Palardy netted just 31 and 28 yards, respectively. After the second of those short punts, the Dolphins took over at the Patriots’ 41-yard line and promptly took the ball down for a touchdown.

Punting wasn’t New England’s only special teams challenge. Punt gunner Brenden Schooler ran into Dolphins punter Thomas Morstead during the second quarter, enabling Miami to take a second chance at a fourth-and-one, which was converted. The sequence ended with the touchdown to Hill, capping a 14-play drive.

That, plus a Nick Folk missed extra point in the second half, rounded out a difficult day on special teams for New England. In many ways, the Patriots were fortunate that these blunders didn’t prove more costly.

Lingering injury concerns and the Week 18 matchup

With the win, the Patriots still control the team’s playoff destiny. A win in Week 18 at Buffalo against the Bills guarantees a wild-card spot.


New England can technically still make it with a loss, but that would require other results to fall in the correct way.

The other early consideration looking at the regular season finale will be the statuses of (among other players) Jonathan Jones and Jakobi Meyers. Both players picked up injuries towards the end of Sunday’s win. Jones, for his part, downplayed the injury concerns in his postgame media availability.

Meyers, who sustained a shoulder injury while scoring a fourth quarter touchdown, also said he “should be” ready to go against Buffalo.


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