Once again, the big play is missing from the Patriots’ arsenal — and the defense can only do so much

The Patriots defense did some good things in the Dolphins’ eventual 24-17 win, most notably limiting dynamo Tyreek Hill to five catches for 40 yards and a touchdown.

JuJu Smith-Schuster made an 11-yard reception to the Miami 2-yard line in the fourth quarter.
JuJu Smith-Schuster made an 11-yard reception to the Miami 2-yard line in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots' longest gain on a pass play all night was 14 yards. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

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It’s tough to avoid a case of big-play envy after watching the Patriots play the Dolphins.

The Patriots defense did some good things in the Dolphins’ eventual 24-17 win, most notably limiting dynamo Tyreek Hill to five catches for 40 yards and a touchdown.

They also held Miami to 7 points in the second half, impressive considering that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and friends dropped 36 points on the Chargers in their opener, including two Hill touchdown receptions after halftime.

Yet the Patriots defense couldn’t stop everything, which was practically a necessity with the offense sputtering early behind an offensive line that had three different starters than a week ago. Jaylen Waddle — imagine having that guy as your second-fastest receiver — had catches of 28 and 32 yards, and running back Raheem Mostert broke off a clean 43-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.


Meanwhile, the Patriots’ longest play from scrimmage all night was an 18-yard Mac Jones scramble on third and 15 in the fourth quarter. It was practically fitting that the game ended with Cole Strange, a guard, coming up just short while trying to convert a fourth down after a lateral. Even the Dolphins’ guards are probably more explosive than the Patriots’ linemen.

Some further thoughts, upon immediate review …

Three players who were worth watching

Players suggested in the Unconventional Preview: Tyreek Hill, Rhamondre Stevenson, Keion White.

Christian Gonzalez: Sold. Oh yeah. Two games in, and I’m sold. The 20-year-old rookie cornerback, the No. 17 overall pick in the April draft, doesn’t just have a chance to be special. He may already be there.

After picking up a sack on a corner blitz and adroitly busting up a fourth-down pass to give the Patriots some fleeting hope in the opening-week loss to the Eagles. Gonzalez was out there making plays under difficult circumstances again Sunday night.

With Jonathan Jones out with an ankle injury and Marcus Jones sidelined during the game, Gonzalez frequently took on the extreme challenge of defending Hill, arguably the most difficult player to cover in the NFL. Gonzalez did nothing less than a sensational job, even collecting his first career interception along the way with a leaping grab of a deep throw aimed in Hill’s direction at the Patriots’ 14-yard line with 10:04 to play.


Christian Gonzalez notched his first NFL interception on this fourth-quarter play.
Christian Gonzalez notched his first NFL interception on this fourth-quarter play. – Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Watching Gonzalez thrive immediately has been the best part of this season so far.

Andrew Van Ginkel: The former fifth-round pick has started 32 games in five seasons, totaled a half-sack last season, and has a name that sounds like the lead singer in an emo band you saw once and never want to see again.

He’s a competent player, but against the Patriots, he was so disruptive that he might as well be an honorary Watt brother. In the second quarter, he submitted back-to-back plays in which he buried JuJu Smith-Schuster for no gain after a short catch, then drilled Mac Jones as he was throwing on third down to force an incompletion.

On the ensuing possession after Gonzalez’s interception, he sacked Jones for a 10-yard loss on the Patriots’ 4-yard-line on second down, effectively stalling the possession. Van Ginkel dominated right tackle Calvin Anderson while reminding us that the Patriots’ line has had a terrible habit so far of allowing sacks at the most inopportune times.

Raheem Mostert: It makes sense that Hill and Waddle are the first names that come up when discussing the Dolphins’ remarkable speed on offense. But Mostert warrants more than a passing mention for his game-breaking ability, especially considering he’s a 31-year-old running back who doesn’t appear to have lost a step.


The Patriots held the Eagles to a respectable 97 rushing yards on 25 carries, but the run defense had no answers for Mostert Sunday night. He finished with 121 yards on 18 carries and a pair of touchdowns — an 8-yarder to put the Dolphins up, 10-0, early in the second quarter, and that 43-yard sprint midway through the fourth in which several Patriots waved at him but no one touched him.

Grievance of the game

When asked to explain on WEEI’s “Greg Hill Show” Monday morning why Demario Douglas didn’t see the field again on offense after losing a fumble on the final play of the first quarter, Bill Belichick said in part, “Nothing is more important than ball security.”

That’s certainly important for his team; the offense isn’t often going to be potent enough to overcome losing the turnover battle. But you know what is more important than ball security? Actually winning games.

Burying Douglas — who had picked up 11 yards on third and 8 before Bradley Chubb punched the ball loose — was counterproductive given that his quickness in tight spaces is a skill other Patriots receivers lack. He could have been hugely effective against Dolphins defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s scheme, which aims above all else to take away big plays downfield.

Belichick’s decision to give Douglas the Stevan Ridley treatment a week after veteran Ezekiel Elliott continued playing following a similar fumble was inconsistent if not hypocritical, and it hurt their chances.

Three notes scribbled in the margins

Predicted score: Dolphins 26, Patriots 23

Final score: Dolphins 24, Patriots 17

As far as thrilling tactics for blocking kicks go, nothing is ever going to top Jamie Collins bounding over the offensive line like a human pogo stick to swat a field goal attempt. But Brenden Schooler’s block of Jason Sanders’s 49-yard attempt with the Dolphins up, 17-3, in the third quarter might be the runner-up. Schooler lined up wide — his starting point may have been the new lighthouse for all we could tell — took off in motion to get a head of steam, and swerved in to swat the kick with perfect timing … This obviously is connected to the lack of cohesion among the offensive linemen, but it was a surprise that the Patriots mustered only 88 yards on 25 carries against a defense that gave up 234 on the ground to the Chargers a week earlier. Stevenson did score a fourth-quarter touchdown, but he finished with just 50 yards on 15 carries, with a long run of 12. He has just 75 rushing yards through two games, which isn’t enough from the Patriots’ best offensive player … So Hill says Patriots fans are “nasty,” huh? Was someone in the stands shout-reading the “legal issues” section of his Wikipedia page at him or something?



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