By Gregory Hunt
The New England Patriots failed to capitalize on an opportunity to clinch the AFC East title on Sunday, losing 24-20 to the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. The Patriots actually led the game 10-0 at one point in the first half, but quarterback Tom Brady later found his team trailing by four points with only 1:15 remaining in the game. He got New England as far as the Miami 14-yard line, but his final pass with :02 remaining was intercepted in the end zone by Miami safety Michael Thomas. The defeat cost New England an opportunity to control its own destiny regarding home field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
Offense Grade: C+
New England's biggest concern on offense was protecting Brady against a relentless Miami pass rush. In one regard, the Patriots passed this test as Brady was sacked only once even though he had a whopping 55 pass attempts. However, Miami still got a number of hits on Brady especially after left tackle Nate Solder left the game with a head injury. Guard Logan Mankins was moved to left tackle while rookie Josh Kline was inserted at guard, and New England's offensive line did not perform nearly as well after that.
Brady had a solid day, throwing for 364 yards and two touchdowns while completing nearly 62 percent of his passes. Brady threw 23 of his 34 completions to wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Edelman had a career-high 139 receiving yards with one touchdown while Amendola had 130 receiving yards. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui had only one catch, but it was a spectacular, one-handed grab for a touchdown in spite of tight coverage.
Wide receiver Josh Boyce looked great on a 30-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter, but he dropped two passes later in the game. Running backs LaGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley got most of the carries on the ground, but although Patriots ran for a respectable 4.4 yards per carry, they gained a total of only 96 rushing yards.
Defense Grade: C
Defensive back Nate Ebner got credit for a fumble recovery when the Dolphins muffed the snap on a field goal attempt, but the Patriots defense otherwise failed to force any turnovers. In previous years, the New England defense was known for getting a lot of takeaways, but the Patriots came into Miami with only one takeaway in the previous two games. This is a disturbing trend that may reduce the team's margin for error as it approaches the playoffs.
Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked four times, but given that Tannehill had been sacked an NFL-high 47 times prior to Sunday, this was to be expected. Tannehill is capable of making plays with his feet, but he was contained in the pocket and not allowed to make any positive rushing yards. In fact, New England did a better-than-typical job overall against the run, holding Miami to only 89 yards rushing.
Credit must be given to Tannehill for doing such a terrific job of spreading the ball around. He completed only 25 passes, but they were to 10 different receivers. However, New England's biggest failure was in allowing too many yards after the catch due to poor tackling. Defensive backs Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory and Marquice Cole all missed tackles resulting in big plays.
Special Teams Grade: D
After having such a terrific game against the Cleveland Browns last week, kicker Stephen Gostkowski had an uncharacteristic bad game against the Dolphins. Only two of his five kickoffs went for touchbacks, and he missed a 48-yard field goal late in the second quarter which gave Miami the chance to score its first touchdown of the game just before halftime. Even worse, he shanked a kickoff out of bounds late in the fourth quarter, giving the Dolphins a short field for their game-winning touchdown drive.
On the positive side, punter Ryan Allen did a good job in flipping the field on a terrific 57-yard punt in the second quarter, and special teams captain Matthew Slater was outstanding in kick coverage.
Coaching Grade: D
In the absence of injured tight end Rob Gronkowski, it was expected that running back Shane Vereen would become a major focus of the Patriots offense. Perhaps thinking that the Dolphins might focus on Vereen, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels instead reduced Vereen's role to only five touches on two rushes and three receptions. McDaniels also abandoned the running game far too early, even though New England's rushing game was working well and the Patriots never trailed by more than a touchdown.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He's also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women's college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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