By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The Patriots were just 16 seconds away from victory down in Miami.
But then, mayhem.
The Patriots' struggles in Miami are well documented, but they've never been as bad as Sunday's loss. Usually, the Dolphins dominate the Patriots for 60 minutes, we all accept it because the Patriots stink in Miami, and we move on.
But Sunday was a whole new level of stinktitude. Despite letting the Dolphins hang around, the Patriots were seconds away from a victory, which would have given them their 10th straight division title. But Miami completed a stunning, 69-yard hook-and-ladder play that ended with Kenyan Drake taking a lateral 52 yards for the game-winning touchdown. It left the Patriots in complete shock as they walked off the field at Hard Rock Stadium.
As stunned as they were Sunday afternoon, the Patriots have to pick themselves up quickly with another tough road matchup against the Steelers next weekend. They were saying all the right things after the game, confident that a heartbreaking loss like Sunday's won't sink their season, and they'll have a great chance to prove that next weekend in Pittsburgh. But the loss basically knocks them out of the running for the No. 1 seed, and a first-round bye is also in jeopardy if they stumble at any point over the next three games.
A lot of the focus will be on the final play, and rightfully so. But the Patriots made a startling number of miscues and missed on several opportunities to put themselves in that last-second situation, and it proved costly.
There is certainly a lot to digest from that one, so let's jump right into our Ups and Downs from Sunday's shocking loss in Miami.
THE LAST PLAY
Yuck. Just, yuck. That's not the kind of play a Super Bowl contender should be giving up on the last doggone play of the game.
Rob Gronkowski was pretty hard on himself after the loss for not being able to get to Drake, but there is a whole lot of blame to be divvied up. Jonathan Jones couldn't wrap up Kenny Stills after he came down with Ryan Tannehill's pass, allowing him to chuck a lateral to DeVante Parker. Corner J.C. Jackson couldn't get to Parker before he flipped the rock to Drake.
And then Kyle Van Noy, Trey Flowers, Stephon Gilmore and Patrick Chung each had their chances to get to Drake one way or another, and failed miserably. Gronkowski could have taken a better angle to get to Drake, but had any of New England's actual defensive players been able to do their job on the play, it would have never gotten to that point.
After a great performance last week against the Vikings, the New England D took a major step back on Sunday.
Points Left On The Field
In an extremely uncharacteristic brain fart from Tom Brady, the Patriots QB left three points on the field just before halftime. Brady took a sack at the Miami 9 with six seconds left on the clock and no timeouts in Bill Belichick's pockets, costing them a chance at a chip shot field goal.
Brady admitted after the game that he thought the Patriots had a timeout left when he took the sack.
"That was a terrible play by me. That should never happen. I just lost track," he said after the loss. "We called the one and ran a couple of plays and I was just not thinking on third down. Just a play that should never happen."
In addition to the three points before halftime, the Patriots missed out on four points off the leg of Stephen Gostkowski.
First, he missed an extra point after New England's opening drive touchdown. It was Gostkowski's first missed point-after of the season. Then he missed a 42-yarder in the third quarter that would have extended New England's lead to 30-21. Instead, it remained a six-point game, and kept the Dolphins in it.
Maybe Brady's issues in Miami transferred over to Gostkowski ahead of this one. But those four points turned out to be mighty costly when the clock finally hit zero in Miami.
Dolphins Ran All Over Patriots
The Dolphins were not a great running team heading into this one, but managed to wrack up 189 yards on the ground, averaging nine yards per carry.
That's the most rushing yards that the Patriots have allowed all season.
Big Plays Gash Defense
Frank Gore gashed the New England defense for a 20-yard run on Miami's first possession. That happens with Gore, even if he's a 50-year-old running back.
What was inexcusable was letting former Patriots running back Brandon Bolden break off a 54-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He blew by safety Duron Harmon, who took a terrible angle and had no shot at getting to his former teammate before he reached the end zone. Overall, New England's secondary had a terrible tackling day on Sunday.
Miami's second drive of the second half consisted of just four plays: Bolden getting stuffed for no gain, a 16-yard run by Gore, a 24-yard catch-and-run by Gore, and a 23-yard touchdown pass by Tannehill to Brice Butler (plus a hold by the Patriots on the first snap of the drive). That was how Miami answered Gostkowski's missed 42-yarder.
Kenny Stills also had some big plays, with receptions of 21 and 43 yards, finishing with eight receptions for 143 yards.
Road Woes Are Concerning
The Patriots are now 3-4 away from Gillette Stadium. That is concerning considering they'll likely have to play a road game to get to the Super Bowl.
They have a gigantic road test next week in Pittsburgh, their last chance to knock out whatever road woes are ailing them before closing out the regular season against the Bills and Jets in Foxboro.
Gronk Goes Wild
He caught a pass in the red zone. It was a touchdown. He is Gronk, once again.
That beauty was Gronkowski's third touchdown reception of the season, and it came after he made a crucial third-down catch earlier in the drive.
Gronk finished with a season-high eight receptions for 108 yards, his first 100-yard game since Week 1. So maybe all that talk of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
Flowers Was A Force
The defensive end was a monster for much of the afternoon, coming up with two sacks and a forced fumble. Flowers is now up to 6.5 sacks for the season.
Special teams has been an uncharacteristically wild ride for the Patriots this season, but they made two big plays on Sunday. Rather, Albert McClellan made two big plays on Sunday.
The veteran special teamer blocked a pair of punts on Sunday. His first came as he burst through the line to block Matt Haack's attempted boot late in the first quarter, giving the Patriots the ball at the Miami 18-yard line.
It didn't take long for New England to take advantage of the short field, as five plays later, Brady hooked up with Julian Edelman for a three-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a 13-7 lead.
McClellan's second block came just before halftime, giving the Patriots another opportunity to put points on the board.
Unfortunately the Patriots didn't take advantage of that opportunity, but it was nice to see special teams go out and make plays on Sunday.
Brady's Touchdown To Patterson
People love to talk about Tom Brady's "noodle" arm. Personally, I've never known of any kind of noodle that can deliver an absolute missile like this 37-yard touchdown to Cordarrelle Patterson.
Bonus points to Patterson, who made a finger-tip catch on the play.
Brady was downright surgical to start the game, completing each of his first 10 passes, and finished the game 27-of-43 for 358 yards and three touchdowns (including another record-setter).
Camera Guy Takes A Tumble
Patriots fans need a good laugh right now. Or at least a hearty chuckle.
There must have been a giant hole in the field, based on the tumble this camera guy took after Bolden's touchdown run.
He was OK, so it is indeed alright to have that hearty chuckle.
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