By and large, it was a Monday night to forget for the Patriots as their eight-game winning streak came to a halt at the hands of the Miami Dolphins, 27-20.
Like so many other trips to South Florida over the years, for whatever reason, a superior Patriots team (10-3) succumbed to an inferior Dolphins team (6-7). For every incredible accolade Tom Brady has racked up in his career, his head-scratching record against the Dolphins in Miami (7-9 after Monday night) ranks right up there in eye-opening numbers.
It warrants mentioning New England was down four key starters, including Rob Gronkowski, who was serving his one-game suspension for a late hit in last week’s game against Buffalo. Without Gronk available, the Patriots’ offense had one of its worst showings in recent memory on a number of levels.
Brady failed to complete a pass in the first quarter for just the fourth time in his career, a period which included the first of his two interceptions to Xavien Howard on the night. Brady has now been intercepted in three consecutive games for the first time since 2015.
Even when the offense began to find some semblance of footing in the second quarter, Gronk’s absence continued to loom large. The focal point of New England’s passing attack, who draws so much attention from opposing defense, the Dolphins were able to focus in on the Patriots’ wide receivers’ corps with much success without Gronk to worry about.
New England’s lone lead of the game came at 7-6, after a Rex Burkhead 3-yard touchdown run with 6:18 left in the second quarter. Miami went on top for good on a Jarvis Landry 5-yard touchdown catch on its very next series, a possession highlighted by Kenyan Drake’s 47-yard catch in a mismatch with Elandon Roberts.
Not until there was 10:10 remaining in the third quarter did a New England wide receiver catch a pass, when Danny Amendola finally broke free on a second-and-14 play. Even with Amendola’s grab, the Patriots were at -1 yards for the third quarter until the final minute of the period.
Amendola finished as the team’s leading receiver with six catches for 76 yards, while Chris Hogan had just one catch for 1 yard in his return from a shoulder injury. Brandin Cooks didn’t have a catch until the 2-minute warning of the fourth quarter, narrowly avoiding his first game as a Patriot without a reception.
Dwayne Allen, starting in place on Gronkowski, matched his season high with two catches but for only 10 yards total.
In all, Brady completed 24 of his 43 passes for 233 yards and a 59.5 passer rating. That number was by far the lowest of the season and out of Brady’s 250 career regular season starts comes in at No. 232.
Starting right tackle Marcus Cannon missed his fifth consecutive game with an ankle injury, his absence seemingly catching up with the offensive line as a whole. Brady was sacked only twice but hit five times, and hurried what felt like many, many more.
The trickle-down effect of Gronkowski’s absence was felt all the way down to the running game as well for the Patriots. After rushing for over 190 yards in back-to-back weeks as a team, New England mustered just 25 yards on the ground.
Defensively, the Patriots were without key starters in Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers, each player out with injuries. Drake in particular was problematic all night long, racking up 193 yards from scrimmage.
To fully sum up how difficult a night it was for New England, the team failed to convert a third down for the first time in the Brady-Belichick era – and first time overall since 1991.
The Patriots got all the way down to the Miami 1-yard line inside the 2-minute warning in the fourth quarter, primed to really turn the heat up on the Dolphins. A pair of penalties moved New England back to the 15, where it ultimately had to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
Gostkowski’s ensuing onside kick failed to seal the deal on the end of the Patriots’ winning streak.
Through it all, the Patriots still control their own destiny for the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC playoffs. With a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday (4:25 p.m., CBS), New England will move into a tie with Pittsburgh for the best record in the conference and hold the tie-breaker with a head-to-head win.