After a 10-0 start to the 2015 season, the Patriots seemed to be destined for greatness. But then they went 2-4 to close it.
New England went into Miami knowing a win over the last-place Dolphins would lock up the top seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. But a fruitless offensive effort earned them a 20-10 loss, and to make matters worse, the game left Tom Brady to nurse an injured ankle.
Brady hurt his ankle after an awkward pinning by Dolphins lineman Ndamukong Suh in the second quarter.
"I'm pretty sore," Brady said, according to Comcast SportsNet New England's Phil Perry. "But will be alright."
Brady completed just 12 passes on 21 attempts for 134 yards. By contrast, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, fresh off some extremely graphic insults a teammate's wife made on Twitter, had more than double the completions and yards - he went 25-38 for 350 yards.
Running back Steven Jackson, a new Patriots signee after LeGarrette Blount was injured, led the team with 35 rushing yards on 14 carries. Brandon Bolden added another 31 yards on nine carries.
Running back James White had the most receiving yards with 63 on just two receptions - the result of a 68-yard catch. Unfortunately, Jackson, who made a 20-yard catch, was second on the list, with tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell each accounting for less than 20 yards.
The final score was closer than it felt, with the Dolphins outperforming the Patriots in most categories - passing yards, rushing yards, sacks - New England made more total tackles, but part of that was a product of the Dolphins' time of possession being more than two minutes longer.
Trailing by 10 with 1:56 to play, the Patriots elected not to go for late-game heroics with a field goal, an onside kick and a touchdown. Instead, Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski sat down, with backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo going three-and-out.
If the Denver Broncos lost later on Sunday, the Patriots would still have ended up the top seed, but they defeated the San Diego Chargers to cement their place atop the standings. Even so, New England has a first-round bye locked up. They expect to get wide receiver back Julian Edelman from injury. They'll hope to leave the momentum that closed the season behind.