The New England Patriots needed a win to clinch the AFC East and a spot in the NFL playoffs, but they couldn't get it, falling to the Miami Dolphins 24-20 after a last minute drive stalled in the red zone.
For about 29 minutes, the Patriots looked like they were back defensively. They were solid in coverage, they were getting after the quarterback, they were tackling well, and they were defending the run. But with just over a minute left in the first half, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed a third and ten, and proceeded to bring the Dolphins quickly down the field for the go ahead score.
That drive swung the momentum, as the Dolphins would go on to score 17 unanswered points heading into the 4th quarter.
Facing a 17-10 defecit, the Patriots would rally back. Brady led the Patriots to ten fourth quarter points, including an awesome go-ahead touchdown drive that was capped with a Julian Edelman touchdown with just over four minutes left.
Brady was precise all game. His last second interception was a result of the situation rather than his decision making. He spread the ball around well to the likes of Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce, and Austin Collie. The Dolphins were able to hit Brady quite a lot, but Brady did an excellent job all game of anticipating the rush and releasing the ball quickly.
The Patriots however, would lose this one due to defense (in addition to an inability to execute in the red zone on offense). The tackling in the secondary was horrendous in the second half, especially from Steve Gregory. On the final drive, converted a fourth and five from midfield with just over three minutes remaining on a screen. The Patriots have struggled to defend the screen all season long. On the Dolphins' winning touchdown, linebacker Dont'a Hightower was in position but never turned his head as Marcus Thigpen caught the easy score out of the backfield.
But as bad as the Patriots were defensively in the second half, the real reason the Patriots lost this game was due to the stellar play of Dolphins' quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Heading into the season, most would have agreed that Tannehill was the second best quarterback in the division behind Tom Brady. But that wasn't really a compliment considering the competition: rookies Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel. But after today, at least from a Patriots fan's perspective, that's something he can say with pride. He missed some throws in the first half, but was simply on fire in the final two quarters.
While the Patriots didn't play a particularly bad game, this loss stings. The Patriots are essentially now out of contention for the first seed, barring some kind of unforeseen loss in the final two weeks by the Broncos. But they still need to win another game to even make the playoffs, depending on what happens with the Ravens tomorrow. They will also need help to get the #2 seed, as the Bengals hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Patriots.