The Patriots, once again, played a game that was dictated by the final drive. Unlike the past few weeks, they weren't able to pull it off.
The Dolphins just straight up beat the Patriots. They executed when they needed to, and the Patriots defense broke at the worst possible time (or maybe the best, if you want to look at the bright side and consider it left plenty of time on the clock).
When the Patriots drove down the field and into the red zone, I know that I felt fairly confident. Tom Brady and the offense had pulled it off before, why couldn't they pull it off again? There was plenty of time for four shots of a reasonable distance in the air; why not go for it?
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels drew up some plays that could have worked if the team had different players. He wanted quick plays so the offense would have time on the clock should the play fail. However, the routes weren't built to generate separation, they were drawn to give quick, and possibly contested throws. The refs weren't calling pass interference all game, for either side, so gambling with end of game contact wasn't a likely option.
Using undersized receivers on those passes didn't work out. The Dolphins out-muscled, out-wanted, out-desired the Patriots on each throw and were able to win.
It marked another week where the Patriots left the game up to the final drive.
Game 1: End of regulation field goal to beat the Bills 23-21
Game 2: Interception against the Jets with 38 seconds on the clock to win 13-10
Game 4: Hold on fourth down with a Falcons and Matt Ryan pass defended in the end zone to win 30-23
Game 5: Interception on the Bengals 27 yards line to kill the drive and lose 13-6
Game 6: Game winning touchdown pass with 5 seconds against the Saints on the clock to win 30-27
Game 7: Overtime, push penalty to extend the Jets drive and lose 30-27
Game 10: Picked up flag, end zone interception, Pats lose to the Panthers 24-20
Game 11: Blown punt return by the Broncos, gives Patriots a field goal in overtime to win 34-31
Game 12: Field goal to take the lead with 3:15 on the game clock, fourth down defense to stop the Texans final drive to hold on to a 34-31 win
Game 13: Miracle finish as the Patriots score two touchdowns against the Browns, and allow a final drive to culminate in a missed field goal to end the game with a 27-26 win
Game 14: Patriots drive to the Dolphins 14 yard line and end the game with a Bengals-like interception to lose 24-20
Look at that track record. Eleven of the Patriots fourteen games have ended with the game's final, or near-final drive. Out of those games, the Patriots stand at 7-4. The Patriots could just as easily stand at 3-11 as they could be 14-0.
This has been a team playing on borrowed time, playing consistently close games that allow single plays to dictate the final outcome. The Patriots are fortunate enough to be the last team with the ball since having Brady being the player dictating those single plays is a clear advantage.
Of course, when looking more closely, the victories against the Falcons, Texans, and Broncos have less to do with Brady being clutch as it does with the defense and special teams making plays, while the Browns game has less to do with the defense "holding" Cleveland on the final drive. But this is a team game and no one game should be dictated by one facet of the game. No one game should be decided by one player, or one play.
And yet here the team stands. Winning more yards in a game of inches than they've lost. Fighting to beat the odds and stack the deck. The Patriots have been playing a risky season and it looks like they'll continue to gamble. It was more a matter of "when" they would lose, not "if".
The Patriots need to do a better job of executing so they don't have to wait until the game's final series to determine the outcome.