The New England Patriots had a chance to lock up their ninth straight AFC East title versus the division rival Miami Dolphins. Instead, the Patriots delivered arguably their worst performance of the season – in all three phases of the game – and lost 27-20 to a Miami squad they had blown out by 18 points just two weeks ago.
Let’s take a look at some of members of the team, whose performance was up or more likely down:
Loser: QB Tom Brady
Against the Dolphins, Tom Brady was not good. And when Tom Brady is not good, the Patriots offense – more often than not – is not good. The NFL's best quarterback was under pressure all night long but his issues extended beyond Miami's ferocious pass rush: His ball placement was far from ideal as was his decision making. Overall, Brady finished the game completing 24 of 43 pass attempts for only 233 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The resulting 59.5 passer rating is the lowest of his season.
Loser: Josh McDaniels
Miami played a very good defensive game but it was hard not to get the impression that a lot of the Patriots' offensive problems appeared to be self-inflicted – with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels playing a key role in creating them. New England's offense went away from the running game early, ran some curious play designs in important situations, and did not make major adjustments to counter the Dolphins.
Loser: The Patriots' third down offense
New England's offense had plenty of chances to convert third downs but just could not do it. The unit found itself in 11 third down situations but each time had to settle for a punt or field goal – the first time since 1991 that the franchise failed to convert even a single third down in a game. Failing to extend drives – the Patriots went three-and-out seven times – ultimately contributed to the lopsided time of possession: New England held the football not even 24 minutes.
Winner: RB Dion Lewis
As has been the case the last few weeks, Dion Lewis was the Patriots' best running back and has a strong case for the title of New England's best offensive player versus Miami. The 27-year old was utilized more in the passing game yesterday and was tied for the team-lead with 10 touches: While Lewis finished with five carries for only 17 yards, he did add 50 yards on his five pass receptions – his most productive receiving game of the season.
Losers: DE Eric Lee and DE Deatrich Wise Jr.
Yesterday, the Patriots missed two of their best defenders due to injury as both Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy were declared inactive prior to the game. With the duo out, New England turned to young guns Eric Lee and Deatrich Wise Jr. to provide pressure and set the edge – but they were inconsistent in both aspects. Lee finished with only two tackles while Wise Jr. failed to appear on the stat sheet at all. Neither sacked Miami's quarterback two weeks after New England registered seven takedowns.
Loser: WR Brandin Cooks
Brandin Cooks came as advertised ever since the Patriots traded two draft picks to the New Orleans Saints to get him. However, the wide receiver had his worst game of the season on Monday night – but it wasn't for a lack of targets. Tom Brady threw his way seven times but outside of his one pass reception (a 38-yarder in the fourth quarter) Cooks was basically erased by Miami's defensive backs. To make matters worse, both of Brady's interceptions were thrown in Cooks' direction.
Winner: FS Devin McCourty
Particularly in the first half, the Patriots defense struggled to prevent plays from reaching the second level. Enter Devin McCourty, who oftentimes stopped the big play due to his excellent range and tackling abilities. The team captain, who was tied for the team-lead in both tackles (7) and sacks (1.0), was all over the field and was responsible for stopping three of Miami's five longest plays. A standout performance amidst a shaky defensive showing.
Loser: CB Malcolm Butler
While McCourty played a good game, fellow defensive back Malcolm Butler was inconsistent. Butler, who finished with three tackles, was frequently targeted by Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler and the Pro Bowler failed to step up. He was in coverage on Jakeem Grant's third quarter touchdown – a play where he seemingly mistimed his jump – and nearly gave up another long touchdown if not for a drop by wide receiver DeVante Parker.
Loser: The offensive line
New England's offensive line had issues in pass protection when the team hosted the Dolphins two weeks ago but its dominance in the running game made up for them. Yesterday, however, Dante Scarnecchia's unit struggled in both: The Patriots' running backs gained only 2.5 yards per carry while Tom Brady was under pressure all game long. Overall, Miami sacked the quarterback two times while registering four additional hits as the blockers up front failed to consistently win their one-on-one battles.
Winner: FB James Develin
As noted above, the Patriots gained a mere 2.5 yards a carry. If not for James Develin, however, the number might have been even worse. The NFL's best fullback played a key role on Rex Burkhead's second quarter touchdown run and – with Rob Gronkowski out due to a suspension – was also utilized in the passing game, catching one football for two yards. Another unheralded but solid performance by the 29-year old.
Loser: LB Elandon Roberts
Elandon Roberts was the Patriots' defensive Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde yesterday. While he was used all over the field and finished tied for the team-lead with seven tackles, he also struggled mightily at times against both the pass and the run: Him overpursuing Kenyan Drake resulted in a 26-yard run in the first quarter, him losing the running back in coverage led to the game's longest play, a 47-yard catch-and-run. All in all, a down week for the young and upcoming linebacker.