Despite scoring a modest 20 points, the Patriots offense had one of its worst games of the season on Monday night.
The Patriots offense went three and out seven times and failed to convert a single third down (0-11).
It was the first game since Week 5 of the 1991 season that the Patriots failed to pick up at least one first down on third down.
From a playing time perspective, the first item on the list was the return of wide receiver Chris Hogan.
Hogan went back to serving a prominent role in the Patriots offense playing in his first game since Week 8 logging 55 snaps on Monday night.
Hogan’s return bumped wide receiver Phillip Dorsett off the field who had been filling in for Hogan over the last four games.
Dorsett didn’t play a single snap on offense for the Patriots after playing on 61.7% of the Patriots’ offensive snaps in the previous four games.
In the backfield, the score played a huge factor in how the snaps were distributed.
With the Patriots playing most of the game from behind, James White led the way with 35 snaps on offense despite fellow running backs Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead having the hot hand entering Week 14.
Finally, despite LaAdrian Waddle’s return from injury, fourth-year tackle Cameron Fleming played every snap for the Patriots at right tackle.
Fleming was tasked with blocking one of the game’s best pass rushers in Cameron Wake for most of the game, and didn’t surrender a hit on Tom Brady, but did allow three hurries.
The Patriots defense saw its impressive streak of holding opponents to under 17 points end at eight games after the Dolphins hung 27 on the Pats in Week 14.
It wasn’t a great start defensively, but they did force the Dolphins to punt on each of their final five possessions excluding kneel-downs, which kept the door open for the Patriots to try to pull off the comeback.
Along the defensive line, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler have been called upon to log some serious snaps in the absence of Trey Flowers.
Brown (64 snaps), Butler (55 snaps) and Guy (54 snaps) had season-high snap totals on Monday night, while rookie Deatrich Wise played a limited role despite Flowers’ absence (16 snaps).
The Patriots opted to go heavy along the defensive line with Brown, Guy, Alan Branch, and Adam Butler, and relied on newcomers Eric Lee and Marquis Flowers to provide an edge presence.
After his breakout performance in Week 13, Lee was on the field for 100% of the Patriots’ snaps on defense in Miami.
The Patriots were thin at linebacker heading into the game with Kyle Van Noy (leg injury) and David Harris (healthy scratch) both inactive.
The lack of depth at the position has forced second-year linebacker Elandon Roberts into a prominent role.
Roberts’ play has been trending upward in recent weeks, but he took a step back this week thanks to some poor coaching and Miami’s talented running back Kenyan Drake.
The Patriots defense finally began to show the effects of being down two key starters in Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers on Monday night.
With defensive captain Dont’a Hightower already lost for the season, the Patriots defense continues to get thinner in the front seven.