Usually, the New England Patriots are the team that is best prepared when it comes to situational football. During Sunday’s 34-33 loss against the Miami Dolphins, however, they appeared flummoxed during the final Hail Mary play that decided the game in the home team’s favor. However, the 59 minutes and 53 seconds before that play also produced plenty of noticeable performances. Let’s take a look at those that stood out — for better or for worse.
Loser: The coaching staff
New England’s coaching staff made some dubious decisions on Sunday, especially late in the game. First, it decided to kick a field goal from the 4-yard line with only 20 seconds left instead of going for a touchdown or at least giving Miami worse field position for a Hail Mary play. Second, it brought its Hail Mary pass defense onto the field with seven seconds left despite the Dolphins appearing to be out of quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s passing range. The decision came back to haunt them, as the multi-lateral play that followed was taken 69 yards for the game-deciding score.
Winner: QB Tom Brady
The Patriots left points on the board when Tom Brady let himself get sacked late in the second quarter (to be fair, the offensive line did not help much), yes, but the 41-year old still played a terrific game against Miami — arguably his best of the season. Brady was in total command all day long: he made great decisions on most of the plays, and delivered some excellent passes. For the first time this season, Brady looked like the player that was heads and shoulders above every other quarterback in the NFL the last three years.
Winner: LB Albert McClellan
Hardly ever does one man alter the way a team approaches punt plays but that is exactly what Albert McClellan did to the Dolphins. The in-season acquisition had not one but two blocked punts on Sunday and forced Miami to go to a quicker rugby-style punting procedure in the second half. As for McClellan, he executed to perfection: twice he beat the long snapper and displayed perfect form to get his hands on the football to set the offense up with very good field position.
Loser: DT Malcom Brown
When you are billed as a run-first defender, you better be able to stop the run. Malcom Brown, however, was unable to do that on Sunday. The Dolphins ran for 189 yards on just 21 carries on Sunday, and Brown more often than not was moved out of the way to allow runners to get to the second level. While he is not the sole culprit for the Patriots’ performance versus the run, the 24-year old still failed to give the unit any spark and contributed to its struggles.
Winner: TE Rob Gronkowski
First things first: do not blame Rob Gronkowski for not being able to tackle Kenyan Drake before he reached the goal line on the Hail Mary play. Gronkowski was a fish out of water that should never have been put in this position. Other than that, the 29-year old had a great performance. While he still does not appear to be fully back to his old dominant self, he put up terrific numbers and provided a serious big-play threat on every play. All in all, Gronkowski finished the game with eight catches on eight targets for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Loser: K Stephen Gostkowski
Coming off a shaky Super Bowl, Stephen Gostkowski bounced back nicely in 2018. Yesterday, however, the veteran had his worst game of the season. His very first scoring attempt — an extra point after the game’s opening touchdown — hit the upright, which left the Patriots trailing every time Miami scored a touchdown and might have altered the team’s approach near the goal line at the end of the game. In the third quarter, Gostkowski also missed a 42-yard field goal attempt wide right.
Loser: RB Rex Burkhead
New England’s running backs had a quiet day but still made some contributions. Rex Burkhead, on the other hand, was virtually invisible in his second game back from injured reserve. The 28-year old registered five touches — four runs and a pass reception on two targets — on the day and gained a mere five yards. With Sony Michel and James White both being held in check, Burkhead needed to step up to provide a spark for the running game. He failed to do that.
Winner: WR Josh Gordon
Week in and week out, Josh Gordon shows why his acquisition — he was brought in via trade from the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick — was a steal for the Patriots. Yesterday was no exception, as Gordon was outstanding when it comes to making tough catches and generating yards after the reception. At the end of the day, the 27-year old had five catches for 96 yards as well as a big pass interference call drawn late in the fourth quarter.
Winner: WR Julian Edelman
The other half of the Patriots’ top wide receiver duo — Julian Edelman — also had a very good performance. The 32-year old finished the day as the team’s leader in pass receptions (nine) and gained 86 yards in the process, all while also scoring a touchdown. Edelman displayed his usual great instincts and chemistry with Tom Brady, and was vital in New England’s offense doing enough to ultimately win the game.
Loser: The Hail Mary defense (DE Trey Flowers, DT Adam Butler, DE Adrian Clayborn, LB Kyle Van Noy, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB J.C. Jackson, CB Jonathan Jones, CB Jason McCourty, SS Patrick Chung, FS Duron Harmon, FS Rob Gronkowski)
The Dolphins had 69 yards to go and only seven seconds to do it. And somehow, they were indeed able to do it. Credit where credit is due: Miami performed to perfection. Blame where blame is due: the Patriots’ Hail Mary defense was atrocious (it should probably never have been on the field in the first place). Multiple players missed easy-looking tackles, took bad angles or simply were out of position to stop the game’s final play. It was a textbook example of bad situational football all around.
Welp -- here goes nothing. Welcome to the Pats Pulpit Live Postgame Show!Posted by Pats Pulpit: For New England Patriots News on Sunday, December 9, 2018