The New England Patriots lost their week 14 game against the Miami Dolphins in heartbreaking fashion: the team was up 33-28 with seven seconds to go when the Dolphins took one final shot down the field. A deep pass, two laterals and 69 yards later, New England’s division rivals were in the end zone for one of the most improbable wins in recent memories — and one that will take its rightful place among the worst regular season defeats in Patriots history.
Let’s take a look back to find some other games that deserve recognition as the worst non-playoff losses in the franchise’s almost 60 years of existence.
1960: The Patriots blow a 24-point lead against the Broncos
The then-Boston Patriots started their inaugural season with a 13-10 loss against the Denver Broncos. Six weeks later and with a 2-3 record under their belt, the team was out to get revenge — and it looked like it would early on: a field goal by Gino Cappelletti and three Butch Songin touchdown passes put the Patriots up 24-0 early in the third quarter. However, Denver rallied back and scored 31 unanswered points to win the game.
1978: The Chuck Fairbanks game
The 1978 Patriots were an offensive powerhouse that still holds the record for most rushing yards by a team in post-merger NFL history. However, head coach Chuck Fairbanks was suspended for the final game of the regular season after news broke that he had agreed to join Colorado the following season. Without their coach, the Patriots were destroyed 23-3 by the Dolphins. To make matters worse, quarterback Steve Grogan suffered a knee injury — one that still bothered him two weeks later when New England opened the postseason and were upset at home by the Houston Oilers.
1983: Debacle at the Kingdome
Ron Meyer’s team entered its regular season finale on the road against the Seattle Seahawks with an 8-7 record — the same record as the home team, which made for a do-or-die scenario for both teams. Unfortunately for New England, the team came out flat and failed to generate any offensive momentum. The Patriots turned the football over three times and ultimately lost the game 24-6.
2003: Lawyer Milloy gets his revenge
Five days before their 2003 regular season opener, the Patriots released veteran safety Lawyer Milloy. He signed with the Buffalo Bills who in week one hosted New England — and destroyed the team. New England turned the football over four times and was blown out 31-0, raising (unfounded) questions about the team’s trust in its head coach afterwards. Meanwhile, Milloy registered a sack against his former team.
2008: Miami unleashes the Wildcat
Rarely do the Patriots look unprepared but this is exactly what happened in week three of the 2008 season, a game best remembered for one offensive concept: the wildcat. Using this college-based scheme, the visiting Dolphins were able to run wild over an outmatched opponent that had originally entered the game favored by 12.5 points. Miami won the game 38-13 — and ultimately beat out New England for the division title on a tiebreaker.
2009: 4th and 2
While the loss itself had comparatively little impact on the playoff picture, it was a tough one to swallow for the Patriots. Up 34-28 against the rival Indianapolis Colts, New England decided to go for it on 4th and 2 from its own 28-yard line with only two minutes left in the game. While the pass attempt was completed, running back Kevin Faulk was ruled short of the sticks. Indianapolis took over and quarterback Peyton Manning threw the game-winning touchdown pass four plays later.
2015: Running out of gas
Had the 2015 Patriots taken care of business in their regular season finale, the postseason might have gone differently. However, New England used a conservative, run-first game plan that failed to work. As a result, the team lost 20-10 on the road against the Dolphins — and the number one playoff seed to the Broncos. Three weeks later, the Patriots had to travel to Denver and were defeated in a close AFC championship game.
The dramaturgy of the Patriots’ last-second collapse in Miami is different from the seven games listed above, but it still fits in the same category: it was a painful defeat for New England. The question now becomes how the team responds to it. Will it be like in 2003, when it went on a roll and ultimately won the Super Bowl, or like 2015 when a loss in Miami had a lasting impact on the team albeit under different circumstances?