The end is nigh, at least when some of the talking heads are believed after the New England Patriots’ stunning last-second defeat in Miami. However, it was not all bad: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski looked good, the defense was solid on third down (at least the few times it actually got this far), and the special teams registered two blocks. Was it perfect? Far from it, especially the last seven seconds. But the defeat is also not as bad as that fateful final play might make it seem.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s power rankings to find out how the Patriots’ position has changed after what has been an eventful week 14: after all, the team’s rivals for a first-round playoff bye also all dropped their games — which actually improved New England’s odds when it comes to earning it.
Around the AFC East:
(9-4) New England Patriots at (7-5-1) Pittsburgh Steelers
2nd - Ryan Van Bibber (SB Nation): The Patriots haven’t really done anything special this season, and after that whole Miami Miracle, it is going to look a little strange to have them at No. 2 on this list. But here’s where precedent comes into play. Brady’s led eight fourth quarter comebacks in the playoffs during his career, three of those in the Super Bowl. Plus, you have a head coach who almost never shoots himself in the foot (except for using Gronk at safety for impossible Hail Mary situations).
4th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): What happened against Miami? That was a brutal loss and now they have to re-group against the Steelers on the road.
4th - Experts (Bleacher Report): For the fifth time in six years, the Miami Dolphins defeated the Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. But it wasn’t just that the Dolphins shocked the Pats again. It was how they did it, on a wild, 69-yard catch-and-lateral that would look more at home on a playground than an NFL field. In the short term, the loss isn’t a huge deal. It’s not going to prevent the Patriots from winning their 10th straight AFC East title. It will only delay it. And because of Houston’s loss to the Colts, the Patriots still hold the No. 2 seed in the AFC heading into next week’s showdown with the Steelers. However, in the long term, it may be another story. “The Patriots just lost a game in which Tom Brady threw for 358 yards and three touchdowns without a pick,” Davenport said. “The New England defense gave up 34 points and over 400 yards of offense to a Dolphins team that entered the game 29th in total offense. Play defense like that at Arrowhead in the playoffs, and it’s going to get ugly quickly.”
4th - Elliot Harrison (NFL.com): No matter how cruddy the Dolphins are, no matter what their record is, no matter what the Patriots’ record is, New England can’t buy a win in South Florida. Miami could be starting Cleo Lemon at quarterback and still beat Bill Belichick and Co. At issue Sunday was not just the wild endgame scenario, but also the end-half scenario, when Tom Brady uncharacteristically took a sack deep in Dolphins territory with no timeouts left, preventing the Pats from kicking a field goal. Then there was Stephen Gostkowski, who characteristically (at least, this year) missed a field goal and an extra point. Little things. Including having Gronk in to post up, only for him to instead turn into a safety at the worst time. Back-seat coaching: Why not use Josh Gordon as the center fielder there? Gordon can high-point balls and he maybe would have been agile enough to reach Kenyan Drake.
4th - Experts (AP)
5th - Nate Davis (USA Today): Hindsight provides clarity, yet hard to figure why Gronk defending on last play (Devin McCourty wasn’t) with Miami 69 yards from end zone.
5th - Experts (ESPN): Top wish list item: A “Back to the Future” flux capacitor. The Patriots would like to travel back in time to Sunday so they can redo the final 69-yard defensive meltdown that led to a stunning 34-33 defeat to the Dolphins. It is rare to see a Bill Belichick-coached team, which prides itself on excelling at situational football, make such a miscue in a crucial situation.
5th - Mike Florio (Pro Football Talk): Bill Belichick brushed off the loss to Miami by saying, “No one died.” Their shot at the top seed did, however.
6th - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): Next week’s game at Pittsburgh is a big one in terms of securing a first-round bye. Lose that and the door is open for the Texans to get the second seed. Considering the Patriots are 3-4 on the road, it’s no sure thing they win at Pittsburgh, or away from Foxborough in January either. Giving up that Kenyan Drake touchdown might haunt them for a while.
6th - Geoff Lowe (Sportsnet): The Miami Miracle only delays the Patriots inevitably clinching of the AFC East for the 10th straight time, but the stunning loss means clinching the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is unlikely.
6th - Joe Giglio (NJ.com): There’s something off about this Patriots team. No pass rush. A less-than-amazing Tom Brady.
6th - Joshua Schrock (NESN): New England’s awful luck in Miami continued when the Dolphins score on a 69-yard, multi-lateral touchdown as time expired to win 34-33. The Patriots have been brutal on the road this season and their defense was shredded by a mediocre Miami offense, giving up 9.16 (!) yards per play at Hard Rock Stadium.
6th - Vinny Iyer (Sporting News): What was that? The Patriots looked lost in Miami, turning a comfortable victory into a gut-wrenching defeat. The good news, however, is Tom Brady and the Patriots’ passing game is back to full strength in time for the Steelers game.
6th - Russell S. Baxter (Fansided): South Florida has not been an ideal setting for the Patriots, who had dropped four of their last five road games in this series entering Sunday’s contest. Back in Week 4, New England rolled the Dolphins, 38-7, at Foxborough. On Sunday, these longtime divisional rivals went back and forth all day. The Patriots owned a 27-21 lead at halftime and a 33-28 advantage with seven seconds on the clock. But the Dolphins lateraled their way to a 69-yard touchdown as time expired and stunned Bill Belichick’s team. It was an odd performance by the club, who gave up 189 yards on the ground and watched kicker Stephen Gostkowski miss a PAT and a 42-yard field goal. [...] The Patriots were seconds away from clinching a 10th straight AFC East title. But it wasn’t meant to be and that will have to wait another week. Belichick’s perplexing team now owns a disappointing 3-4 road record and now heads to Pittsburgh for a key showdown within the conference.
7th - Mark Maske (Washington Post): Having Rob Gronkowski on the field for the miraculous play by the Dolphins was a huge mistake. But it certainly wasn’t the only mistake made Sunday by the Patriots, with Tom Brady’s clock-management gaffe at the end of the first half and Stephen Gostkowski’s kicking misadventures. Nobody shrugs off setbacks better than the Patriots, and they can file that one under their ongoing issues when they play in Miami. But now they must face a desperate Steelers team this Sunday in Pittsburgh.
7th - Bryan Fischer (Athlon Sports): Death, taxes and the snowbirds of New England losing in Miami. While you expect crazy endings like that against some teams, you had to be flabbergasted it came against a Belichick-coached one.
Week 15 Average Rank: 5.1 (-1.5)