The New England Patriots put 2019 in the books Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
And with a 27-24 loss to head coach Brian Flores’ Miami Dolphins.
New England, whose lone lead arrived as running back James White screened into the end zone with under four minutes to play, saw the AFC’s No. 2 seed slip away in the process. Slipping away with it would be a first-round playoff bye for a Patriots team that now stands at 12-4.
Here’s a touchdown worth of observations as the calendar turns to January.
Miami handles possession early, while a former Patriot handles a pick-six
Through Sunday’s initial 20 minutes, New England’s offense stood on the field long enough to run eight plays. Miami’s, in contrast, stood with eight first downs over that span.
Along with a touchdown courtesy of defensive back Eric Rowe.
Rowe intercepted former Patriots teammate Tom Brady and returned the football to the end zone from 35 yards out. It’d be Rowe’s first interception since January 2017. It’d be Brady’s first interception returned for a touchdown since that year, as well. In result, the score read 10-0 midway through the second quarter. New England countered on the ensuing drive with a chip-shot field goal by kicker Nick Folk. The Patriots headed in for intermission without a conversion on third down.
Closing out Edelman’s 2019 stat line
At age 33, Julian Edelman entered Sunday only eight receptions, 15 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown away from tying his NFL apexes.
The wideout’s career-high 105 catches hit in 2013. His 1,106 yards then hit in 2016. And in between hit Edelman’s seven touchdowns in 2015.
On the injury report as questionable for double-digit games this campaign, Edelman remained under that game status with shoulder and knee injuries against the Dolphins. He did not start, instead stepping on for the initial third down as N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett comprised three-receiver sets. But Edelman was turned to for his first reception on third-and-20 to begin the second quarter. He’d also be the intended target on his quarterback’s interception. Edelman finished the 1 p.m. ET kickoff with a pair of catches for 26 yards.
After eight games away, Michel finds himself back in the end zone
A 50-yard strike to the aforementioned Dorsett got New England out of a first-half slumber. The Miami Hurricanes product hadn’t caught a pass since Dec. 1. And this particular pass, which saw Dorsett outlast a recent member of the New England practice squad in Nate Brooks, put the Patriots within six yards of six.
Enter Sony Michel.
New England’s lead running back had been a late addition to the injury report because of an illness. But Michel would be in for his first touchdown since scoring a trio against the New York Jets in October. Michel now holds the rights to 13 rushing touchdowns over his freshman and sophomore regular seasons, as well as an additional six in postseason play.
Second-rounder steps in as Patriots’ third corner
When the Patriots went to the three-cornerback package Sunday, rookie Joejuan Williams went on.
Williams, drafted No. 45 overall out of Vanderbilt in April, had previously logged seven percent of New England’s defensive snaps. He’d proceed to log an open-field tackle versus Dolphins receiver Isaiah Ford that forced third-and-3, and helped ensure that a third-down target on the following drive ended in a field goal.
The Patriots were without Jason McCourty after the veteran starter reaggravated his groin injury in Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills. Top nickelback Jonathan Jones, returning from a groin injury of his own after a one-week absence, eased back into the depth chart after halftime against Miami.
No. 52 becomes touchdown target No. 77
A week after tight end Matt LaCosse became the 76th different player to catch a touchdown thrown by New England’s quarterback, a linebacker joined him.
Elandon Roberts slipped out to the flat, shedding a shoelace tackle attempt, on the way to making a 38-yard trip to the end zone late in the third quarter. No other member of the Patriots’ defensive side of the ball had notched a TD catch since current Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel in 2007. Roberts, a team captain, previously led the way on Michel’s goal-line points, and went on to handle tasks at linebacker and on special teams against the Dolphins.
Miami’s MVP, rushing leader and reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week didn’t go quietly.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick instead tested the coverage of Patriots All-Pro Stephon Gilmore to find DeVante Parker on eight completions for 137 yards. Gilmore had held the 6-foot-3 wideout catchless during the September encounter, a 43-0 Dolphins defeat. Parker was targeted seven times then. He’d be targeted 11 times in all on Sunday.
Fitzpatrick went 28-of-41 through the air for 320 yards against New England. He endured sacks by defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and linebacker Jamie Collins. The 37-year-old maneuvered pressure to earn his fourth rushing touchdown of the year. And with 24 seconds to play, Fitzpatrick got the Dolphins back there, capping off a 13-play drive with a go-ahead toss to tight end Mike Gesicki.