When all was said and done, the New England Patriots were just a few plays away from beating the Miami Dolphins in a close game and securing a first-round playoff bye. Alas, they failed to make those plays and fell 27-24 to their division rivals to end the regular season with a 12-4 record and as the number three seed in the conference. The Patriots did not go down without having their chances to pull away the victory, however.
One of those chances appeared to come at the end of the first half. With New England scoring 10 points on its previous two possessions to tie the game, and the defense forcing three straight punts, the team was in a position to drive for a potential lead with under a minute left in the second quarter. But despite still owning all three timeouts, the Patriots opted to literally run out the clock on the half by calling two straight running plays.
This decision was not the reason why the Patriots lost their game against Miami, but it certainly was a curious one considering that the team needed to gain only around 40 yards to get to the edge of Nick Folk’s field goal range. And yet, New England opted to play it conservatively with 57 ticks left on the clock. Why? According to head coach Bill Belichick, the first play of the drive — a 2-yard loss by Sony Michel — sealed the deal.
“We would have done that if we had gotten a first down,” he said during his postgame press conference when asked about not using one of the timeouts after the unsuccessful running play. Belichick gave that answer another time before offering some more context: “See what kind of field position we got, and if we could advance the ball we’d take them. We don’t want to give the ball back with their timeouts at the end of the half either.”
What Belichick was saying is basically this: the Patriots wanted a good drive starter to feel confident about their inconsistent offense’s chances of driving down the field for a score. Since they did not get it, however, they decided to play it safe and enter the locker room before receiving the opening kickoff of the second half (New England would then go three-and-out to open the third quarter). There certainly is some logic behind that decision, unpopular as it may be.
For quarterback Tom Brady, who threw an interception earlier during the game that was returned for a touchdown, Belichick’s decision to not use even one of the three timeouts available also was an understandable one as he pointed out during his own postgame presser. However, the 42-year-old was also quick to point out that the short-lived one-minute drill at the end of the half was not the only issue for the team.
“We weren’t executing great, so I can understand the decision,” said Brady after his first home loss against the Dolphins in which he played for 60 minutes. “[But] there were a lot of things today.”