What the hell was that?
Here I am, trying to relax as we close out the year, thinking that the Patriots have a pretty clear and easy road to a first round bye with a home game in late December against a fairly lousy Dolphins team, and what I got instead was what is undoubtedly one of the more embarrassing losses of the Brady/Belichick era. The whole team stunk, the coaching stunk even more, and as a result the Patriots lost out on the chance for a week off and now have to play a game this coming weekend for the first time since 2009.
Tough to sugarcoat this one.
- It’s only fitting that I watched the last game of the regular season at my own personal Bedford Falls, Paddy’s of Park Slope, after having to spend the majority of this year watching games offsite as we complete a home renovation. I’ve always loved It’s a Wonderful Life, but coming back to that bar gave me a newfound appreciation for the last ten minutes of that film.
- To that end, I want no part of any individual who isn’t a sobbing, blubbering mess as the credits roll on that movie. Between George Bailey’s pure elation at seeing Zuzu’s petals, wishing the movie house a Merry Christmas, kissing the broken newel post on his bannister, the feast of absolutely perfect lines like “no man is alone who has friends” and “to my big brother George - the richest man in town...” watching that movie every year is an experience like no other. But for me, the part that always hits home the hardest is when George follows his wife Mary down the stairs, his kids all hanging off him, and he just starts laughing out of pure joy for what he has and who he’s with. I’m getting teary-eyed now even thinking about it.
- OK, enough blubbering. On to the game - or at least what resembled a game.
- First off: good for the Dolphins. What a massively amazing way to end a season in which you’re clearly rebuilding. They came into Gillette Stadium, slapped the Patriots around, cost them the two seed, and built some excellent momentum heading into the offseason. This is the kind of win you ride all year long, and it’s pretty awesome to see what Brian Flores has created with the players he decided to keep. The team that cared more and played better deserved to win.
- The annoying thing, though, is that the team that cared more and played better should have been the team with something to play for. The Patriots played like a team that had already wrapped up a first round bye coming into Week 17 and could afford to completely mail it in. The problem with that is, they hadn’t wrapped up a first round bye coming into Week 17 and most certainly could not afford to completely mail it in.
- I don’t really even know where to start with this one, so I think I’ll begin with the biggest surprise: the coaching. This might have been Belichick’s worst coaching performance in the last four years. Little to no adjustments. Lackadaisical offensive playcalling. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team shred the Patriots so consistently with the same plays in my life as the Dolphins did with the quick slants, and that’s not an exaggeration. Usually when a Patriots team gets beat, it’s because players make great plays or the third/fourth option balls out. But the Patriots came out of the box in this game as aggressive as I’ve seen them all year, showing an almost exclusively zero look with no deep safety, trusting the one on one matchups and leaving the middle of the field open. Fitzpatrick just threw a lot of short slant passes over the middle and New England had absolutely zero answer. And if they did have an answer, they’re saving it for next year or something.
- Seriously - if it wasn’t such a ridiculous thing to think, I’d throw out that Belichick was trying to lose this game on purpose in order to create a more interesting playoff narrative for the Patriots. All that talk about needing a bye week to get to the Super Bowl was finally starting to get to him, so in a “I’ll show them” moment, he decided not to make any adjustments and forge a playoff path that involved away games at KC and Baltimore instead.
- It’s never going to get the attention that some of BB’s other decisions have gotten over the years...but I have a feeling when I look back on the 2019 season as a whole, I’ll be able to sum up the entire year with the last two minutes of this game’s first half and the first two minutes of the second half.
- Just so I have it straight: the Patriots score 10 straight and have some real first half momentum and the chance to double dip for the first time all season. They then hold Miami to a three and out with all three timeouts and almost two minutes of clock left. They then opt not to call a timeout, let the clock run down, call a few safe running plays, and seem perfectly content to go into the half tied. They then come out of the locker room having made no tangible adjustments and immediately go three and out. They then allow a nine play, 83 yard TD drive to the Dolphins to fall to 17-10. Anything I missed there?
- That said - it’s not like that sequence of plays decided the game, They still let up 27 to Miami and allowed a 13 play, 75 yard go-ahead drive late in the fourth quarter. It just shows that there’s zero confidence in this team to score points in a hurry.
- In case you forgot, the Chiefs can score points in a hurry.
- Which is as good a time as any to throw some shade at the defense - something I never thought I’d be doing today.
- Stephon Gilmore sure did pick a great day to get himself pantsed, then wedgied, then pantsed again. I don’t think a receiver has dominated Gilmore as thoroughly aa Devante Parker did today. Eight grabs for 137 yards and an average of 17 yards per catch is the kind of stat line you’d expect out of Julian Edelman back in 2011.
- Speaking of Edelman...hope he wasn’t hoping for a week off to heal from the injuries that are continually plaguing him.
- Tackling was bad, there was some overpursuit, and nobody played well. The plus side, I guess, is that this is the first truly awful game the defense has played all year. The downside is that they picked the absolute worst possible time to do it.
- I still just can’t understand how the Patriots didn’t adjust away from the Cover-0 and why they kept the Cover 2 zone even when Fitzpatrick was eating them alive. What’s the thought process there?
- Was this Tommy B’s worst game of the season? Unfortunately, that’s a conversation and not an obvious yes. Between the overthrows, the passes into the dirt, leading guys too far, and hands down the most inexplicable throw of his entire 2019 season, Brady is as much to blame as anybody for today.
- I must have typed and then deleted 500 words worth of annoyed remarks about Mohamed Sanu. Every time I was ready to go off on him, he did something important. But I swear to Tebow if that man runs just ONE more four yard out route on third and five and gets stopped short of the sticks I’m going to slap someone. And that someone is likely going to slap me back and knock me right the hell out. And that’s going to suck.
- The only real offensive highlight of the day involved a converted linebacker catching a pass and rumbling into the end zone. And you know what the really sad part is? My first thought was “why can’t New England’s receivers make grabs like that?”
- I also liked some of what I saw from N’Keal Harry. He’s very hard to bring down in the open field and Tommy B went to him on a few back shoulder throws and an end zone fade that he got separation on, Brady just (shockingly) overthrew him.
- For the record, Elandon Roberts now has more regular season touchdown receptions than James Develin.
- I wonder if New England should be running these sweeps that require receivers to stick a block against a bigger defender...
- Remember how effective the Patriots were out of 21 personnel? Yeah? I don’t think anyone on the coaching staff does.
- Where in the AFC East will Ryan Fitzpatrick end up next year? It has to be as a backup in New England, right?
- It’s pretty clear now that the Patriots just aren’t meant to sweep the Dolphins. Let’s hope they lose in Miami every year from here on out.
- Again...good for Miami. If the Patriots are going to blow a week 17 home game to lose out on a bye, I’m genuinely glad it’s to this Dolphins team and Brian Flores. He spent more than a decade in New England and I have nothing but love for that man.
- The Patriots are 5-4 over their last nine games. Yuck.
- To be honest, I’m not even all that upset today, mainly because I think that the Patriots are exactly where they deserve to be. I’d definitely be more upset with this result if I thought the Patriots were in a situation where they deserved a two seed, but lost the bye due to some nonsense or a freak play. The Chiefs and the Ravens are the best two teams in the AFC. They both 100% deserve the bye over the Patriots. The two best teams in the AFC should get to relax next week while the rest of the conference dukes it out, and that’s how it’s going to happen.
- The narrative right now is that the Patriots are going to win next week and then get absolutely SPANKED in KC. They have to know that that’s what everyone thinks. Hopefully they can use that as motivation - since “win at home against a bad team to lock up a playoff bye” clearly doesn’t do anything to move the needle here.
We’re on to Wild Card Weekend. New England now has a very, very tough road to the Super Bowl ahead, which ensures that we’re in for a wild finish to the season no matter what happens here.