The New England Patriots entered Sunday’s regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins with a prime opportunity to earn a first-round playoff bye. All that was needed was a victory against a four-win team in front of a home crowd, but the Patriots failed to deliver and eventually fell with a final score of 27-24. There will be a lot to dissect, but for now let’s just take a look at some of the players who stood out on Sunday, without the benefit of a film review.
Loser: CB Stephon Gilmore
Stephon Gilmore picked a bad time to have by far his worst game of the season. The Defensive Player of the Year candidate, who shut down opposing wide receivers on a week-to-week basis over New England’s first 15 contests of the year, struggled against the Dolphins’ DeVante Parker and surrendered seven catches on nine targets for a combined 119 yards — the most receptions and yardage given up by Gilmore since he joined the Patriots as a free agency signing in 2017.
Loser: QB Tom Brady
While the final stat-line looks comparatively solid — 16 completions on 29 attempts for 221 yards, two touchdowns and one interception — Tom Brady did not have a particularly good game against arguably the worst pass defenses in the NFL. He missed receivers off the mark, made some questionable decisions with the ball (including his pick-six), and generally was not on point for much of the afternoon despite solid protection up front. Brady improved in the second half, but still only led New England to two scores on five possessions. It was not enough.
Loser: WR Julian Edelman
The Patriots offense struggled for most of the day, and the lack of production from the wide receiver position was again a major issue — in part because the group’s most consistent playmaker failed to deliver: despite being targeted seven times on the day, Julian Edelman registered just three receptions for 26 yards. New England needed the reigning Super Bowl MVP to step up as Brady’s number one receiver but he failed to do so, with his injury questions an obvious concern heading into the playoffs.
Winner: RB Rex Burkhead & RB Sony Michel
While New England’s offense had a hard time getting into much of a rhythm throughout the day, there were some encouraging performances — including that of running backs Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel. Burkhead’s contributions in the passing game were limited to one six-yard reception, but he looked very good running the football and finished with six carries for 48 yards. Michel, meanwhile, ran the football 18 times for 74 yards and a score. The Patriots certainly need similar production out of the two in the postseason.
Loser: TE Benjamin Watson
Benjamin Watson’s name was effectively called three times on Sunday — and only once for a positive contribution: in the fourth quarter, the veteran tight end registered a four-yard catch. The other two times he was mentioned came because of penalties. In the first quarter, he was flagged for offensive pass interference to negate what initially looked like a successful third down conversation; in the fourth quarter, he committed a false start to move the Patriots back from third-and-eight to third-and-13.
Winner: LB/FB Elandon Roberts
Elandon Roberts’ growth as a fullback is well-documented, and on Sunday he took another step forward: in the third quarter, the 25-year-old caught a short pass — the first reception of his career — and took it 38 yards to the end zone for a game-tying touchdown. It was Roberts’ biggest moment but far from the only impact he had on the game. After all, he also served as a lead-blocker on six rushing attempts that went for a combined 23 yards and a touchdown. Furthermore, he also registered a tackle in his original role as an inside linebacker.
Loser: SS Patrick Chung
While Patrick Chung had his moments against Mike Gesicki, the Dolphins’ talented tight end did get the last laugh: with under 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Gesicki beat Chung for a five-yard touchdown pass that decided the game in the visitors’ favor. The catch was one of four for a combined 34 yards surrendered on the day by the veteran safety, who struggled to consistently contain the big-bodied pass catcher.
Loser: CB Jonathan Jones
After missing the Patriots’ Week 16 game because of a groin injury, Jonathan Jones returned to the field against the Dolphins. Initially, however, he had a quiet first half — New England primarily used rookie Joejuan Williams in the slot — but he saw a bigger role in the second. While this can be seen as a positive sign when it comes to his rehabilitation status, he failed to deliver: the 26-year-old was targeted five times and surrendered five catches for a combined 61 yards.