The New England Patriots entered Week 15 with only a minuscule chance of eventually making the playoffs, so seeing them miss out on the tournament after their 22-12 loss to the Miami Dolphins was not that big of a surprise. And yet, the reality is still a disappointing one: at 6-8, the 2020 Patriots were simply not good enough to earn one of the AFC’s seven postseason seeds.
Even with two games left in the regular season, the best they can finish this year is an even .500 — all while the longest active playoff streak in the league will come to an end.
“Obviously, it stinks to lose, but I think the way that we’ve played has been the most disappointing,” said safety Devin McCourty in the aftermath of the game in Miami. “Not really giving ourselves a chance to win these last two games when we’ve had a chance for postseason play, but it just hasn’t developed for us. It just really hasn’t developed for us all year. It’s just felt like that throughout the whole season.”
New England certainly came close at times throughout the season, with games in Seattle and Buffalo literally coming to the final drive. As opposed to years past, however, the team was repeatedly unable to make the game-changing plays along the way.
Sunday’s contest against the Dolphins was more of the same.
“Disappointed, but we didn’t deserve to win today,” said head coach Bill Belichick.
New England scored four field goals but failed to reach the end zone even once, while the defense surrendered 250 rushing yards to an offense that was missing its top-three receiving options. For a team with as thin a margin for error as these 2020 Patriots, flaws like those turned out to be fatal.
“This whole season has kind of been the tale of coming up just a tad bit short,” said quarterback Cam Newton. “Call it however you want, we still have guys who are new to this system; we still have guys who are young; we still have guys who just don’t get it; and we still have guys who are battling their tails off each and every week. We just have to keep building on the optimism of what we can become and just move from there.”
Newton is one of the central characters in this drama. He did make his fair share of plays against Miami and had a solid stat-line to end the game, but the positive moments were far and few in between as the offense as a whole once more failed to find a consistent rhythm.
“We obviously know what the standard is around here,” said Newton about the Patriots’ season up until the point of postseason elimination. “It doesn’t take a person that’s oblivious or been living under a rock to understand that. We just came up short. That doesn’t mean we’re not good enough — because we are — we just didn’t show it.”
Special teams ace Matthew Slater echoed the emotions expressed of his fellow team captains Newton and McCourty.
“It’s very frustrating,” the longest-tenured Patriot said. “I know that the men in that locker room and the coaching staff and our staff, we started this season with one goal in mind and that’s obviously to play in the postseason and we didn’t accomplish it. It’s tough. We’re used to doing things a certain way here, and it’s tough when you come up short.”
This year, the Patriots came up short more often than in years past. Even when they missed the playoffs in 2008 — Slater’s rookie campaign and the last time New England was not part of the tournament — the team tied the AFC East’s top record before eventually losing out on a tiebreaker. This season, however, the club is farther from the top of the standings than at any point over the last two decades.
And yet, Slater put on his leadership cap after the game to move things into proper perspective.
“I think the most significant emotion I’m feeling is a sense of gratitude,” the 35-year-old said. “I’ve been blessed to have the type of career I’ve had here in New England and be a part of so many good teams that have made postseason runs has been a blessing. I look at my father’s career and what it looked like towards the latter half; year, after year, after year of frustration. It’s hard to win in this league. It’s certainly hard to sustain winning ways in this league, and we’ve been able to do that. I feel blessed, certainly.
“Unfortunately, all the good things come to an end, and we’re certainly disappointed in that, but I feel blessed to have been a part of such a great run here.”
How that run will continue beyond 2020 remains to be seen, but for now New England will try to follow its course heading into Week 16’s matchup against the new AFC champions: it’s on to Buffalo.