For the first time in 12 years, the New England Patriots won’t be playing in the playoffs. We knew this was coming for quite a while, but, just one day after the Buffalo Bills clinched their first AFC East title in 25 years, the Miami Dolphins put the final nail in the Patriots’ coffin. The final score was 22-12, but one could argue that it wasn’t really that close.
Any realistic Pats fan knew the team was not going to the playoffs for a few weeks now, but it still hurt to be officially eliminated.
Searching for positives
There was not much positive from the game, if I’m being honest. I thought Sony Michel ran hard, but the offense struggled to move the ball, and, for the second consecutive game, and fourth time this season, was held without a touchdown.
Jakobi Meyers had another strong outing topping 100 yards receiving again, but also had a costly fumble. The offensive line was fine, but Justin Herron was beat a few times at left tackle, and it seems that he may not be much better than Jermaine Eluemunor. For now though, I much prefer the young guys get the playing time.
Kyle Dugger did continue his strong play on the edge, playing physical and making some solid plays. Josh Uche did the same, even though he missed back-to-back tackles on Tua Tagovailoa (one where the Dolphins QB lost his balance immediately after), the second allowing the Dolphins to move the chains on third down.
Then there’s star cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who went down with a non-contact injury in the second quarter that did not look pretty. Apparently, the initial test results were promising, and he may not have torn his ACL and rather suffered a leg injury. If it’s anything remotely worrisome, though, he should be shut down for the rest of the season.
The Patriots showed the same flaws they’ve had all season long.
Defensively, they were embarrassing against the run. They gave up over 200 yards rushing, despite the Dolphins being down their starting running back and fielding three rookies along the offensive line. Their top receiving option was Lynn Bowden, and still, Tagovailoa threw only six incompletions. They just can’t stop the run when the other team commits to it, and they can’t do anything other than run the ball on offense.
Cam Newton actually wound up throwing for more yards than Tua, but the numbers don’t bear out what we saw. The Patriots’ offense was unimaginative and downright terrible. They may not want to make the move to Jarrett Stidham, but, if they decide to, I can’t imagine the offense can look much worse than it has the last two games.
Reasons for hope
Overall, it was a tough weekend to be a Patriots fan. Let’s try to remember what we witnessed, however, and keep in mind that the last time the Patriots played a regular season game where they were already eliminated from playoff contention was in 2000. We watched the greatest dynasty in the history of professional sports, and, although it sucks that it’s over, there is still reason for hope.
Bill Belichick is still the coach, and they have some talented players on the roster. If they can find a few skill position guys, get a reliable quarterback, and manage to keep most of the guys who are scheduled to be free agents, they can be right back in contention.
While the results on the field are not close to what anyone wanted, this team really had some fight in it. If they convert a few of their missed opportunities earlier in the season, this team could have been right in it this year. But, as it stands now, it is out.
Time for the youngsters
With New England no longer competing for the playoffs, I want to see all the kids play.
Feed N’Keal Harry, let’s see if he can consistently win on contested catches. Once a game isn’t getting it done. Get the ball to the rookie tight ends, one or two targets per game isn’t nearly enough. Continue to play Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Kyle Dugger, Chase Winovich, and Myles Bryant on defense. There seems to be some young studs on that side of the ball, let’s get them as much playing experience as possible these last two games.
As for the quarterback position, you already know where I stand, but, whether or not he really hits it, Cam Newton is deserving of all the playing time bonuses in his contract. He inherited a bad situation without an offseason, an abbreviated training camp, and no preseason, and he has continued to lead New England’s offense and never make excuses or blame anyone else. He’s exactly the type of locker room leader you want for your team.
Second-guessing Bill Belichick?
Lastly, remember that it’s OK to question Bill Belichick, and second-guess decisions that he’s made. But let’s not pretend that the last 20 years of greatness was all only because of Tom Brady, and that Belichick himself is not up to the task of building a competitive team. He was the architect of everything in New England, and now he certainly needs to find more skilled players.
That, of course, is partially on him for missing on some draft picks, but he has already started to build a solid young core these last few seasons. Now, let’s see if he can add to that and get this team moving in the right direction again.
Also, I’d say something cheesy like “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” but this isn’t Hallmark. You do you. Just make sure, when the TV goes on next Sunday afternoon, you’re still cheering for the right team.