The New England Patriots continued their late-season struggles down in Miami on Sunday afternoon. Plagued by another slow start, the Patriots found themselves in a quick 17-0 hole against the Dolphins and had to claw their way back from another first-half deficit.
Starting faster seemed to be the clear message from the group these last two weeks, but the Patriots, once again, came out flat and couldn’t shake the heat in Miami. They’ve been outscored 51-17 in the first half in games versus Buffalo, Indianapolis and Miami, and in all three of those games came within a possession in the final minutes. It is hard not think about the “what-if” scenarios that could have transpired in those three games.
With the playoffs and a fresh start kicking off next week, it’s easy to turn the page. For now, however, let’s focus on the Patriots that stood out on Sunday — for better or worse.
Winner: WR Jakobi Meyers
Starting with a positive, Jakobi Meyers had another solid day at the office on Sunday. The third-year wide receiver had four receptions for 70 yards, and made the play of the day when he beat Xavien Howard on a fade route before making an acrobatic over-the-shoulder catch to help set up Damien Harris’ fourth-quarter touchdown.
Meyers finished the regular season as the Patriots leader in catches (83) and yards (866) and has been Mac Jones true go-to target out of the slot to help move the chains consistently.
Loser: QB Mac Jones
After an impressive three-touchdown outing last week, Mac Jones laid an egg in Miami. The rookie quarterback was shaky from the start, and his first pass went for six the other way: Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard jumped an out route intended for Jakobi Meyers and returned the interception for a touchdown to put the Patriots in an early 14-0 hole.
Jones then fumbled a snap late in the third quarter with the Patriots driving deep into Miami territory. He finished the day 20-for-30 for 261 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Jones never really settled in. He completed a few deep balls to Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to get the job done. The Patriots will need their first-round QB to bounce back quickly with a wild card matchup with the Buffalo Bills coming up next Saturday.
Loser: Special teams
The Patriots used to win games on special teams, but this season it seems to be their Achilles heel: New England’s special teams unit has been a major disappointment so far this season, and continues to shoot itself in the foot seemingly on a weekly basis.
This week, Lawrence Guy was flagged for an illegal formation that killed what would have been a big three-and-out for the Patriots at the time. From kickoffs to punting and coverage, the Patriots need to clean up their act quickly if they want to make any noise in the playoffs.
Winner: RB Brandon Bolden
The Patriots’ veteran running back had a big day on Sunday, scoring twice and gaining 66 yards on nine touches. Bolden rushed for a touchdown late in the second quarter after both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson left for a period of times due to injuries; he found the end zone again late in the fourth quarter, catching a ball in the flat and beating a defender to the pylon.
Bolden has had an impressive year and does a nice job stepping into the James White role. He set career highs in rushing and receiving yards as well as touchdowns during the regular season. The “big brother” of the Patriots’ running back room looks to continue to be a Swiss army knife for the Patriots offense.
Winner: LB Kyle Van Noy
The Patriots’ linebacker made his return to Miami in a big way on Sunday. On a day that the team struggled to get consistent pressure and cover the middle of the field, Van Noy was one of the only members of the front seven to contribute on a regular basis.
The veteran, who spent the 2020 season in Miami, had a big sack on Tua Tagovailoa late in the first half that helped set up the Patriots’ first score of the day and gain some of the momentum back. Van Noy is someone the Patriots defense will lean on in the playoffs due to his experience and playmaking ability.
Loser: LB Matthew Judon
The Patriots’ edge rusher has not picked up a sack since the Patriots’ win in Buffalo over a month ago. Of course, sacks are not the only thing that matter, but Judon has had a tough time making the same impact he did in the early part of the season.
The 29-year-old has been a victim of a few non-holding calls all year but his lack of pressure off the edge has allowed for some of these mobile quarterbacks such as the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa to give New England problems over the last month. The one time Judon was getting near the Dolphins’ QB on Sunday, he was flagged for roughing the passer.
If the Patriots want to make a deep postseason run, they will need No. 9 returning to the same levels of play he showed earlier in the season.
Loser: Run defense
While it is hard to hone in on one particular guy, the Patriots run defense struggled mightily on Sunday. Like last year down in Miami, New England got gashed for 100-plus yards and could not get the timely stops it needed in order to win the game.
Once the Patriots got down early, you knew it would be almost impossible for them to be able to win the game with the way Miami’s ground game was going. Facing off with the Bills again next Sunday, they will face another tough task: Josh Allen’s ability to extend plays from the pocket.