The New England Patriots finished up their 2021 campaign with a loss to the Miami Dolphins. Glad that this is my last Coping With Loss article of the regular season.
And while I’m fairly confident I still have one more of these to write over the next couple of weeks (though you never know), that one is going to be easy. And honestly, so is this one. Like every single loss the Pats have suffered in 2021, I have been completely fine with it and didn’t lose a wink of sleep, which is a nice change of pace from years past. So for the last time before we turn to the playoffs, here are five positives we can take away from this most recent loss.
It’s Miami. Does anyone expect to win down there at this point? Are there any fans who are still surprised when the Patriots drop a game at Miami? You can pen — not pencil — in a loss there each and every year, and if the Pats happen to head down there and come away with the W, you take it as a nice surprise. If you’re upset or shocked over this one, I don’t know what to tell you.
I’d love to see the Dolphins try an experiment should they ever find their season over in the future and New England comes to town: sit every starter and only march out third stringers. If the Patriots win that one, it won’t be by much. I’m not even overly confident that the Patriots would win in Miami if the Dolphins straight up never showed up to the game. They just don’t win there and it makes no sense and that’s just the way it is. And don’t think that the NFL doesn’t notice; if the Patriots play at Miami before December anytime soon I’ll be amazed.
Another learning experience. Mac Jones needs to learn how to adjust and win games like this one, where the other team comes out hot and the Patriots don’t. Tommy B learned how to do it, so hopefully Jones will as well. And you can’t learn how to adapt and overcome unless you find yourself in positions like this. So hopefully we can look at this as another opportunity for the rookie to learn and grow.
Expected ceiling. The vast, vast majority of Patriots fans had the ceiling of this 2021 squad being 10-7 and maybe a wild card berth. And the Patriots finished out the regular season at 10-7 with a wild card berth. So they completely met the higher end of any expectations placed upon them when the season started. It’s easy to look at that seven game win streak as some kind of sign from above that the dynasty is right back on... but 2021 was Year 1 of a rebuild, and New England finished at the very top of where they could be reasonably expected to. And that’s a huge win. The future is so bright for this team.
Key guys missing and no major injuries. No Dont’a Hightower, no Kyle Dugger, no Myles Bryant... and no major injuries. While I honestly don’t think that any of these three guys would make a lick of difference — the 1992 All-Madden team could mask themselves as the Pats and they’d still lose at Miami — the real big plus is that nobody got seriously hurt and everyone should be at full strength for the playoffs.
There was a huge scare with Barmore, but all signs point to him being OK, which is a relief for both this season and beyond. The guys the Patriots kept out would likely have been able to go if they had to, but there was no reason to risk it. That’s what really matters, especially since...
This actually works out better. This loss locked the Patriots into the No. 6 seed in the playoff picture and sent them to play Buffalo in the wild card round. Had New England won this one, they would have been the fifth seed in the playoff picture and playing the Bengals on wild card weekend. I’m sure there are people who would rather play the Bengals than the Bills, but I don’t count myself among them; Buffalo is very inconsistent.
When they bring their A-game they’re one of the best teams in the NFL, but honestly they haven’t looked all that great since they beat the Patriots. Plus, I’ll give Bull Belichick the coaching edge playing a team for the third time.
Not only that, but I feel like the 6 seed has an easier route to the Super Bowl than the other wild card slots; should the Patriots manage to pull off the upset at Buffalo, there’s now no way that they’ll be heading to Kansas City for the Divisional game; as the six seed, they’ll most likely travel to Tennessee, unless the Steelers somehow upset the Chiefs, at which point there’s no need to worry about KC anymore anyway. If the Patriots end up making it all the way to Arrowhead, it isn’t going to be until the the AFC Championship Game. And sure, they could shock the world and beat KC, but I’m not looking remotely that far ahead.
But even if they don’t... I don’t know about any of you, but I’m going to go ahead and say that losing to one of the best teams in the entire league on the road with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line would be an absolutely amazing finish to the year as far as I’m concerned. This loss to Miami allows the Pats to avoid the Chiefs for as long as humanly possible, which in my opinion represents their best shot to make a deep run.