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Instant analysis from Patriots’ 33-24 loss to Dolphins

Observations from Sunday’s season finale at Hard Rock Stadium.

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots put the regular season in the rearview Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium with a 33-24 loss to Brian Flores and Miami Dolphins.

Here’s an initial look back on the finale as one head coach’s quarter of the AFC East looks ahead to the playoffs with a 10-7 record.

Former Alabama quarterbacks meet again 17 weeks later

The season opener marked the last time Alabama products Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones crossed paths. That win went to the quarterback drafted 12 months and 10 picks before the other. On Sunday, the result remained the same.

Tagovailoa completed 15-of-22 passes for 109 yards with one touchdown in his third consecutive win over the Patriots. It began with seven consecutive completions on the opening drive, with the last of which finding former Crimson Tide wide receiver Jaylen Waddle unaccounted for in the end zone.

Jones stepped onto the field and had his first throw returned 37 yards for a touchdown by Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. It came with trap coverage on an out route by wideout Jakobi Meyers. Jones would later scramble to hit tight end Hunter Henry on routes of 32 and 36 yards and went back to Meyers for diving fades that picked up 28 and 39 yards. But the missed opportunities had compounded. No. 15 overall finished the evening 20-of-30 for 261 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a fumbled snap from interim center Ted Karras.

Ex-Dolphins captain notches fifth sack of season

Kyle Van Noy began September with a sack against the Dolphins. The veteran outside linebacker, released by the organization one spring after signing a four-year, $51 million contract, got another in January.

His takedown of Tagovailoa transpired on third-and-4 before halftime. It checked in as the Patriots All-Decade selection’s fifth sack of the season.

Van Noy had started 13 games while a Miami captain in 2020. He got the start on Sunday off across from three-time Pro Bowler Matt Judon, who was penalized for roughing the passer as Josh Uche subbed in for a sack to conclude the half.

Bolden goes from unnecessary roughness to the end zone

Dolphins punter Michael Palardy slid short of the sticks on a fake with under one minute to play in the first quarter. Patriots running back Brandon Bolden grazed over him down the left sideline. Yellow flags flew. They brought a personal foul for unnecessary roughness as a turnover on downs became 15 yards instead.

But a field goal instead of a touchdown would become of it as Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson broke up a third-and-6 pass intended for wide receiver DeVante Parker. And back in stepped Bolden, rushing for a touchdown from 16 yards away against the Miami team he once spent a season with. Bolden would tack on another touchdown receiving from 18 yards away.

Damien Harris started for New England’s backfield and finished with 37 ground yards to go with his 15th touchdown of the season. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson departed before halftime due to a head injury yet worked back to log 34 ground yards.

Agholor returns out wide as Bourne reaches 800-yard incentive

Patriots wide receiver Nelson Agholor missed six practices and two games while in the NFL’s concussion protocol before making his return against the Dolphins.

With it came the start as well as a trio of targets for Agholor, who was hit from the far hash marks for 23 yards at the two-minute warning before intermission. He later drew pass interference in the end zone.

But fellow March signing Kendrick Bourne, who entered eight receptions and 24 receiving yards shy of a pair of $250,000 incentives, finished with three receptions for 24 yards to cap off a career year at exactly 800.

Wynn out, Herron in at left tackle for Patriots

Patriots starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn limped off in the second quarter and made his way into the locker room. He had ranked third in offensive snaps played in 2021, but resided on the final injury report as questionable due to a hip issue.

It would be an ankle issue that sidelined Wynn on Sunday. Originally announced as questionable to return, he was subsequently downgraded to out.

In his place, New England turned to swing tackle Justin Herron. Dolphins linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel ran the arc for a blindside sack before halftime as Mike Onwenu reported as an eligible sixth man. And in the third quarter, a stunt between past and present Miami first-round picks in Jaelan Phillips and Christian Wilkins would not be passed off by the offensive line.

2019 undrafted signing gets first start in shorthanded secondary

The Patriots traveled to Miami Gardens without starting sophomore defensive backs Myles Bryant and Kyle Dugger, who both intercepted passes the weekend prior. The former remained on the Covid-19 reserve list while the latter had been ruled out due to a hand injury.

In their absence, New England’s secondary called upon elevations from the practice squad in D’Angelo Ross and Sean Davis.

Ross, a 2019 undrafted free agent, would make his first career start. The transfer from Fullerton College to New Mexico had played 14 defensive snaps before joining the incumbents in Sunday’s secondary. He worked between the slot and safety while Davis, a veteran of 42 NFL starts with the Pittsburgh Steelers, exited with a shoulder injury early on.

Week 1 of 2020 stands as Folk’s last missed field goal inside 50

At the 8:31 mark in the third quarter, Patriots kicker Nick Folk headed on to attempt a field goal from 43 yards away. It split the uprights.

He has not missed a field goal from under 50 yards since Week 1 of 2020.

That miss came from 45 yards out against the Dolphins. From all distances, the Alliance of American Football alum has gone 62-of-67 on field goals over the past two seasons and stands with a career-high 36 this season.

Johnson eclipses century mark for Miami’s ground game

Pass interference on Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills sent the Dolphins to the doorstep of the end zone in the third. Duke Johnson punched it in untouched from there to make it a 24-10 score that would ultimately become 33-24.

The Miami Hurricanes standout, signed to the practice squad in October, continued his resurgence with 117 rushing yards on 25 carries. Among them were breakaways of 10, 11 and 27 yards against a New England defense losing containment off the edge.

Running back Phillip Lindsay also spelled in for 40 yards on 11 handoffs before his quarterback scrambled for a third-and-8 conversion. Laterals followed with three seconds remaining. To the end zone Miami returned on a turnover as time expired.