The unit struggled to string positive plays together and when all was said and done had scored just seven points — the same number as the Dolphins offense. New England ended up losing with a final score of 20-7, failing to capitalize on what was overall a relatively solid day from the team’s defense.
Where there is a loss, there is a search for reasons as well. An easy one to point to would be the Patriots’ coaching staff arrangement in lieu of long-time coordinator Josh McDaniels; with McDaniels in Las Vegas, assistants Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, and head coach Bill Belichick himself, are all heavily involved in running the show on this side of the ball.
The rather unconventional setup — neither Patricia nor Judge have any prior play-calling experience on this side of the ball — was in the spotlight throughout the summer. On Sunday, however, it was not why the Patriots offense fell short of expectations.
Instead of play-calling, execution doomed New England against the Dolphins.
“We beat ourselves up,” said center David Andrews after the game. “I thought we ran the ball well, but we beat ourselves. Three turnovers, a strip sack for a touchdown. More of ‘Can’t win until you keep from losing’ kind of day than anything else.”
Andrews went on to mention that there were some positives for the unit, despite the ultimately disappointing end result.
“A strip sack for a fumble. Another interception and fumble, turnovers. It’s hard to get in rhythm when you don’t have the football,” he said. “I think when we were rolling, we were in the rhythm. Then we kind of sputtered out, didn’t win on first down, got behind the chains. It’s hard to win that way.”
The Patriots started the game off well, moving down the field quickly and efficiently. After picking up four first downs and marching from their own 25 to the Miami 22-yard line, however, the opening drive came to a halt: a Mac Jones pass intended for wide receiver DeVante Parker was tipped and subsequently intercepted by the Dolphins.
It was the first in a series of miscues on that side of the ball, highlighted by Jones getting strip-sacked for a touchdown in the second quarter. Later, wide receiver Nelson Agholor lost another fumble to end a promising series.
In between the giveaways, the Patriots had several other miscues on offense — from penalties, to allowing free pass rushers, to receivers not getting open quickly enough. There were some big problems, and a lot of small ones.
Play-calling was certainly not among that first group, but that does not mean there were no issues either.
The Patriots looked good when they were on schedule but failed to adapt to negative plays on early downs; Matt Patricia and Joe Judge appeared to be too hesitant at times to mix things up when doing so might have helped the unit get going. Additionally, they made some odd decisions, such as calling runs in unfavorable down-and-distances or running Ty Montgomery between the tackles on a gotta-have-it third down in the fourth quarter.
All in all, however, the play script or in-game calls were not the main reason for the loss. The execution, like it had been in the previous three losses to the Tua Tagovailoa-led Dolphins, was simply not good or consistent enough to come out with a win.
From that perspective, the Patriots are neither fundamentally flawed nor — as it is oftentimes portrayed — in the hands of coaches not fit for the task. They just need to build on their positives and find a way to keep the miscues at a minimum, something that has been a problem throughout the process leading up to this game.
Still, David Andrews said it best.
“I think there was a lot of positives. Parts of me are encouraged. Parts of me are... you know. Let one slip away,” he said. “Go back and see what we can do better, what I can do better, and go from there.”