The New England Patriots (8-8) got back in the win column and kept their playoff hopes alive on Sunday with a 23-21 victory over the Miami Dolphins. Here’s who caught the eye for better, and for worse.
Winner: Christian Barmore and the defensive line. It was a strong showing from the Patriots front against Miami. Despite the limited depth in the Patriots’ secondary, Miami leaned on the run game without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. They ran the ball 27 times but managed just 86 yards (3.2 yards per carry). Christian Barmore flashed with a big fourth-quarter sack and also had a great rep on a run stuff several plays before Dugger’s pick-six.
Loser: P Michael Palardy and the special Teams. Another tough showing from the Patriots special teams unit. A running into the kicker penalty gifted Miami a new set of downs in the first quarter that led to a touchdown. Punting wise, Michael Palardy continued his struggles on Sunday. While he hit one punt 58 yards, his other four averaged just 38.5 yards with a touchback. The Patriots certainly could use Jake Bailey back. New England also gave up a pair of 25+ yard returns in the kicking game, while struggled themselves in that area without Marcus Jones.
Winner: WR Tyquan Thornton. It was a strong bounce back game from the rookie after a tough drop last week. He led New England with 60 receiving yards - setting a career-high - and also hauled in the team’s first touchdown of the game and a pair of impressive snags down field.
Winner: S Kyle Dugger and the secondary. Down several starters in the secondary, it figured to be a long game for the Patriots against Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Yet, they limited the duo to just seven catches for 107 yards and a two-yard rushing touchdown from Hill. Myles Bryant and Jonathan Jones carried the load for New England’s corners while they also used plenty of three- and four-safety packages. Kyle Dugger gets the spotlight for his third quarter pick-six to give the New England the lead, his third touchdown of the season.
“Didn’t give up a lot of explosive plays, which they’ve had a lot of them, probably as many as anybody in the league,” Bill Belichick said. “Did a good job of jamming the receivers, keeping the ball in front of us, converted on some third downs. I thought the leadership from the safety group, plus Jon and Myles, was just really good. Kept getting things organized.”
Honorable mentions: Jakobi Meyers (six catches, 48 yards, TD) and Hunter Henry (five catches, 52 yards) made their impact in the passing attack on Sunday. Meyers was key on New England’s long touchdown drive, converting two third-downs — one being the touchdown. Henry also helped clear the way on Thornton’s first-quarter score and recovered the fourth-quarter onside kick.
Despite known for his run-defense, nose tackle Carl Davis showcased some pass rushing ability in the second quarter. In a three-man rush off a simulated pressure with Davis, Deatrich Wise Jr., and Barmore, Davis won up the middle and took down Bridgewater along with Wise for a sack.
After Kendrick Bourne’s career-game last weekend, he took a backseat on Sunday finishing with just one catch for 16 yards in a limited role. Instead, Nelson Agholor started and seemed to have an uptick in playing time over Bourne, but finished catch-less on one target.
As for the quarterback, it was most of the same for Mac Jones. Jones started red-hot for New England but then had nothing going over the middle quarters as Miami increased its zone coverage usage. Jones made a few good throws when it mattered, including a nice progression to Tyquan Thornton downfield and a dime to Jakobi Meyers out of the backfield.
In his potential last home game at Gillette Stadium, Teddy Birdgewater gifted Devin McCourty an interception. Yet, the ball bounced off McCourty and fell incomplete. Several of his teammates — and head coach — made sure he didn't forget postgame as it ultiamelty did not prove costly.
“I’m sure Devin would have liked to have had one more interception on the ledger today,” Belichick said. “But he gave us, again you just don’t see a lot of great plays that he makes, communication or adjustments he makes.”