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The Lane Breakdown: 10 things we learned from the Patriots’ win over the Dolphins

Related: Instant analysis from Patriots’ 23-21 win over Dolphins

The New England Patriots were able to hold off the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 to win their final home game of the season, and keep their playoff hopes alive. It may not have been perfect, but the Patriots are back to .500 with a chance to punch their playoff ticket next week.

Let’s get into our takeaways from the 23-21 win over Miami.

Kyle Dugger is awesome: Kyle Dugger has now scored three defensive touchdowns this year, and has taken an interception back for a score in two of the last three games. On Sunday, he baited Teddy Bridgewater into throwing across the middle on a third down in the third quarter, and then made a great play on the ball.

The return may have been even better, though. Dugger rumbled 39 yards to score, and made a few nice moves to do so — the last of which was a devastating stiff arm to Bridgewater’s face.

He also had five tackles and two pass deflections to add on to his performance. Dugger is becoming one of the most electric players on the Patriots, and turning into the player the Patriots envisioned when they took him in the second round back in 2020.

Mac Jones played pretty well: Going 20-for-33 with 203 yards and two touchdowns, his stats were not overwhelming. However, Mac Jones had a solid game on Sunday. He made some good throws — the one to Meyers down the left sideline in triple coverage being one of his best all year — and he did not make any costly errors.

The sophomore QB has been playing noticeably better as of late, and has shown some of what we saw last year from him these last few games. He now has eight touchdowns and only one interception in his last eight starts.

Not turning the ball over has been key for Jones, and he is starting to push the ball down the field a bit more (not always to great success, though). His performance over the last couple of weeks should warrant giving him another shot next year to show he can be a long-term answer at quarterback, but it is still hard to feel great about the way he has played this year overall.

Christian Barmore is back to his difference-making ways: Christian Barmore was back in the lineup again, and saw a good amount of snaps on Sunday. The second-year defensive tackle was in the backfield consistently, finishing the day with a sack and a tackle for loss as well as four quarterback hits, and a few other pressures as well.

With him out there playing well, combined with Josh Uche, Matthew Judon, and the rest of the guys on the line (Carl Davis had an explosive sack Sunday), the Patriots have a formidable front seven.

Jabrill Peppers is playing a 100 miles an hour. Jabrill Peppers has been a welcome addition to the Patriots secondary this year. He plays with a physicality that you simply do not see from a lot of guys in the NFL.

A good example of that is the fumble that wasn’t in the first quarter. Peppers hit Raheem Mostert hard but legally, and knocked the ball out. He plays 100 miles an hour on every play, and finished the game with eight tackles on a day New England relied more on its safeties to help make up for shortcomings at cornerback. Peppers came to Foxborough on a one-year deal the team might very well decide to bring him back next offseason.

Kendrick Bourne is still not playing enough: Kendrick Bourne had seemingly been in the doghouse before the Cincinnati Bengals game last week, when he had 129 total yards and was instrumental in New England almost coming back from 22-0. We all assumed that he would play more after that outing, but we were wrong.

Bourne ended up playing only 28 of 60 snaps, and he finished the game with only one 16-yard catch on two targets. He also committed a false start and missed a block on a screen pass to Jakobi Meyers. That inconsistency is part of the reason why the Patriots haven’t been playing him as much as most fans would like, but there is no denying he can be explosive with the ball in his hands — something this offense desperately needs.

As for Jakobi Meyers, he remains one of the most consistent players on the team. He had another solid game on Sunday, finishing with six catches for 48 yards and a touchdown. The score was a nice job by him and Mac Jones realizing that the Dolphins didn’t have a defensive back on him.

Having a player as reliable as Meyers (as long as he’s not lateraling the ball) is a great thing for an offense that has struggled this year. That is a big reason why the Patriots retaining the former rookie free agent has to be a priority heading into free agency in three months.

Rhamondre Stevenson might be running out of gas: Rhamondre Stevenson remains one of the most explosive players on the Patriots offense. The last two weeks, however, he has struggled to be consistent. He has dropped passes, had trouble with blitz pickup, and also has had some ups and downs gaining yards on the ground.

With Damien Harris out the last few weeks and Stevenson being forced to shoulder the load, one can’t help but wonder if maybe he is a little run down. Now that Harris is back in the lineup, however, having a two-man rotation in the backfield could help the Patriots keep Stevenson fresh.

Mental mistakes continue hurting the team: The Patriots are still making way too many self-inflicted errors. Against the Dolphins, a few of those were drive-changing plays.

After backing out of a 4th-and-1 attempt because of a penalty, rookie Brenden Schooler ran into the punter to give Miami another shot at the conversion; the team picked it up and went on to drive for a touchdown. Later in the game, Trent Brown had a false start penalty and the Patriots would come up five yards short of the sticks on third down.

These mistakes keep happening, though there were less of them on Sunday. Still, to beat a team like the Buffalo Bills in Week 18, the Patriots are going to need all the help they can get, and they simply cannot survive costly mistakes like the ones we have been seeing this season.

Tyquan Thornton came to play: The speedy rookie finished with three catches for 60 yards and a touchdown, and narrowly missed coming down with another score later in the game. We saw some of the speed that Thornton can bring to the team, and why the Patriots moved up in the second round to draft him.

The hope is that he can continue to improve, and the Patriots can see even more of what he does well next week against the Bills.

The Patriots somehow struggle to play defense with a lead: For what felt like the 20th time in the last few seasons, the Patriots allowed a touchdown while leading late in the game. They have a concerning tendency to give up too much ground when playing soft prevent coverage shells, and the Dolphins were able to exploit that on Sunday — as have other teams as well.

The Patriots seem to lose some of the aggressiveness that makes the defense so good when becoming too conservative down the stretch. Yes, they don’t want to give up a long play to get the other team back in the game, but they need to continue to play their style of defense until the game is over.

There’s still a chance: The Patriots kept their playoff hopes alive with the win against the Dolphins on Sunday, and they have the most straightforward path to the playoffs. A win against the Bills next week, and the Patriots are in (there is a chance that they could make it if they don’t win as well, but they would need three other results to go their way as well).

The Patriots looked like the season might be over after their two tough losses the last two weeks, but their win over Miami puts them right back into the driver’s seat. They just have to capitalize on the opportunity being given to them next weekend, or their season might end without a getting a shot in the playoffs after all.