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Instant analysis from Patriots’ 31-17 loss to Dolphins

Observations from Sunday’s AFC East matchup at Hard Rock Stadium.

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Sept. 15, 2019 marked the last time the New England Patriots had left Hard Rock Stadium with a win.

That drought continued on Sunday. The visitors fell to the Miami Dolphins there by a score of 31-17.

Here’s a glance back on the AFC East matchup as head coach Bill Belichick’s roster heads toward the NFL trade deadline with a 2-6 record.

Jones throws for 161 yards on a day of missed opportunities

A Sunday removed from delivering 83.3 percent of passes and a game-winning drive, another clean sheet was needed from Mac Jones.

It wasn’t clean. The Patriots quarterback completed 19-of-29 passes during the trip to South Florida. No. 10 did so for 161 yards with two scoring strikes and one interception. The afternoon got underway with back-to-back punts before the offense turned a turnover into a 7-0 lead as he found Kendrick Bourne crossing through man coverage versus safety DeShon Elliott. But those would be the lone points of the first half.

There was no Xavien Howard nor Jevon Holland in the defensive backfield. Jalen Ramsey, however, was back there from injured reserve. The three-time All-Pro baited Jones with 1:48 to go before the break, picking and returning a sideline throw from Miami’s 23 to New England’s 40. It snapped a possession that spanned four first downs and resulted in a 17-7 deficit that would swell. There was resiliency despite the missed opportunities. A 12-play, 81-yard drive arrived midway through the fourth quarter to make it a one-score game again. It wouldn’t last. Third downs saw New England go 1-of-9.

After two inactives, New England’s wideout room loses two starters

In “11” personnel, rookie Demario Douglas was among New England’s starters and finished with six touches for 29 yards. Next to the Liberty product at wide receiver, Bourne gathered his fourth touchdown of the year and totaled three catches for 36 yards, including a long of 24.

But Bourne went down holding his right knee in the fourth quarter. He managed to walk into the tunnel under his own power before being ruled out. By then, fellow starter DeVante Parker had departed after a helmet-to-helmet collision went unpenalized. The ex-Dolphin was ruled out due to a concussion soon after.

Seven members of the depth chart made the trip to Miami Gardens. JuJu Smith-Schuster did not see a snap until the attrition while last year’s No. 50 overall pick, Tyquan Thornton, had joined Kayshon Boutte as a healthy scratch prior to kickoff. But with pre-snap motion to the right flat, the March signing caught his first touchdown in a Patriots uniform on fourth-and-goal with 8:30 remaining. A 24-17 game it briefly became.

Three sacks, same starting five

The offensive line that allowed the lowest pressure rate of the season remained a week later. New England broke the huddle with Trent Brown at left tackle, Cole Strange at left guard, David Andrews at center, Sidy Sow at right guard and Mike Onwenu at right tackle on Sunday.

It marked the second time this season that the starting five had same combination for consecutive games. But three sacks followed against a Dolphins defense that stood in a tie for third around the NFL. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins along with outside linebackers Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips each notched takedowns after halftime.

Atonio Mafi rotated in on the interior at both guard spots on Sunday. The Patriots had elevated veteran tackle Conor McDermott from the practice squad on the eve of the matchup after ruling out reserve bookends Vederian Lowe and Calvin Anderson.

Picked once and sacked twice, Tagovailoa throws for 324 yards

Tua Tagovailoa was sacked twice on Sunday, beginning with former Alabama teammate Christian Barmore’s second in as many weeks.

But the Dolphins quarterback could not be put away. He went 30-of-45 passing for 324 yards and three touchdowns by game’s end behind an offensive line down multiple regular starters.

A scramble up a vacated middle on fourth down was added by Tagovailoa, whose running backs averaged yards 3.5 per carry. He was intercepted by a disguising and closing Kyle Dugger in the first quarter. It stood as the safety’s first pick of the campaign. New England’s defensive snap leader tacked on his first sack of the campaign before halftime and finished with a team-high eight tackles.

Explosive Hill and Waddle combine for 233 yards and two scores

Track speed vertically and horizontally, the tandem of Dolphins wide receivers entered Sunday having accounted for 1,273 yards and 11 scores from scrimmage this fall. They would add to their totals with 25 targets against a secondary that started in the big nickel. Both also converted fourth downs.

Jaylen Waddle turned seven catches into 121 yards and the deciding 31-yard touchdown to make it 31-17 as Patriots cornerbacks Jack Jones and Jonathan Jones followed his teammate. By then, Tyreek Hill had turned eight catches into 112 yards. And on an end-around fake, he broke loose over the top for a 42-yard touchdown opposite a late-to-react rookie safety in Marte Mapu and a biting J.C. Jackson.

Called for a questionable pass interference in the end zone before intermission, Jackson, an October trade acquisition, was tested again on a touchdown by wideout Cedrick Wilson Jr.

Jennings and White get the starts off the Patriots’ edges

The starting defensive front included outside linebackers Anfernee Jennings and Keion White. They would stay in for a handful of tackles and were involved in quarterback pressures.

The rookie edge-setter brought down running back Salvon Ahmed for a loss of nine on a jet pass in the first half. And to begin the second half, the veteran edge-setter recovered a fumbled exchange with Raheem Mostert, who later ran in from the goal line to make it 24-10.

New England downgraded Josh Uche, a potential trade candidate in a contract year, from questionable before traveling on Saturday.

Signal-caller departs from defense with hamstring injury

Patriots linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley headed from the blue medical tent to the locker room in the first half in Miami Gardens. The captain and signal-caller was announced as questionable to return due to a hamstring injury.

Bentley was subsequently downgraded to out after having a hand in six tackles.

In his absence, Mack Wilson stepped in off the ball and registered seven tackles, including one for loss. He aligned on the second level next to starter Jahlani Tavai, who added seven tackles and a breakup yet missed a third-and-13 stop in open space that picked up 20 yards.