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No answers for Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, and more takeaways from the Patriots’ loss to the Dolphins

Cleaning out the notebook from the Patriots’ 31-17 defeat in Week 8.

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots went down to Miami and got beaten by the Dolphins with a final score of 31-17, dropping to 2-6 on the season and getting swept by their division rival for a third time in the last four years.

There were some good things from the Patriots, but they were not enough to overcome the bad on both sides of the ball. With that, let’s get into our takeaways.

1. Patriots find no answers for Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle: The Dolphins present considerable problems for opposing defenses. They combine a ton of motion with some high-end speed at the wide receiver and running back positions as well as an efficient quarterback steering the ship.

All that in mind, the Patriots had a few particularly bad plays on Sunday, and were uncharacteristically sloppy in some big moments. The two biggest instances of that came against Miami’s two best players, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Both scored long touchdowns that were set up by motion and left them wide open.

On the Hill touchdown, J.C. Jackson got caught hesitating on a jet sweep fake, but even if not keeping up with the speedster would have been a challenge. To not have a safety waiting over the top did not help either, with rookie Marte Mapu playing too far downhill to provide any deep help. The result was a 42-yard score to tie the game at seven in the first quarter. Hill finished with eight catches for 112 yards and that TD.

On Waddle’s touchdown, an apparent miscommunication led to Jack Jones running across the field and staying with Tyreek Hill. Jonathan Jones, meanwhile, tried to pass Waddle off to his teammate. With a safety up at the line to try to stop the run on 3rd-and-1 in the late fourth quarter, there was no one back to guard the Dolphins receiver, who walked in for a touchdown from 31 yards away to finalize the score. Waddle totaled seven receptions for 121 yards on the day.

Of course, the Patriots were without Marcus Jones, Christian Gonzalez, and Matthew Judon, plus they lost Ja’Whaun Bentley during the game, but you still would like to see them prevent such breakdowns. Safety Jabrill Peppers said the same.

“Everybody has injuries,” he told reporters after the game. “Next man up. The standard doesn’t change. When you’re out there, you are required to execute and play up to the standard. Across the league, there’s injuries – some worse than others. You can’t really live in that world. We got the guys to win; we just got to go out there and execute.”

New England did a pretty good job stopping the run, and even forced a pair of turnovers, but the team couldn’t stop the passing game when it mattered most, and it cost them dearly.

2. Mac Jones regresses after a promising Week 7: Mac Jones had a solid game last week against the Buffalo Bills, and drove the Patriots down to win at the end. Against Miami, however, he regressed back to the level he has shown for the better part of two seasons now.

He was slow processing the field, and made more than a few questionable decisions. Whether it was lofting a pass to Kendrick Bourne that was intercepted by Jalen Ramsey, or holding the ball too long on a few occasions and taking bad sacks, he didn’t help the team win on Sunday. Maybe that is just who he is, but there was hope that last week might have been a turning point for him.

Looks like it wasn’t.

3. Christian Barmore continues his strong play: Christian Barmore is turning into one of the best defensive players for the Patriots. He had another sack on Sunday, and a few other nice plays as well. The Patriots needed people to step up following the loss of Matthew Judon, and Barmore has consistently elevated his play. He will be a free agent at the end of the 2024 season, and the Patriots should make extending him a priority.

4. Kyle Dugger a bright spot: Speaking of defensive players playing great, Kyle Dugger had his best game of the season on Sunday. He picked off Tua Tagovailoa and also brought him down for a sack, and had a textbook tackle to prevent a Durham Smythe touchdown.

Dugger has been one of the best defensive players on the Patriots the last few seasons, and he should be the biggest priority for them this offseason. Losing him in free agency would be a massive blow. considering that you don’t often find someone with the athleticism of Dugger. When you find those guys, you need to hold onto them.

5. Wide receiver depth come into focus: The Patriots haven’t gotten a ton of production out of their receivers this year, and they might have even more problems the next few weeks. On Sunday, both DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne left the game with injuries. Parker entered concussion protocol following a head-to-head collision, which is a troubling development for a player with a history of head injuries.

Bourne’s injury, meanwhile, looked like a potential long-term issue. He will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the damage to his knee.

However long the two are out for, it is likely going to be a lean week at the position. The Patriots will need contributions from some of their lesser used receivers like Tyquan Thornton, Jalen Reagor and Kayshon Boutte to have a real shot moving forward.

6. New England needs to keep feeding Pharaoh Brown: It might not be a fluke anymore: Pharaoh Brown continues to string together solid games. He has been excellent after the catch, and has done a good job blocking in the run game as well. Brown has been a real weapon for the Patriots, and he had another 20-plus-yard catch on Sunday. He is a guy that they should continue to target in the passing game, and, with two of their starting receivers most likely out next week, it would seem that he will have more opportunities coming his way soon.

Will he ever be a true No. 1 option at tight end? That can be doubted based on his career up until this point. He is turning into a reliable piece on offense for the Patriots, though, and those guys are in short supply in New England right now.

7. The offensive line shuffle continues: The Patriots started the same offensive line for the second week in a row. Although they were quite good, they did not play as well as they did last week. Cole Strange left for a bit, and Atonio Mafi replaced Sidy Sow towards the end of the game as well. They were never able to get much of a running game going, but I do think they gave Mac Jones a good amount of time in the pocket.

Overall, it wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough. There were moments when they got beat, like when Jalen Phillips smoked Michael Onwenu, but the O-line was not the reason the Patriots lost on Sunday.

8. Officiating was suspect, but not why New England lost: The Patriots would not have won if they had gotten some more calls, but they did come up on the short end of some questionable officiating decisions on Sunday: Minimal contact from J.C. Jackson against Tyreek Hill leading to a pass interference flag in the end zone; a no-call on the hit on DeVante Parker; the assertion that forward progress was stopped on a Raheem Mostert fumble; a picked-up flag on what seemed to clearly be an ineligible man down field; some questionable pre-snap movement by Miami.

The Patriots do have the right to be upset about the inconsistency in officiating, but, again, it was not why the lost. You put yourself in a position where one or two suspect calls can make the difference between winning and losing, you leave yourself vulnerable to begin with.

9. There is a chance to string together some wins: The Patriots, at 2-6, are currently the last-placed team in the entire AFC. They are two games behind the Jets for third place in the division and are playing more for a draft pick than they are for the playoffs.

There is a slight chance that they can turn their season around a bit in the coming weeks, though. They are playing against the Washington Commanders at home and then the Indianapolis Colts in Germany in the two weeks before their bye. A win in both of those games would put them at 4-6, and back in contention for at least third place in the division.

And, who knows, maybe it can even make some of their late-season games mean something.

10. Trade deadline decisions await to be made: The Patriots have some decisions to make before the trade deadline on Tuesday. They are not really competing right now, but they may want to keep some of their young players to build around. Josh Uche seems like the most obvious trade candidate, but he is currently injured and the best pass rusher outside of an also-injured 31-year-old Matthew Judon.

There are other guys who are at the end of their contracts, or who could be appealing to other teams, like Judon himself and Kendrick Bourne, but they are both hurt, and how much capital a team would be willing to give up for them is in question. There are typically not a ton of trades at the deadline in the NFL to begin with, but the Patriots could be willing to part with some players if they can add some draft capital to help them build for the future.