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Patriots’ valiant defensive effort against Dolphins undone by critical breakdowns, lack of offensive support

New England’s defense played a solid overall game against Miami, but it was not enough in the end.

Syndication: Palm Beach Post Jim Rassol / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Miami Dolphins offense generally had a productive day at the office in Week 8 against the New England Patriots. It gained 390 yards from scrimmage for an average of 5.3 per play, and most importantly put up 31 points compared to 17 from the opposition.

At times, it looked easy for Miami. However, head coach Mike McDaniel made sure to point out after the game that it was anything but.

“It was one of the better defensive game plans that I’ve really ever gone against,” he told reporters during his postgame presser. “The Patriots had an unbelievable plan to really kind of try to bottle us in.”

Shorthanded on defense after losing quality starters such as Christian Gonzalez and Matthew Judon earlier in the year, the Patriots attempted to build off of the success they had against Miami in Week 2. That game, they held the Dolphins to 24 points in a one-score defeat.

New England again relied on a variety of coverage and pressure looks in an attempt to muddy the waters for McDaniel’s offense and its quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. But while that led to some success — the Patriots registered two takeaways, six negative plays, and a 36-percent conversion rate on third down — the valiant effort on that side of the ball eventually did not lead to victory.

What went wrong?

The unit essentially was plagued by two major issues: breakdowns in critical situations, and a lack of offensive support.

The latter is nothing new for the 2023 Patriots. After the team’s offense showed some life in a win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 7, it took another step back versus the Dolphins. It gained just 13 first downs on the day, turned the ball over on a Mac Jones interception, and was on the field for only 24 minutes compared to Miami’s 36.

“You’ve got to be really sharp against a team with a really good offense. I thought the defense fought really hard,” Jones said after the game.

“It’s hard for everybody. Hard for the defense when we go three-and-out and they have to go back out there against a great offense. We want to just have longer drives, have explosive plays and throw the ball downfield and all that stuff. There were opportunities, and we just have to watch the field and see what we can do.”

Another lackluster offensive outing certainly did not tilt the field in New England’s favor, but the defense itself also had its chances but could not capitalize.

Look no further than Miami’s success on fourth down: the Dolphins found themselves in such a do-or-die situation on three occasions and moved the sticks each time. Those conversions led to only seven total points, but stops would nonetheless have given the Patriots some momentum and the ball in prime field position.

They had a chance to take over at the Miami 45, New England 42, and the New England 8-yard line, but could not get off the field on any of those plays. In addition, they also had some problems on third down, especially in the second half.

After keeping Miami at 0-for-6 early in the game — on three occasions setting up those fourth-down tries — the Patriots surrendered five of eight third downs in the final 30 minutes of play. Among those were conversions on a pair of 3rd-and-9s and a 3rd-and-13.

“We have to stop them on third down. If they go for it, we have to stop them on fourth down,” said head coach Bill Belichick rather matter-of-factly after the game.

Even with the offense struggling, the defense had its chances to keep the game close. Instead, it gave up conversions on those third- and fourth-down plays, and in addition surrendered long scoring touchdowns to wide receiver Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle on apparent miscommunications.

On a day when the Patriots once again needed their defense to put the clamps on an opponent to help out the offense, they could not do it enough. And thus, what Mike McDaniel called an “an unbelievable plan” did not come to fruition in the end.