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Fan Notes from the Patriots’ 31-17 loss to the Dolphins

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 31-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Syndication: Palm Beach Post Jim Rassol / USA TODAY NETWORK

The last time the New England Patriots lost a game in Miami to the Dolphins, Joe Biden was the President of the United States. I guess the Pats were due for a loss down there at some point.

1. The big question heading into this game was whether or not what we saw last week against the Bills represented a turning point for the team or if it was just one of those weird weeks where a bad team upsets a good team. Would the Patriots play complimentary football or would they revert to the dumpster fire we’ve been watching since Week 3?

2. The answer to that question, it seems, would be a little bit of the former with a big pile of the latter splatted onto it like a blue plate special at a truck stop diner.

3. I, like most, had some real hope when New England forced a Miami interception and then used motion and Kendrick Bourne to take the lead over the Dolphins. They hadn’t moved the ball overly well on their first two possessions, but there was nothing egregious going on there and much of the first half of the first quarter followed a fairly standard feeling-it-out period of football. There were no dumb penalties, no drive-killing mistakes, and no horrendous Mac Jones throws. Then Kyle Dugger picked off a horrible Tua Tagovailoa pass, New England went up 7-0, and I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe there was a chance this wasn’t a completely lost season.

4. HOWEVER... The Dolphins engineered a six-play, 75-yard scoring drive to tie it up, New England generated negative 11 yards on their next possession including a fumble and a holding call, Miami went 14 plays and over seven minutes to score another TD, Mac Jones threw another godawful interception, and the Fins were able to tack a field goal on before the half for 17 unanswered points.

5. There are people today who are knocking Jones for his arm strength, and I get it. Jones definitely doesn’t have a cannon for an arm. But he actually is very capable of rifling one in there. The real issue — and it once again reared its ugly head on that latest pick — was that he’s coupling poor decision making with putting the incorrect touch on his passes. He’s a pitcher deciding to throw a change-up instead of firing the heater right down the middle and getting taken to the yard. There are times to put touch on your throws and times to get it out quickly and with velocity.

6. On that pick, intended for Bourne, there may have been a moment where Jones could have thrown a dart to Bourne just short of the marker before Jalen Ramsey made his break. But he stared Bourne down the whole time and floated it up there for the easy pick. It easily could have been a pick-six, which at this point I almost prefer. At least it would have been consistent with previous interceptions.

7. That’s what continues to be so frustrating about this team. They have clearly shown that they know how to play football on multiple occasions. They employ motion pre-snap and work well out of play action. They can draw linebackers up and free the middle of the field. But they’re on some weird “four minutes of good football, 11 minutes of bad football” ratio every quarter and there’s no real sign of stopping.

8. If I ever win some kind of Patriots fan contest and my prize is I get to banish one offensive play from the New England playbook for eternity, I’m picking the delayed handoff out of shotgun on 2nd-and-14 and it isn’t even remotely a question.

9. During the 2015 season opener against the Steelers, Pittsburgh decided to adopt the high-risk, high-reward defensive strategy of simply not covering Rob Gronkowski. It didn’t bode too well for them. I admire New England for workshopping the same strategy against Jalen Waddle, but I don’t think they have that down just yet.

10. More seriously, though, that all comes down to the usual: poor communication and weak fundamentals. This guy thought he had that guy, but that guy was actually covered by those guys, so the other guy had nobody within 15 yards of him on multiple occasions and nobody knew how to correct it.

11. I don’t want to harp on the D too much, because the Dolphins have one of the most explosive and diverse offenses in the league, but poor tackling, leaving guys wide open, missed shifts, and somehow not taking advantage of Miami trotting out an offensive line made up of almost exclusively backups certainly didn’t help the situation. I also imagine it didn’t help that it wasn’t very often that the defense got to rest from the heat and humidity for longer than a few minutes before they had to go back out there again after another three-and-out.

12. That said, every time the offense scored, the defense gave one up. It was the exact opposite of that annoying “Anything you can do, I can do better” song.

13. There were some real defensive positives. Jabrill Peppers and Kyle Dugger both played out of their minds, and the defense held the Dolphins to less than 3 yards per carry and 78 yards on the ground. Keion White lined up exclusively at defensive end and held his own in setting the edge. But when you negate those with big plays and blown coverages, it’s tough to get too pumped about it.

14. Hands down the MVP of this game was Bill Belichick yelling at the side judge for about 10 straight minutes, and for whichever cameraman radioed in to the booth and said, “Somebody else cover my shots, I have a straight bead on BB and he’s on an absolute tirade right now.” It would be comedy if it wasn’t so justified.

15. I don’t think it’s any kind of sour grapes or lame excusery to state that 2023 has been the worst officiated season by a mile. Every week, without fail, we’re all on here wondering what in the hell is going on this year, as game after game comes down to a horrible call. The refs didn’t cost the Patriots the game the way they did some other teams this week, but they certainly didn’t help New England either.

16. It isn’t even a “This team gets all the calls” nonsense either. If you don’t like a landscape in which the superstar teams, players, and franchises get preferential treatment from referees, you might want to stop watching sports altogether.

17. And I wouldn’t even care all that much if there was just one discernable ounce of consistency to any of it. I can live with the same bad calls week in and week out if they’d just call them the same. But game to game, week to week, and even play to play, there’s zero rhyme or reason to when or how a flag gets thrown. Somehow the Dolphins didn’t have an ineligible man downfield and New England did. J.C. Jackson gets flagged for pass interference in the end zone but this play isn’t a foul at all. Horrible spots on fourth down keeping drives alive. Receivers getting confirmation from the refs that they’re lined up properly, only to have that exact same ref throw the flag, while multiple Dolphins moving on pre-snap motion isn’t an illegal shift. DeVante Parker stumbling into the locker room to enter concussion protocol as the hitting a defenseless receiver, helmet-to-helmet hit, driving into the ground, and excessive contact after the play flags (all of which took place on the EXACT SAME PLAY) go completely uncalled.

18. I don’t want to go all tin foil hat here... but is it that far of a stretch to wonder if there’s something nefarious going on here? Is it completely insane to think that these referees, all of whom have to pick up offseason work to make ends meet since the most profitable sports league on the planet won’t pay them well enough to go full time, might be taking advantage of these new, lax sports betting rules? It happened in the NBA, why wouldn’t it happen here?

19. The biggest loss, of course, is Kendrick Bourne, who will now miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. That makes the top defensive lineman, top cornerback, and top receiver all gone for the year in what can only be described as an unmitigated disaster of a season. Bourne was one of the most likable players this team has had in the post-Tom Brady era, and to see him go out like this is terrible.

20. At the end of the day, what this boils down to is that a superior team beat the Patriots at home. New England used to lose to terrible Dolphins teams in Miami almost every season, so there’s for sure some solace to take in that. Losing to the Fins in Miami is as close as you can get to a guaranteed L every single season for this team. I just wish it wasn’t more of the same that brought it about.

At 2-6, the Patriots now have the worst record in the entire AFC. They’re the only team in the AFC East without a winning record. They have a soft part of the schedule coming up, and maybe we see something at the trade deadline, but I’d be lying if I said that I’m most looking forward to Week 11: there’s zero chance anyone gets lost for the season or Mac Jones throws a pick-six while the Pats are on a bye.