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Instant analysis from Patriots’ 24-17 loss to Dolphins

Observations from Sunday night’s AFC East kickoff at Gillette Stadium.

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The New England Patriots opened the AFC East in red throwbacks and in defeat.

Head coach Bill Belichick’s side fell to the Miami Dolphins by a score of 24-17 Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, where a lateral to offensive lineman Cole Strange became a turnover on downs after review in the closing seconds. And an 0-2 record for the first time since 2001.

Here’s an initial look back as September reaches the road.

No. 10 back in familiar spot

After responding from a pick-six with three touchdowns in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, Mac Jones was tasked with doing more of the same.

Sunday’s first drive spanned four straight completions before a sack. A lost fumble by rookie wide receiver Demario Douglas halted the offense’s next drive. The self-inflicted issues helped set up a deficit of 10 points. It swelled further.

The Patriots quarterback and captain finished 31-of-42 passing for 231 yards with one touchdown on Sunday. An interception was also in the cards via two-time NFL picks leader Xavien Howard, who boxed out wide receiver DeVante Parker down the right sideline late in the third quarter and got both cleats in. There would still be comeback chances.

Henry logs second touchdown as heavy distribution continues

The target dispersal saw seven different Patriots catch passes. And it was Parker back in the “X” role pacing the way with 57 receiving yards after missing the opener.

But Hunter Henry remained the go-to option with six receptions for 52 yards and his second touchdown in as many weeks. The captain disengaged from his blocking assignment on a rollout to make it a one-score game in the fourth quarter.

New England started Sunday in “13” personnel with Mike Gesicki, who made a last-gasp pitch on the final fourth down to no avail, and Pharaoh Brown split out alongside him at tight end.

Offensive line down two and up two allows four sacks

While the reigning NFC champions were held to a pair of sacks last week versus an offensive line featuring a pair of rookies, the quarterback pressures were there in pass protection. The reshuffling of personnel persisted on Sunday.

Four Patriots blockers drew the questionable tag on the final injury report. Trent Brown and Sidy Sow remained in the league’s concussion protocol and among the inactives 90 minutes prior to kickoff. As for Strange and Mike Onwenu, both were back at the guard spots where they each eclipsed 1,000 snaps last season.

New England started August trade acquisition Vederian Lowe at left tackle with captain David Andrews at center and Calvin Anderson again at right tackle. By game’s end, a Dolphins front without injured outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips found contact. That contact arrived in the first quarter via a B-gap sack from the blitzing David Long Jr. It kept arriving with Andrew Van Ginkel, Bradley Chubb and Christian Wilkins by the fourth frame.

Tagovailoa goes from 466 to 249 passing yards

A Sunday removed from throwing for 466 yards, Tua Tagovailoa got the football out quickly once again.

Miami’s signal-caller finished 21-of-30 passing for 249 touchdowns with one touchdown and one interception against New England. The offense’s initial drive ended on the turf and in a field goal, yet there would be more visits to the goal line.

Aside from a three-and-out punt, the Dolphins sustained scoring drives of 81 yards, 78 yards and 75 yards by halftime. And after it, Tagovailoa found a window in man coverage on a gain of 32 yards as his streak of completions stretched to double digits. Tempo had a hand in why. There was one sack for New England. In the second half, it marked the second of the season for perennial Pro Bowler Matthew Judon, who spent time dropping into coverage and forced a punt.

First-rounder gets first pick on evening against Hill and Waddle

The track tandem of Dolphins wide receivers turned 194 catches into 3,066 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2022. There was more in glimpses on Sunday. Tyreek Hill went on to catch five passes for 40 yards with one touchdown. Jaylen Waddle went on to catch four passes for 86 yards, including Miami’s longest grab, before being evaluated for a concussion.

The Patriots had Marcus Jones lined up across from the former and rookie No. 17 overall pick Christian Gonzalez across from the latter to begin the game. The matchups were subject to switches and attrition. Jonathan Jones, who was sidelined for back-to-back practices, went to the inactives because of an ankle injury.

Aiming to stay ahead of Miami’s pre-snap movement and post-snap explosiveness, three safeties stood deep to start the evening. The big nickel allowed openings underneath to other Miami targets. Myles Bryant, who had a three-and-out breakup prior to halftime, subbed in as Marcus Jones was downgraded to out with a shoulder injury. But it was the aforementioned Gonzalez who extended back and above the rim to record his first NFL interception in the fourth quarter of a 17-10 game. He got it in downfield coverage on Hill.

Mostert breaks loose from Patriots for two scores

Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore started on the interior defensive line for the Patriots. Off the edges stood Josh Uche and captain Deatrich Wise Jr. And next to another captain in linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley was Jahlani Tavai, who lost contain on the first inside-zone touchdown by Raheem Mostert.

The second touchdown brought a breakaway of 43 yards. The well-traveled running back finished the divisional bout with 121 yards on 18 carries.

The Dolphins were without Terron Armstead at left tackle, but tackling was a test.

New England’s backfield bottled up

Rhamondre Stevenson had been restricted to 2.1 yards per rush in New England’s opener. There wasn’t additional room against Miami.

The starting running back handled 15 carries for 50 yards on Sunday. A toss for a loss of three on third down was among them. Yet so was a touchdown that made it a 24-17 game. Veteran complement Ezekiel Elliott, who fumbled in his Patriots debut last week, spelled him with for 13 yards through a handful of carries.

By intermission, they had averaged 2.63 yards ground.

Schooler motions in for the block

What was a 49-yard attempt for Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders became a thud.

Brenden Schooler, a member of the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie team last campaign, motioned in untouched for the Patriots. The undrafted Oregon and Texas product did so to block the field goal off the right side of the protection.

Starting safety Kyle Dugger was there to recover it in a 17-3 game late in the third quarter. New England would not capitalize with points off the spark on special teams. But with heat again off the right side, Miami’s next field goal sailed wide heading into the two-minute warning.

Second leg for rookie specialists

Chad Ryland’s rookie premiere was limited to kickoffs through the end zone and extra points through the uprights. The fourth-round kicker by way of Eastern Michigan and Maryland took another step on Sunday. He made his lone field goal from 49 yards out as well as both extra points.

As for his holder, Bryce Baringer, the sixth-round punter by way of Illinois and Michigan State averaged 48 yards per opportunity for New England. A long of 58 yards was among them. His evening brought a trio of punts inside the opposing 20.

Ex-Patriots specialist Jake Bailey also averaged an even 48 yards per punt for the Dolphins.