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Another comeback bid fails, and more takeaways from the Patriots’ loss to the Dolphins

Cleaning out the notebook from the Patriots’ 24-17 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots were once again unable to complete a comeback on Sunday night against the Miami Dolphins.

They had a chance at the end, but just couldn’t put it all together and eventually ended up losing with a final score of 24-17 to drop to 0-2 on the year. Falling behind early has been a problem so far this year, and the Patriots are going to have to fix their slow starts if they want to stay competitive in the AFC.

So, with that said, let’s clean out the notebook and get into our 10 takeaways from the game.

1. Mac Jones plays well, but can’t carry the offense to a win: Starting quarterback Mac Jones wasn’t perfect on Sunday, but he made some good throws, and, unfortunately, his receivers weren’t always able to capitalize. He moved incredibly well in the pocket, and had some positive moments on the move outside the pocket as well. Things haven’t worked out after two weeks, but Jones has not been the problem for the New England offense.

“I think 90 percent of the games in the NFL go into the fourth quarter and a one-possession game,” he said after the game. “So ,just trying to learn and get better from that. And it just wasn’t our day. Hasn’t been our day for the last two weeks. We’ve just got to learn from it and get better.”

Jones has played well enough to get them close to a win, and has had some bad luck with his receivers. The interception he threw was a questionable decision, but it was an equally bad play by DeVante Parker; he can’t allow himself to get bodied by the cornerback, regardless of who it is, and has to at least fight back to prevent the pick.

The pick ended a promising drive, but all in all Jones again appeared to be in command of the offense.

2. The offense continues to beat itself: Turnovers, dropped passes, miscommunications, and penalties doomed the Patriots offense for a second week in a row. Kendrick Bourne was unable to haul in a well-placed deep pass, and he wasn’t the only one wideout to let his quarterback down. New England was also completely unable to run the ball, even with starting guards Cole Strange and, to a lesser degree, Michael Onwenu back in the lineup.

The Patriots need to be more disciplined on offense, and make the plays that are given to them.

3. Pop gets benched, JuJu still not playing in crunch time: Rookie wide receiver Demario Douglas had a few nice plays, but one ended with him putting the ball on the ground. Head coach Bill Belichick not giving rookies too much rope makes sense, but the youngster likely deserved another shot given that he is more dynamic than any other receiver when he has the ball in his hands.

Meanwhile, JuJu Smith-Schuster played more on Sunday, but once again he was off the field in crunch time. He is the Patriots highest paid receiver, and he made some really nice catches Sunday, so his late-game usage remains a mystery.

“I feel pretty good,” Smith-Schuster said after the game. “I’m happy with the game plan that [Bill O’Brien] brings every week, I’m very, very happy with it. I’m just happy to be a part of it. We’re obviously very special, and we don’t quit, and it seems like we play better when we are down. We have to learn how to play ahead and keep that momentum.”

4. Offensive line issues a constant: The Patriots finally got back the aforementioned Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu, but they were without starting left tackle Trent Brown, which means they have yet to play a game with their entire starting offensive line this season. As for Sunday, it was a shaky one for the line.

Strange had a tough night in his first game back, and the line as a whole was unable to open any running lanes for the second week in a row. Vederian Lowe and Calvin Anderson, who lined up at left and right tackle, both got beat a few times, but honestly did not look terrible. The line needs to consistently give Mac Jones more time, though, and it needs to be able to clear some space in the running game.

This offense isn’t going to truly work unless it can do both, and it has not done that so far this season. Getting Trent Brown back, and Strange and Onwenu more acclimated to game speed, should help the unit play as one for the first time and might change the end results. Until it does, the Patriots are going to struggle to be an effective offense.

“It’s just part of it. It’s part of this business,” said David Andrews after the game. “There’s injuries, there’s different types of injuries. Guys here a week, gone a week, things like that. It’s just part of it. You’ve got to take advantage of your reps in practice; whatever you get, take advantage of every opportunity.”

5. A passive defense gets cooked: The Patriots came into the game Sunday night hoping not to get beat deep. The good news is that they did not get beat deep. The bad news is that they got gashed in the running game and left the Dolphins’ receivers wide open in the short to intermediate area.

You simply can’t win against a good offense without being aggressive, and the Patriots proved that Sunday night. They may have been forced into it because they didn’t have Jonathan and, for the most part, Marcus Jones, but the unit appeared to be too concerned to give up shots down the field to truly play loose.

Credit, of course, also goes to Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, who pushed the right buttons repeatedly on Sunday.

6. Jahlani Tavai struggles: Off-the-ball linebacker Jahlani Tavai was on the field a ton on Sunday night, as is often the case, but he has had better games. He struggled in the passing game, failed to set a proper edge on a second-quarter touchdown run, and also was up-and-down as far as getting players on the ground is concerned, going for a ride a few times when trying to tackle up high.

It might have been one of the worst games of his Patriots career, but the team just kept sending him back out there. Maybe it says more about what they think of the linebacker depth behind him, but he was unable to consistently get the job done against Miami, and that was a big reason why they struggled on defense.

7. Christian Gonzalez gets his first pick: The Patriots’ first-round draft pick made a nice introduction to the national audience on Sunday night. He broke on an underthrown Tua Tagovailoa pass, and skied over Tyreek Hill to come down with the pick.

“It was just whatever we had to do on our side of the ball to try to take away what the Dolphins were trying to do,” Gonzalez said after the game.

The pick was an example of the freakish athleticism that you want to see from the Oregon product. Unfortunately, he’s been playing 12 yards off the line of scrimmage for much of the first two games, so we have not been able to see, but it was on display on that play and a step in the right direction.

8. Tua does enough against the New England defense: Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw for almost 250 yards and a touchdown on Sunday night, but all in all was not overly spectacular — a point of view shared by defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr.

“He didn’t do anything special,” Wise Jr. said after the game. “He’s a very goo quarterback, reads his reads. Today, he was getting the ball out a little faster, so the rush wasn’t really getting there.”

Tagovailoa was decisive, accurate, and he got the ball out quick all night, but he didn’t really make a ton of great throws, and when he was asked to push the ball downfield, he underthrew both Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. He took what the Patriots gave him, though, and that was ultimately enough.

9. The coolest play of the night comes up short: How cool was the Brenden Schooler blocked punt? One of the coolest plays in recent memory, and the Cole Strange play was probably just as cool if not more. Unfortunately, the refs decided that there was conclusive evidence and overturned the call. They didn’t find anything conclusive with the Rhamondre Stevenson run that Bill Belichick challenged, but that was apparently not the case on the late-game lateral. Had it stood it would’ve been one of the coolest plays of the year so far.

The referees in general were hit and miss, on both sides. They missed a bad block in the back penalty on Matthew Slater, and a defensive holding on a deep ball to Mike Gesicki. They even missed Cole Strange literally standing in the end zone on the touchdown pass to Hunter Henry. The interception that Mac Jones threw also could have been a pass interference, as Parker was simply shoved out of bounds on his route.

The refs cannot make and see every call, and were definitely not the reason why New England lost. As with the Patriots as a whole, some increased consistency would be nice, though.

10. New England is in must-win territory already: The Patriots are now 0-2 and alone in the basement in the AFC East. They have a big hill to climb, and that starts against the New York Jets this Sunday, who are once again being led by Zach Wilson.

The Patriots have to go into the Meadowlands and take care of business, or they are going to be 0-3 and headed into Dallas against a Cowboys team that looks like one of the best in the league. A win next week would get the Patriots out of the basement, and be a step in the right direction for a team that desperately needs some momentum.