For the second week in a row, the Patriots spotted their opponent a double-digit lead, and then couldn’t claw out of an early hole.
Bill Belichick’s team fell behind the Dolphins 17-3 and were booed off the field at halftime, but they battled back and had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, they couldn’t pull the comeback off and fell, 24-17.
“I think that’s something we’ve got to focus on, is a fast start,” Hunter Henry said. “We’re moving the ball, but we’re killing ourselves with the turnovers, penalties, stalling on drives and just certain situations where we could get points.””
Here are 10 takeaways from a wild night at Gillette Stadium:
1. Offensive line woeful
With Trent Brown sidelined due to a concussion, the Patriots offensive line struggled mightily to keep Mac Jones (31-of-42, 231 yards) upright. The quarterback was pressured constantly, hit eight times, and sacked on four of the dropbacks. Calvin Anderson had a particularly difficult time with Andrew Van Ginkel (three quarterback hits) and in his first game back from ankle surgery, Mike Onwenu sat out most of the fourth quarter.
“Yeah, guys were able to do a good job, continuing rushing and winning their one-on-one individual matchups,” Christian Wilkins said. “The pressure just kept coming. Guys were relentless.”
2. Running game slow, too
In their Week 1 win over the Chargers, the Dolphins were gashed for 233 rushing yards, but the Patriots couldn’t get the ground game going at all. In the first half, New England picked up 30 yards on 13 carries, and they finished with a total of 88 yards.
Establishing the run makes everything easier for an offense. The Patriots simply couldn’t do it. Rhamondre Stevenson (50 yards) and Ezekiel Elliott (13 yards) both averaged fewer than 3.5 yards per carry and in gotta-have-it moments, the running game fell flat.
3. Strange ending
With 1:00 remaining and the Patriots driving down 24-17, they faced a fourth-and-3 from the Miami 33-yard line. Jones hit Mike Gesicki, who realized he was short of the sticks and made a really heady play, lateraling the ball to lineman Cole Strange. The guard appeared to pick up the first down, however it was overturned on video review.
“I felt like I came back to (the ball), so I had a feeling I was short,” Gesicki said. “I also was on their sideline and heard people cheering as if it was short, so right then and there, I was like, ‘I can’t go down with the ball.’ I knew if I could toss it back to somebody, and I just saw one of the biggest people on the field in our offensive line, and it ended up being Cole. I threw it to him, and I thought we had it, but unfortunately, we didn’t.”
4. Interception hurts
With the Patriots finally building some momentum late in the third quarter off a Brenden Schooler field goal block — more on that in a moment — Jones threw a terrible interception in field goal range. DeVante Parker ran a bad route and was blanketed by Xavien Howard, Jones forced the ball anyway, and the Dolphins cornerback came down with the interception. It took points off the board.
That route aside, Parker (six catches, 57 yards) was New England’s best receiver on the field for most of the evening and Jones was pretty good, but the pick hurt.
5. Gonzalez gets one, too
Christian Gonzalez reeled in his first career interception on an underthrown deep ball. With Tua Tagovalioa looking for Tyreek Hill (five catches, 40 yards), the Dolphins quarterback just hucked a pass up in the air and Gonzalez positioned himself well to reel it in. Given Hill duty frequently in the second half, the rookie played well. It was an encouraging performance.
6. Pop makes rookie mistake
A first quarter fumble was Demario Douglas’ final offensive snap of the evening.
After hauling in a pass from Mac Jones, the rookie tried to cut back across the field and didn’t feel Bradley Chubb bearing down on him. The edge rusher tomahawked the ball out of Douglas’ hands and Miami recovered the fumble. Douglas was benched from then on, only getting on the field to catch punts due to a Marcus Jones injury.
7. Judge finds his home
With Joe Judge (unofficially) running the special teams again, the Patriots have been markedly better than a season ago. Schooler’s field goal block was drawn up beautifully and the execution was even better. With a running start, Schooler timed the play perfectly and blocked Jason Saunders’ 49-yard attempt.
“When we called the play going on the field, (Matthew Slater) said to me ‘you are going to go block this and just trust in what we practiced during the week,’” Schooler said. “As soon as the ball was snapped and I felt myself in the momentum, carrying, I just knew I was going to get there and just wanted to make sure I got a hand on the ball.”
8. White makes a quiet impact
It won’t show up in the box score, but Keion White drew a pair of penalty flags, and the second one led to a major momentum swing. Before Schooler’s field goal block, White drew a holding call against Dolphins tackle Austin Jackson. It led to a second-and-long, which led to a third-and-long, which led to a relatively long field goal try, which led to Schooler’s block. The little things add up.
9. Tua improves to 5-0
Somewhat remarkably, Tagovailoa (21-of-30, 249 yards) is still undefeated against the Patriots in his career.
“I think our team is 5 and 0 against Bill Belichick. It’s never a me thing. It’s never a me thing,” Tagovailoa said. “And I don’t think we ever look at it as, ‘oh, we beat them once, we beat them twice, we beat them five times in a row.’ Every time we face Coach Belichick’s team, it’s always a challenge. And we know we’re going to get their best.”
10. Hill salts the wound
As Tyreek Hill left Gillette Stadium turf, he waved derisively at the fans still in attendance.
“Oh, it felt, it felt tremendous, man,” Hill said. “Those fans are some of the worst fans in the NFL and I’m gonna stand on that man because they are real nasty and some of the things that they were saying wasn’t … (pausing) I wouldn’t say in church.
“So, yeah, it felt great to wave goodbye to the fans and I’ll do it again. Bye!”
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Story by Chris Mason, masslive.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.