Despite a solid defensive performance, the Dolphins were unable to beat the division-leading New England Patriots, falling 23-16 on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.
The Patriots were able to take advantage of a short field a handful of times, putting the Dolphins away for good with a seven-minute scoring drive in the fourth quarter.
Here are my key takeaways from the 23-16 loss to the New England Patriots:
- Gifts Before Christmas: The last team that needs any helping winning football games is the New England Patriots. Coach Philbin had preached execution in the days leading up to the game, but Miami didn’t play close to a perfect game and gave the Patriots, not only field position, but also opportunities to score points without grinding out long scoring drives. Ten of the Patriots’ 23 points were gift-wrapped, with New England only required to move the ball 12 yards for those two scores. The fumbled snap in the first quarter led to a 5-play, 12-yard drive that was quickly capped off by a 2-yard Stevan Ridley TD run, giving the Patriots a 7-0 edge, a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the game. Again, midway through the second quarter, a fumble helped set up New England for easy points. This time, Ryan Tannehill was stripped as he was trying to get rid of the ball, giving the Patriots the ball on the Miami 25-yard line. New England couldn’t move the ball — three plays, no yards — but they were already in Stephen Gostkowski’s range. You just can’t give good (or great) teams field position, especially a high-powered offense like New England’s, who entered the game averaging a staggering 37 points per game.
- Dolphins Made Brady Look Ordinary: For all the big games that Tom Brady has had in his career — and there have been a few against Miami — the Dolphins made Brady look ordinary on Sunday. It was the potential MVP candidate’s least efficient game this year, by far, finishing 21-of-40 for 238 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and a season-low 74.8 quarterback rating. Miami harassed, hurried and made it uncomfortable for Brady to get his high-tempo offense running with any consistency on Sunday. If you would have told me Brady would throw for less than 250 yards, get sacked four times, throw just one touchdown and add in an interception, just his fourth of the year, and I would have felt good about the Dolphins’ chances. The biggest difference in the game was his ability to keep the offense on the field in the fourth quarter for a 16-play drive that chopped 7:16 off of the clock and made it a tw0-score game. Ridley may have been the star of the drive — he had 46 of his 71 rushing yards on that final possession — but it was Brady that kept them on the field and, in the process, kept the Dolphins offense on the sideline. He was perfect when he had to be, completing each of his three passes on the drive to help set up Gotstowski’s 20-yard field goal.
- Missed Opportunities: The Dolphins had their chances to win on Sunday, but they just didn’t make enough game-changing — or game-saving plays — to take the win away from New England. Whether it was Jimmy Wilson’s untimely roughing the punter penalty that kept what turned out to be a scoring drive alive, or the overthrow of a wide-open Brian Hartline that would have surely put seven points on the board and momentum in the Dolphins’ corner, the Dolphins just couldn’t overcome a handful of self-inflicted setbacks. The special teams errors — Wilson’s penalty and Brandon Fields’ dropped snap on a punt attempt — directly resulted in 14 points. When you add the Tannehill overthrow and a Reshad Jones INT TD return that was wiped away by a low block penalty, it adds up to a swing that certainly could have affected the outcome of the game.
- Players That Continue to Shine: Sometimes it’s hard enough to play your own position without making an error, but rookie Jonathan Martin played a relatively error-free game after switching from right tackle to left tackle when Jake Long left with a triceps injury midway through Sunday’s game. With Long’s status a question mark moving forward, it’s a luxury to have a talented lineman versatile enough to flip from the right to the left side and play at a high level. Another standout: safety Reshad Jones, who is becoming a playmaker and a consistent tackler for the Miami defense. He showed great athleticism grabbing that Brady pass with one hand, keeping his balance along the sideline and getting into the end zone for what everyone thought was a touchdown. These two players, among others, are just examples of why the future is bright for the Miami Dolphins.