MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Was it the number of hits Tom Brady took from the Dolphins defense two weeks ago that were still fresh in his mind? Or did he simply understand that without Rob Gronkowski it was going to be a difficult night?
Whatever it was, the Patriots quarterback seemed uncharacteristically jumpy from the beginning of Monday night's game at Hard Rock Stadium, and he wasn't able to help his team mount much of a fight in a 27-20 defeat that was not as close as the score indicated.
The Patriots went 0-for-11 on third down -- their first game without a third-down conversion since 1991 -- and went three-and-out seven times. They managed only 25 yards rushing (a season-low) and 248 yards passing (also a season-low).
Brady went 24-for-43 for 233 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He was picked twice in the Divisional Round last season against the Texans, but Monday was his first regular-season game with two picks since 2015. His 59.5 passer rating was his worst in four seasons. He's now 7-9 in Miami for his career.
"Yeah, it was pretty bad," Brady said after the game when asked about the difficulty he had on third down. "We can't get any worse than that. We couldn't stay on the field and just didn't make enough plays. It's just a bad night. We've had a lot of good nights this year and this was a bad night."
Brady's first dropback of the night may have rattled him. He managed to get off an incompletion despite Lawrence Timmons screaming off the right edge unblocked. On the next snap, he had plenty of time but underthrew Brandin Cooks badly and was picked by Xavien Howard.
On the first play of the next Patriots drive, Brady bailed on a throw early, perhaps sensing that Ndamukong Suh was wiggling free from his block. The pass went incomplete to James White despite the fact that Brady had time to throw and was in no real danger of being hit.
Brady made some remarkable throws later in the first half. His 20-yard floater to Dion Lewis as he was being hit by Kiko Alonso stood out. So too did his seven-yarder to James White that was completed after Brady avoided an Andre Branch pressure.
But in the second half, the pressures began to pile up and take their toll on the front-runner for MVP. After taking an eight-yard sack, he was picked deep down the middle of the field by Howard on another underthrown shot to Cooks. The Dolphins went up 20-10 on the subsequent drive, and all of a sudden Miami rushers could pin their ears back and hunt.
Brady attempted one third-down throw to a smothered Cooks on the outside when he might've had Dwayne Allen available for first-down yardage. He threw another third-down prayer deep to Chris Hogan that went incomplete. Yet another was fired to Cooks on a slant that was so off-the-mark it looked almost like a throwaway.
With a lead, Suh, Phillips, Branch, Cameron Wake and Charles Harris stalked Brady from the other side of the line of scrimmage, making life difficult for the Patriots offensive line. Brady was hit six times, sacked twice, and pressured on numerous other occasions -- even when he had more time than he thought.
The result was an unsettled offense.
"I think that's accurate," Nate Solder said. "I think there was a lot of drives where we were just playing behind on the chains, and that made it really tough. We know they have a great pass-rush and the front four is as good as any that's in the league. When you're playing behind like that, you have to take their best shot every time. It just is gonna look bad, it's gonna be tough, and it's a long, hard day."
Not having Gronkowski to attract coverage -- and beat man coverage even when blanketed, as he so often does -- didn't help matters for the Patriots. Neither did having a No. 2 receiver in Chris Hogan who hadn't played in more than a month and may have had some rust to knock off.
But Brady was not himself early, and that led to issues later on as the score got away from him and his teammates.
"We got behind and that's not the way we want to play the game. It's a bad loss," Brady said. "I wish we played better, but we didn't. We have to move on and try to play better next week."