FOXBORO – At the start of the third quarter, the Miami Dolphins weren’t quite dead yet. It was 21-10 and Miami – which blew a perfect end-of-half scoring opportunity with an end zone pick – had the Patriots in third-and-10 after an incompletion to Rob Gronkowski.
But there was a flag. And it was for a facemask. The 15 yards were walked off and the Patriots were at the Miami 37. Two plays later, the Patriots converted on third-and-2 and Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain kept rolling around with Danny Amendola until McCain decided a punch would end things appropriately.
It did. McCain was ejected and another 15 yards were walked off and the ball was at the Miami 12.
On the next play, Ndamukong Suh tackled Dion Lewis by the facemask. Somehow, that didn’t draw a flag, but it didn’t matter. The Patriots scored on the next play, it was 28-10 and the rest would be a formality.
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“That was a terrible series for us,” said Dolphins coach Adam Gase. “That was one we really couldn’t have at that moment in the game. We really put ourselves in bad position especially losing Bobby like that. That puts a lot of guys in a bad position and then we have to start moving things around. The frustrating part when you have the facemask penalty, that’s just going back to fundamental football. We shoot ourselves in the foot when we do things like that.”
Miami – which also had an illegal contact penalty that extended a Patriots scoring drive in the first half – had 17 penalties in their last game, so the six penalties for 52 yards on Sunday was a marked improvement. That was affirmed by Gase, who found a silver lining in the postgame when he said, “We had less pre-snap penalties, so that was a positive.”
Talk about having to set a low bar for improvement. Gase’s face when he made that statement said it all. The Dolphins – who in September appeared the AFC East team most set to challenge the Patriots this season – are lightyears from where they need to be. And they remain there because they are doing the same stupid things over and over and over again.
Turnovers and penalties. Penalties and turnovers.
“Any penalties are self-inflicted wounds,” said Miami defensive end Cameron Wake. “Before the play, especially, during the play, as well. Whether it’s pass interference, jumping offside, like I did, or players miscommunicating or whatever it may be and you’ve got somebody running wide open or a back running through our defense untouched. I mean, those are the things that it’s not physical ability that causes that. There’s nobody who’s that fast. There’s nobody who’s that strong in the NFL. It’s you made a wrong step or went the wrong way or I didn’t tell you something, you didn’t tell me something (it’s mental). Jumping offside is not concentrating on your play. Guys running free, hitting the quarterback – all those things aren’t physical things. If you get beat, you get beat. This is the NFL. I mean, that happens, but to say a guy’s just running free untouched – pass, run – or hitting the quarterback, all those things, that’s you did it to yourself, not they did it to you.”
The Patriots are hard enough to beat straight up. When a team voluntarily kneecaps itself with stupidity it plays right into their hands.
Miami is wandering down the trail once blazed by Rex Ryan in New York and Buffalo. Talk a great game. Worry about the wrong things. Try and bring the fight to the Patriots. Fly home with a loss and the “we beat ourselves” lament.
The Patriots weren’t pristine on Sunday. They had seven penalties for 70 yards and handed the Dolphins a touchdown with a premature snap by Ted Karras that skittered past Tom Brady and was returned for a touchdown. But it’s testament to how sloppily Miami played to realize that that play meant they lost by just 18 instead of 25.
That result for a team that wide receiver Jarvis Landry promised would sweep New England in 2017 has to be humbling. And it kind of was.
After the game, Landry reiterated he wasn’t trying to disrespect New England. He was merely trying to speak success into reality.
“It’s a mindset thing,” he said. “As I said then and as I still say it, I respect the Patriots organization and their players but there is something for this team and for this organization to create a mindset that we’re nobody’s little brother and we are here to play.”
Meanwhile, his receiving colleague Kenny Stills – who verbally lambasted Tom Brady from the sidelines for a good chunk of the game – said that too was just competing.
“I enjoy being out here, I love playing football, I love playing against the Patriots and every Sunday getting an opportunity to play,” Stills said. “I did everything I could to mess with him and get in his head. I talked to him after the game. He hears me. He’s laughing. We’re all just having a good time.”
Hee-hee, ha-ha. Lose by 18.
Gase must want to bang his forehead off the desk at this point. Bill Belichick rails about error-repeaters. The Dolphins have habitual offenders. Gase has tried to fumigate the locker room of bad attitudes but you can’t fix stupid, as the saying goes.
Belichick took a discreet victory lap in his postgame comments because he knew – just as he did before the Patriots played Ryan’s Bills and Jets – that there would be scrappiness.
“We saw quite a bit of that in these games last year,” said Belichick. “There were some personal fouls in that game at the end of the game in the first game here we had some after-the-play type things that occurred in this game. Look, it’s two competitive teams. All our guys are playing hard. You’ve got to be able to control your emotions, to play with poise and play with aggressiveness but do it legally and within the rules and before the whistle blows and all of those kinds of things. I thought a number of our players did a good job of trying to keep their poise, stay focused on football and not get caught up in some of the after-the-play stuff. Sometimes that’s hard to do, but we’ve got to try and do the best that we can at it. I thought that they tried to do that.”
The Dolphins are now 4-7 and their season is in tatters. In two weeks, they’ll host the Patriots on a Monday night in Miami. If Jarvis Landry wants to be half-right in his prediction, he’ll have to convince his teammates that – until they stop beating themselves – beating the Patriots is a pipe dream.