Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO — The Miami Dolphins did the unthinkable Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

They beat the New England Patriots and denied the defending Super Bowl champions a first-round playoff bye. The Patriots’ loss, combined with the Kansas City Chiefs’ win over the Los Angeles Chargers, moves KC ahead of New England for the No. 2 seed. The Chiefs own the head-to-head tiebreaker from their Week 14 win in Foxboro. 

The Patriots will play on Wild Card Weekend for the first time since 2009.

Let's take a look at four instant overreactions from the Patriots' worst performance of the season and assess their merit.

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1. Patriots' passing attack took huge step back 
Verdict
: Not an overreaction

The Patriots, a week after one of their best offensive showings of the season in a win over the Buffalo Bills, gave a dreadful performance offensively versus a Dolphins team that entered Week 17 giving up the most yards and points against per game. Miami came into Foxboro having allowed 33.6 points per game over the last six weeks, and yet New England had put up only 17 points through three quarters Sunday.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady also looked like a normal 42-year-old. He had completed just five of 12 pass attempts for 91 yards and an interception at halftime, and he finished 16-of-29 for 221 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Eighty-eight of Brady's yards came on two plays, a 50-yard strike to Phillip Dorsett and a 38-yard touchdown to linebacker-turned-fullback Elandon Roberts. Brady was inaccurate on many of his throws, and the Dolphins made him pay with an interception returned for a touchdown in the second quarter that increased Miami's lead to 10-0.

 

In fairness to the Patriots, veteran wide receiver Julian Edelman didn't play his normal amount of snaps. He's battling through knee/shoulder injuries. Still, this performance from the Patriots pass offense was very troubling, and it doesn't bode well for their chances of making a deep playoff run.

2. Mohamed Sanu will be fine in the playoffs
Verdict
: Overreaction

Sanu has been a massive disappointment for the Patriots after catching 10 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9. The veteran wide receiver has tallied just 14 receptions for 103 yards and zero touchdowns over his last six games. These stats include a lackluster performance versus the Dolphins during which he caught three passes for 32 yards. Sanu, in fairness, has been bothered by an ankle injury over this stretch, and he missed the team's Week 12 win over the Dallas Cowboys. However, if Sanu is healthy enough to be on the field, he needs to be far more productive that what he's given the Patriots over the last month.

The Pats gave up a second-round pick to acquire him from the Atlanta Falcons to strengthen a receiving corps that lost Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon. Sanu has been unable to fill the void left by those two players. The Patriots cannot expect much from rookie wide receivers N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers in the playoffs given their inexperience. Sanu is different, however, because he should be far more reliable as an eight-year veteran who's played in several postseason games. Maybe Sanu will figure it out once the playoffs begin, but he's shown almost nothing in recent weeks to suggest that will happen.

3. Pats' special teams will be critical in playoffs
Verdict
: Not an overreaction

Special teams played a key role in the Patriots win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII as punter Ryan Allen was one of New England's best players in the 13-3 victory. Special teams should again be pivotal for the Patriots in this season's playoffs, especially on punts. Rookie punter Jake Bailey should've been named to the Pro Bowl, and he concluded the regular season with all three of his four punts Sunday landing inside the 20-yard line. It also helps that Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel are two of the best special teams players in the league and do an excellent job in punt coverage. This duo teamed up to make a phenomenal play in the second quarter:

The Patriots don't have a high-powered offense, so field position will be more important than usual in the playoffs. Bailey has shown all season, including Sunday, that he's able to flip the field in New England's favor with his powerful and accurate right foot.

 

4. Dolphins will be much improved in 2020
Verdict
: Not an overreaction

The Dolphins had nothing to play for Sunday, and a loss actually was the ideal outcome for them as far as improving their 2020 NFL Draft position. For Miami to beat the Patriots on the road as 15.5-point underdogs with the defending champs having so much at stake (a playoff bye) tells you a lot about the character of its team. The Dolphins started 2019 with an 0-7 record but won five of their last nine games to finish 5-11. Head coach Brian Flores did a tremendous job squeezing as much production as possible on both sides of the ball from one of the league's worst rosters. The Dolphins should be much better in 2020 thanks to an impressive haul of draft picks (both in the upcoming draft and the future) and nearly $100 million in salary cap space. A few of the top quarterbacks in the 2020 draft class, including Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon's Justin Herbert, could give the Dolphins a long-awaited franchise cornerstone at the sport's most important position.

Miami has a pathway to improvement, even if the playoffs are not a realistic goal for this franchise next season.

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