Patriots

Patriots suffer bizarre throwback loss at Miami

Patriots suffer bizarre throwback loss at Miami

Surreal, isn’t it?

It’s like Throwback Sunday to a time before parades and duck boats.

Back when GOATs were still dead-eyed, shoe-eating creatures, the stuff that happened in Miami on Sunday was commonplace.

When we were young, dumb and broke, when Bill Belichick was just a surly loser and not an enigmatic genius, the rug routinely got pulled out from under the Patriots.

When Tom Brady was chubby, when being a Patriots fan was a sentence instead of a blessing, you got used to that “WTF . . .” feeling that settled in around 4:10 p.m. EST in the fall and winter.

Been a while.

But now a generation of New Englanders have seen – maybe for the first time – what it looks like when severe, crunch-time operator error turns certain victory into knee-buckling defeat.

You’ve seen ass-beatings -- Tennessee and Detroit this year, for instance. You’ve seen them lose on the biggest stages in Super Bowls against the Giants and Eagles.

But did you ever see them get pantsed like this?

DOLPHINS 34, PATRIOTS 33

Usually, we are the ones pointing and laughing at whatever so-called superstar butchers some situational football (Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger came through the past two weeks).

Sunday, it was Tom Brady forgetting how many timeouts the Patriots had at the end of the first half, costing the team at least a field goal.

Usually, we are the ones chortling at Pete Carroll, Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh, Jon Gruden, Jason Garrett, Mike McCarthy (RIP) and giving the old, “Bold strategy, heh, heh . . .” mockery.

This time, it’s Bill Belichick with a litany of “What was he thinking . . . ?” moves in the final minutes of both halves.

And this time, it’s the Patriots on the chasing end of a play that will live in infamy and serve as a tutorial on what-not-to-do when football turns to rugby and all you need is to surround, leverage and finish.

Now, you can ascribe all the deeper meaning to Sunday you want, but I don’t get why you would.

Unless Tom Brady makes a habit of being situationally moronic, you won’t see what happened at the end of the first half again.

And you can watch a few decades and not see the kind of multi-lateral, end-of-game touchdown return happen so you don’t have to sweat that.

DOLPHINS 34, PATRIOTS 33

Those are the two aspects of the game that ensured this game was a loss and not a win.

You might want to throw in Stephen Gostkowski missing a PAT and a field goal but the Patriots were more than able to compensate for those. And in that line of work – despite what people have come to expect – misses happen. Bad ones.

I’m not saying this loss doesn’t do damage to the Patriots playoff path. Nor am I saying that, in the wake of their most complete win of the season against the Vikings, their “somewhat distressing” run defense deserves a downgrade to “significant issue.”

The Patriots -- thanks to Kansas City’s overtime win at home over the Ravens -- have lost a reasonable shot at the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the Patriots don’t travel well. Period. They lost at Jacksonville, Detroit, Tennessee and now Miami. They got out of Dodge in Chicago and were flat offensively at Buffalo and the Jets. Next up, they’re at Pittsburgh.

As for the run defense, against Miami, they gave up 189 yards on 21 carries. Combine that with last week’s performance against the Vikings when they gave up 95 on 13 carries and they’re giving up 8.35 yards per carry on the last 34 runs against them. Eye-popping.

It’s also fair-game to wonder whether this loss will linger.

DOLPHINS 34, PATRIOTS 33

It was a bad coaching decision to have Gronk on the field for the final play in anticipation of a Hail Mary when the Dolphins were 69 yards from the goal line. Was Ryan Tannehill going to drop back 7 yards and throw a 77-yard bomb to the end zone? No. The Patriots needed their fastest and most sure tacklers on the field for precisely the kind of play the Dolphins ran.

Also, the end-of-half approach was strange before Brady took the sack that sent the Patriots to the locker room without managing points.

After getting the ball at their own 20 with two minutes left in the half and three timeouts left, the Patriots threw to the middle of the field and showed no interest in trying to push the ball downfield, instead letting the clock dwindle down.

Eventually, Miami took its timeouts and forced a Patriots punt, allowing the Dolphins a double-up scoring opportunity that they butchered.

That the Patriots wound up with a shot for points before the half was a by-product of good situational football following their miscalculation. It shouldn’t be ascribed to some big-brain strategy that foresaw a Tannehill sack and a blocked punt.  

Finally, the more you watch the final play, the less you’ll enjoy the effort shown by the Patriots on the field. It was as if they were all waiting for someone else to make the game-ending tackle and urgency didn’t set in until it was clear Kenyan Drake was in a footrace to the goal line.

But to me, Mr. Rainbows and Unicorns, there was a major positive that came out of this bizarro game.

DOLPHINS 34, PATRIOTS 33

What the troika of Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon showed a level of explosiveness we hadn’t seen at any point in the season before Sunday. They combined for 22 catches and 289 receiving yards.

That will have more lasting impact on the product on the field than that lightning-in-a-bottle game-ending disaster. Every team ahead of and behind the Patriots is pointing-and-laughing at how this game ended, but two seconds later they’ll be swallowing hard at the prospect of the Patriots appearing to figure it out on offense against Miami.

Weird things happen in Miami. In 2004, one of the best Patriots teams of this dynastic run, lost to a terrible Miami team, 29-28 when Brady threw a pick while seated on the turf. They finished 14-2 and breezed to their second straight Lombardi.

That game was an aberration. A blip. An isolated incident.

Is this one like that? Or is there something (dun, dun, DUNNNNN) afoot?

Was Sunday just another Miami brain fart? Or is that gas a symptom of a greater sickness?

I’d go with the isolated brain fart. But it felt like old times, that’s for sure.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Report: Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser removed controversial tattoo

Report: Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser removed controversial tattoo

"I knew I had to have it totally taken off of my body."

In April, that's what Patriots rookie kicker Justin Rohrwasser told WBZ's Steve Burton about a controversial Three Percenters tattoo on his left arm that gained instant notoriety after he was drafted by New England.

Well, it appears he has followed through on that promise.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

According to TMZ Sports, the 23-year-old has had the tattoo removed. The report states that Rohrwasser started the painful removal process right after the NFL Draft.

After the Patriots selected the Marshall kicker in the fifth round of the draft, there was a public outcry about the tattoo displaying the logo of the right-wing militia group, which has been described as racist and anti-government. Rohrwasser had said he got the tattoo when he was 18 as a way to support the military, but didn't realize its other use.

"It's shameful that I had it on there ignorantly," Rohrwasser told Burton. "I'm sorry for all my (friends) and family that have to defend me. Putting them in that compromising position is one of the biggest regrets I'll ever have. To them, I'm sorry. I'm going to learn from this. I'm going to take ownership of it. This is not who I am. No matter what, that's not who I am. Hopefully, you will all find that out."

Though he might still face questions about the tattoo when the Patriots open training camp later this month, removing the tattoo should keep the issue from being a huge distraction during his first NFL season.

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How did the Patriots pull this off? How did a team that had no financial breathing room, no salary-cap space, go ahead and sign Cam Newton to a contract that's worth up to $7.5 million?

The key words there are "up to."

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio drew up a deal that would pay Newton the way other quarterback reclamation projects have been paid, if he performs. In the meantime, his salary-cap figure for 2020 comes in at just a smidgen higher than that of long-snapper Joe Cardona.

Let that sink in.

ALPHABET SOUP

Understanding how the Patriots were able to pull that off — pay Newton the going rate for a quarterback looking to revive his career, while simultaneously getting his salary on their books when they had next to no cap space — requires an understanding of the letters "NLTBE."

That acronym stands for "not likely to be earned," and it describes the majority of the incentives Newton received in his new deal with the Patriots. By NFL rule, NLTBE incentives do not count against the salary cap immediately. NLTBE incentive markers are markers that a player didn't achieve the season prior. If those markers are reached, then that incentive payment hits the following season's salary cap.

(As you might guess, LTBE incentive markers are markers a player did hit the season prior. LTBE incentives are counted against the cap upon the player's deal being signed.)

For example, if a player did not throw for 3,000 yards in 2019 but would be paid a $1 million bonus for reaching the 3,000-yard passing mark in 2020, that would be considered an incentive that is NLTBE. It would not count against the 2020 cap. If that 3,000-yard mark is reached in 2020, it would count toward the 2021 cap.

We can deduce then that the $5.75 million in available incentives included in Newton's deal did not count against the Patriots cap for 2020. They couldn't. The team didn't have enough cap space on hand to give him that kind of money in LTBE incentives. The Patriots had less than $1 million in space prior to agreeing to terms with Newton, per Patriots cap expert Miguel Benzan.

We don't yet know the specific markers Newton has to hit to earn his 2020 incentives, but because he played in only two games last season, the Patriots could have given him very reasonable numbers to reach and they still wouldn't count against the cap immediately because they'd be NLTBE. 

For instance, New England could've given Newton bonuses for playing in three games, passing for 600 yards and throwing one touchdown. Because he didn't hit any of those numbers in 2019 — he played in just two games and threw for 572 yards without any touchdowns — they'd all be considered NLTBE and not counted against the 2020 cap. In all likelihood, though, it's going to be a little more difficult than that for Newton to reach the incentives laid out for him.

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast:

WARNING: MATH AHEAD

So if $5.75 million of Newton's "up to" $7.5 million contract with the Patriots won't count against the cap, what will?

Newton's veteran-minimum $1.05 million contract, for one, will count. That's the minimum under the new collective bargaining agreement for players with at least seven years of NFL service.

Additionally, two games of Newton's $700,000 in per-game roster bonuses will count against the cap. If he's provided $700,000 total in per-game roster bonuses, that means he'll be owed $43,750 for each of the 16 regular-season games he's on the Patriots roster. Two games of per-game roster bonus — $87,500 — counts against the 2020 cap because it's LTBE; he played in two games in 2019. The rest of those per-game roster bonuses are considered NLTBE but will count against the cap with each game he plays. So if he plays in all 16 games, by the end of the 2020 season, his cap number will be $1.75 million. Active roster bonuses are the only earned NLTBE incentives that hit a current year's cap, Benzan relayed. 

Therefore, Newton's cap number for New England in 2020 — his base salary plus two games of roster bonuses — comes to $1,137,500. That's slightly more than the $1.08 million cap number assigned to Cardona and the $1.05 million number assigned to fellow quarterback Brian Hoyer for this coming season. It's slightly less than fullback Dan Vitale's 2020 cap hit of $1,287,500. 

Now the question is, how did the Patriots fit Newton under their cap if they had less than $1 million in cap space left prior to landing him? His cap number is over $1 million, isn't it?

It is. But there's an accounting rule the NFL uses to include only the contracts of the players with the top-51 base salaries against a team's cap until active rosters are finalized.

Newton's cap number replaces what was the No. 51 salary on the 90-man roster prior to Newton's signing. According to Benzan, that No. 51 slot was assigned to outside linebacker Tashawn Bower. Because the difference in cap numbers between Newton and Bower is only a few hundred thousand dollars, the Patriots had enough space to add Newton once Bower fell below the No. 51 spot.

If the Patriots were snug up against the cap before, they're even more so now. By Benzan's estimates, they have $263,489 left in cap room. To handle regular in-season spending, they'll need to clear out more space eventually. Re-working Joe Thuney's contract to reduce his nearly $15 million cap hit, for instance, could free up some significant cap room quickly. 

MAXING OUT

If Newton makes the team, plays, and plays well, he may have a chance to reach the full $7.5 million value of the deal. But why $7.5 million? Why settle there?

Marcus Mariota is getting a $7.5 million base salary to be the No. 2 for the Raiders in 2020. Teddy Bridgewater made about that much in 2019 from the Saints. Both were passers in need of a fresh start. Both carried a certain level of uncertainty.

The same is true for Newton in New England, though his résumé is vastly more impressive than that of either of those other quarterbacks when they signed their contracts.

It's the definition of a low-risk, high-reward deal. It just required a little bit of creativity to get it in under the minimal amount of cap space the Patriots had available for 2020.