Patriots

Patriots

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.

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