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Dolphins 34, Patriots 33: 10 quick thoughts from stunning road loss

Ryan Hannable
December 09, 2018 - 4:14 pm
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MIAMI — Wow.

With the Patriots leading 33-28 with seven seconds left, the Dolphins scored a touchdown when Ryan Tannehill completed a 14-yard pass to Kenny Stills, the Dolphins executed two laterals, and Kenyan Drake ran 52 yards for a touchdown to give Miami a 34-33 win in the most stunning of fashions. Rob Gronkowski was deep defending the goal-line, but he slipped and could not make the game-saving tackle.

The Patriots have now lost five of their last six games in Miami.

Trailing 28-27 about midway through the fourth quarter, Tom Brady led the Patriots on an eight-play, 55-yard drive that finished with a 32-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Gostkowski then added a short field goal with 21 seconds left before Miami's last play.

Tom Brady was excellent for the most part, finishing the day 27-for-43 passing with 358 yards and three touchdowns.

Here are 10 quick observations from the game.

1. Brady was outstanding in the first half as he was 18-for-26 passing with 231 yards and three touchdowns in perhaps his best half of the season. He was also 7-for-7 passing on third down. The 41-year-old wasn't as sharp in the second half, but made the plays when he needed to. He also may have made his throw of the season, a 37-yard touchdown strike to Cordarrelle Patterson on a seam route in the second quarter. Brady put the ball exactly where he needed to with some velocity.

2. This was by far Gronkowski’s best game since Week 1. The tight end finished with a season-high eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. It appeared for the first time in quite some time the Patriots designed plays to go his way and it paid off. Also, Gronkowski seemed much more confident than in recent weeks. This is definitely a good sign for the offense going into the final three regular-season games. Not to be ignored, Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman also had big days.

3. New England's defense didn't have its best performance by any means, especially when it came to defending the run. It will most be remembered for the last play, which featured horrible tackling.

4. The end of the first half did not end well for the Patriots. After their second blocked punt of the game, the Patriots got the ball deep in Miami territory. On third down inside the five-yard line with 16 seconds left and no timeouts, Brady took a sack and without any timeouts the Patriots couldn’t do anything about it. It was very uncharacteristic poor clock management from Brady.

5. After going 0-for-11 on third down in the meeting in Miami last year, the Patriots went 9-for-16 Sunday. This was an encouraging sign, as the Patriots converted several third-and-long plays, which were crushing to the Miami defense.

6. The Patriots’ pass rush was effective, particularly on third down. The New England defense recorded four sacks in the game, including two from Trey Flowers. This is an encouraging sign as the unit will need to continue to pressure the opposing quarterback as the season heads into late December and January.

7. With Danny Shelton inactive, the Patriots were thin on the defensive line and the Dolphins took full advantage. After recording just 56 total yards rushing, the Dolphins ran for 189 yards on Sunday. Frank Gore led the way, rushing for 92 yards. Also, Kenny Stills had a monster day, mostly going against Jason McCourty. He finished with seven catches for 121 yards and a touchdown.

8. The Patriots made a few minor roster moves around the bye week adding two core special teams players in Albert McClellin and Ramon Humber. These moves showed up as McClellin blocked two punts in the first half and Humber was involved in both plays as well. With all the struggles the Patriots had on special teams earlier in the year, these two plays have done a nice job steading the ship. Credit Bill Belichick for finding them.

9. On a day when most defensive players didn't play well, defensive tackle Adam Butler had a very nice day for himself. The young interior lineman has progressed each week and now has been used in both rushing and passing situations. It wouldn't be a surprise to Shelton active next week, though. The front-four is better when there's a rotation. 

10. It was not a good day at the office for Stephen Gostkowski. The kicker missed a 42-yard field goal, which was his second miss in two weeks from less than 50 yards. He also missed an extra point, which is not what the Patriots are looking for. With as bad as the kicking has been across the league this year, the Patriots are now seeing what that is like.

Brady broke Peyton Manning's NFL record for career touchdown passes, regular season and playoffs combined. He now has 582.

Related: Sunday 7: Who do you fear in AFC?

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