There are no excuses for this collapse. The New England Patriots had the inferior Miami Dolphins on the ropes Sunday, but they couldn’t close out the victory, continuing a number of disturbing trends.
Most notably, the offense is having way too many Grady Little moments in pressure situations. Time and again in 2009, the Patriots have choked in the second half of road games, and Sunday’s 22-21 loss in Miami was as ugly as it’s been.
New England looked dominant while building an early 14-0 lead against the Dolphins, and despite some faults as the game progressed, the Patriots still appeared to be comfortable with a double-digit lead in the second half. Apparently, they were too comfortable.
"We have leads in the second half and leads in the fourth quarter," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter, "and we’re not closing the game out when we have the opportunity to."
Brady completed 13 of 14 passes for 196 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in the first half against the Dolphins, but he was just 6-of-15 for 156 yards, one touchdown and two picks in the second half. Take away his 81-yard, third-quarter touchdown strike to Sam Aiken – Brady threw the pass off his back foot to escape pressure, and Aiken made a tremendous play to catch the ball, break a tackle and run for the touchdown — and Brady was 5-of-14 for 75 yards and the two interceptions after the break.
The Patriots’ last four offensive possessions were disastrous. Brady threw an interception in the end zone early in the fourth quarter, which marked their second trip inside the Miami 10-yard line that resulted in zero points. The Patriots then had two possessions in which they could have added to their 21-19 lead or at least eaten up some clock, but they went three-and-out both times and only managed to wipe out a total of 2:37. New England’s final possession concluded on its third play, when Brady threw a game-ending interception.
"We’re making mistakes," Brady told the Miami media in his postgame news conference. "If you’re making them in the first half or you’re making them in the second half, you’re not going to score enough points. We certainly had our opportunities today, and we didn’t make them."
This is nothing new for the Patriots offense, which has been lousy in the second half of all five of their games in opponents’ stadiums this season. That’s the underlying theme behind their 0-5 record in those contests in 2009.
In the first half of the Patriots’ five road defeats this season, Brady has completed 65 of 100 passes (65.0 percent) for 859 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. In the second half of those games, the two-time Super Bowl MVP has completed 46 of 87 passes (52.9 percent) for 536 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Even more telling, the Patriots have 59 first downs in the first half of those five defeats but just 42 first downs in the second half. They’ve converted 18 of 38 third downs (47.4 percent) in the first half but 7-of-28 (25.0 percent) in the second half. The Pats were 0-of-4 on third down against the Dolphins, which was their second oh-for on third down in the second half of a road loss this season.
Want more? The Patriots have gained 1,137 yards in the first half of those five games (227.4 yards per game) but just 758 yards in the second half (151.6). Plus, the Patriots have gained more yards in the first half than the second half in all five road defeats. And finally, they’re gaining an average of 6.5 yards per play in the first half of those contests but just 5.1 in the second half.
By New England’s standards, its first four road losses weren’t acceptable, but they were at least understandable. At the time of those games, the New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints were all better teams than the Patriots.
But this Miami loss is inexcusable. Despite the Patriots’ road woes earlier in the season, they should have been able to correct them against the sinking Dolphins. However, it turned out to be more of the same for New England — a strong start followed by a face-plant.
Hard to imagine, but it’s December, and the Patriots are failing to correct the same mistakes that have plagued their season.
"It’s frustrating," Brady said, "but we’ve got to fight back and try to go out there and do a better job next time."