MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — “That’s one thing you can’t do in this league,” New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said shortly after his team suffered the unlikeliest of defeats Sunday afternoon in Miami. “You can’t hide.
“We’ll be out there next week.”
A similar message was preached throughout the Patriots’ locker room in the wake of their last-second 34-33 loss to the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium: There’s nothing they can do now but move forward.
New England appeared to have a hard-fought, hotly contested victory sewn up until Miami, left with 15 seconds and 69 yards of Florida turf to cover, staged one of the most dramatic final plays in NFL history.
The play — dubbed “Boise” after Boise State’s hook-and-lateral touchdown against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl — began with Kenny Stills catching a pass near midfield and flipping it to fellow Dolphins wideout DeVante Parker, who in turn lateraled to running back Kenyan Drake.
Drake broke a Kyle Van Noy tackle, evaded Patrick Chung and sprinted past tight end/temporary deep safety Rob Gronkowski to paydirt to give the Miami an improbable victory over their longtime AFC East rivals.
“I’ve never really been a part of anything like that,” said Gronkowski, whose inclusion in the Patriots’ last-play defense was criticized after the game. “I feel like it’s going to test our character big time, how we bounce back from something like that.”
The loss prevented the Patriots from clinching their 10th consecutive division and all but erased their chances of earning home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They maintained their grip on the No. 2 seed by virtue of the Houston Texans’ loss to the Indianapolis Colts, but at 9-4, they now sit two games back of the first-place Kansas City Chiefs, who beat the Baltimore Ravens in overtime to improve to 11-2.
With a road game against the likely playoff-bound Pittsburgh Steelers up next on the schedule, turning the page quickly will be crucial for this Patriots team.
“We have to be able to process it, air out our grievances if anyone has any and move forward,” Slater said. “There’s no magic pill or secret recipe to moving past this. It’s mental fortitude. It’s mental toughness. It’s character and professionalism.”
“Just learn from it and move on,” safety Duron Harmon said. “That’s all you can do. … Coming into hostile environments like this, you’ve got to be ready to go for 60 minutes, and we weren’t today.”
The Patriots, who will visit another hostile environment in Heinz Field next Sunday, defeated the Steelers in similarly heartbreaking fashion last season, intercepting a pass in the end zone after a 69-yard pass play and a controversially disallowed Pittsburgh touchdown.
“We’ve got to come in and go to work on Monday,” center and co-captain David Andrews said. “That’s all we can do. We’ve got a big challenge this week with Pittsburgh. We’ve got to come in, go back to work and get this ship corrected.”
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images