MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The pivotal play in Sunday’s heartbreaking New England Patriots loss obviously was the Miami Dolphins’ 69-yard, last-second touchdown.

But one play in the final moments of the first half, if executed differently, might have altered the Patriots’ fortunes in what wound up being a 34-33 defeat at Hard Rock Stadium.

Shortly after Albert McClellan’s second blocked punt of the afternoon, the Patriots were facing a third-and-goal from Miami’s 2-yard line with 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter. An incompletion on the play would have stopped the clock and given New England, which led 27-21 at the time and was out of timeouts, either one more shot at the end zone or the chance for a chip-shot field goal.

But rather than throwing the ball away after realizing all of his receivers were covered, quarterback Tom Brady held it and was sacked by defensive end Robert Quinn, preventing the Patriots from running another play and keeping their lead at six points entering halftime.

Asked about the sack after the game, Brady blamed himself for not having proper situational awareness.

“That was a terrible play by me,” the 41-year-old said in his postgame news conference. “That should never happen. I just lost track. I thought we had one timeout (remaining). We called the one, and we ran a couple plays, and I was just not thinking on third down. That was just a play that should never happen.”

Despite the squandered scoring chance, the Patriots, who also missed an extra point and a field goal in the game, led 33-28 when they kicked off to the Dolphins with 21 seconds remaining. What followed was one of the most incredible final plays in NFL history, with running back Kenyan Drake sprinting down the right sideline for the game-winning touchdown after two Miami laterals.

“It shouldn’t have come down to that,” Brady said. “I think we left a lot more points on the board offensively. That’s football.”

The loss dropped Brady to 7-10 in his career in Miami and 1-5 in his last six visits.

“They play well here,” said Brady, who finished with a season-high 358 passing yards and three touchdowns. “We haven’t. It’s that simple.”

Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images