Patriots Notes: Searching For Bright Spots In Dumbfounding Dolphins Loss


December 30, 2019

FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots suffered one of the worst regular-season losses of the Bill Belichick era Sunday afternoon, falling to the underdog Miami Dolphins in a de facto playoff game at Gillette Stadium.

Having already highlighted many of the errors that contributed to the Patriots’ dumbfounding 27-24 defeat — Stephon Gilmore’s rare stinker against DeVante Parker, Tom Brady’s accuracy issues, Bill Belichick’s questionable game management at the end of the first half — here are a few positives the Patriots can take away from this performance as they brace for their first wild-card round playoff game in 10 years:

— The Patriots ran the ball well for the third consecutive week, averaging an even 5.0 yards per carry on 27 attempts for 135 yards total.

Sony Michel, who was listed as questionable for the game with an illness, finished with 74 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, and Rex Burkhead was extremely efficient as the No. 2 option, averaging 8.0 yards per rush (six for 48) while employing his full repertoire of jukes, stiff-arms and jump cuts.

Coming off one of his best games as a Patriot last week against the Buffalo Bills, Burkhead tallied three separate 14-yard carries in the loss. Given how poorly New England’s run game performed for much of the season, these last few weeks have been a promising return to form ahead of the playoffs.

— Linebacker/fullback Elandon Roberts caught a touchdown pass. That would be remarkable enough in its own right, but Roberts’ score carried a much higher degree of difficulty than what you typically see from a defensive player moonlighting on offense.

Uncovered as he ran a wheel route out of the backfield, Roberts spun his body to catch a pass from Brady, broke a tackle by safety Adrian Colbert and outran cornerback Nik Needham to the pylon.

At 38 yards, it was the Patriots’ second-longest offensive touchdown of the season. Roberts, who also bulldozed safety Eric Rowe on Michel’s score, wasn’t interested in discussing it after the game.

— Mohamed Sanu’s final line (three catches, 35 yards) won’t impress, but the veteran wide receiver made some positive strides following five consecutive underwhelming performances.

Sanu moved the chains twice on third down in the second half, catching a 10-yard pass on third-and-6 and a 22-yarder on third-and-4 that set up New England’s final touchdown of the game.

On the latter, Sanu ran a shallow cross before reversing field to find a gap in Miami’s secondary. Unbothered by the Dolphins’ three-man pass rush, Brady stood in the pocket for more than five seconds before delivering a strike to Sanu that initially appeared to be headed toward N’Keal Harry.

Sanu also had another third-down conversion wiped out by an offensive pass interference penalty on tight end Ben Watson and was open in the end zone on a pass Brady overthrew. Sanu still needs to cut down the drops — he had another one Sunday — but this was progress.

— Right guard Shaq Mason delivered what might have been the Block of the Year on James White’s screen-pass touchdown, which came on third-and-goal from the 13 with less than four minutes to play.

Nice job by left guard Joe Thuney and right tackle Marcus Cannon, too.

New England’s screen game has been especially strong of late. Burkhead ripped off 18- and 23-yard gains off screens against the Bills and White scored on one against the Cincinnati Bengals the previous week.

— Brady had ample time to throw throughout the game. The sack Cannon allowed off a three-man rush wasn’t pretty, but it was one of just four total pressures New England’s offensive line allowed, according to Pro Football Focus. The other three were hurries.

— Largely absent from the score sheet over the last month, Phillip Dorsett caught his first pass since Week 13 after not being targeted in New England’s previous two games.

Dorsett burned cornerback Nate Brooks — who was on the Patriots’ practice squad a few weeks ago — for a 50-yard gain.

Without a week off to rest the banged-up Julian Edelman (10 total catches in his last three games), the Patriots will need contributions from secondary options like Sanu, Harry, Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers against the Tennessee Titans this weekend.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick
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