The New England Patriots dropped their season opener Sunday, losing 17-16 to the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.
Here are six things we learned from the Patriots’ loss to the Dolphins:
1. Mac Jones is legit
Save for one baffling ball-security lapse on his very first dropback, it’s hard to find many real flaws in Jones’ first NFL start.
The highly touted first-round draft pick completed 74.4 percent of his passes (29 of 39), the second-best mark ever by a quarterback with 30-plus pass attempts in his NFL debut. He threw for 281 yards (7.2 per attempt) with one touchdown and no turnovers. He stood tall in the pocket despite facing wave after wave of Dolphins pressure and looked comfortable throwing on the move.
Miami was credited with nine QB hits. Jones completed passes on six of those plays, with four resulting in either a first down or a touchdown. He also took a hit on a 33-yard scramble-drill strike to Kendrick Bourne that was wiped out by a holding call.
Jones was 9-of-12 for 89 yards on third down with successful conversions to Jakobi Meyers (four), James White (two) and Hunter Henry (one).
The poise, toughness and command that teammates have been raving about for weeks all were on display in this opener, even in a losing effort. The Patriots found themselves a good one.
2. There now are a lot more questions about New England’s O-line
Yes, Jones’ ability to handle pressure was impressive. But he faced far too much of it. By our count, the rookie QB faced pressure on at least 18 of his dropbacks, raising concerns about a New England offensive line that was expected to be one of the NFL’s best this season.
We saw very little of the Patriots’ preferred starting five, though, and that surely contributed to some of these breakdowns. Right tackle Trent Brown exited the game after just one series with a calf injury and did not return. Second-year pro Justin Herron replaced him but was benched late in the third quarter in favor of Yasir Durant, who’d been with the team for less than two weeks.
The severity of Brown’s injury was unclear as of Sunday night, and it’s unclear how the Patriots would replace him if he misses time. Yodny Cajuste, who was inactive against Miami after being limited in practice with a hamstring injury, is another backup option. The Patriots also could shift Mike Onwenu back to right tackle from left guard, but he took few, if any, reps there during training camp.
It’s also worth noting that Jones blamed himself for some of the shots he took, saying he should have released the ball sooner.
3. It might be a while before we see Rhamondre Stevenson again
Young running backs are required to do two things above all else: protect the football and protect their quarterback when asked to. Stevenson did neither in his regular-season NFL debut. He lost a fumble on one of his two touches and got steamrolled by former Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts in pass protection, resulting in a big hit on Jones.
Roberts was flagged for roughing the passer on the play, and the Patriots scored their lone touchdown shortly thereafter, but that won’t excuse Stevenson’s error in the eyes of head coach Bill Belichick and position coach Ivan Fears. We could see running back J.J. Taylor, who sat out Sunday’s game as a healthy scratch, slot back into the lineup in Stevenson’s place next Sunday against the New York Jets.
Lead back Damien Harris rushed for a game-high 100 yards on 23 carries, but he also lost a fumble — an especially costly one that snuffed out what looked like a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter — and had some pass pro miscues.
4. The run defense is off to a solid start
Myles Gaskin ripped off one 15-yard run on Miami’s third offensive play and another on the opening drive of the second half, but only one other Dolphins carry went for more than 5 yards. The Patriots allowed just 3.2 yards per rushing attempt (74 on 23 carries) and registered five tackles for loss. That’s a much better performance than New England’s run D had in these teams’ last meeting, during which Miami racked up 250 rushing yards even with Gaskin out injured.
Overall, holding most any team to 17 points is a win for the defense. But the Patriots will need to be a bit better on the back end against some of the more formidable receiving corps they’re set to face in the coming weeks (namely Tampa Bay and Dallas). DeVante Parker and Jaylen Waddle got free in New England’s secondary for several big gains.
5. The Patriots aren’t usually this sloppy
New England was penalized eight times for 84 yards — their highest totals since the 2019 season. Those eight infractions included two pre-snap penalties (illegal formation, neutral zone infraction) and two post-whistle penalties (unnecessary roughness on Deatrich Wise and Matt Judon), which have to be particularly bothersome for Belichick. The Patriots also spread their flags across all three phases: four on offense, two on defense and two on special teams.
Those lapses in discipline — paired with the Patriots’ four fumbles (two lost) — led to a 1-for-4 showing in red-zone visits and three 14-play drives that all stalled short of the end zone.
6. This loss might hurt come December
The Patriots and Dolphins are expected to push for playoff spots in the AFC East and potentially challenge the Buffalo Bills for the division crown. Though it’s not worth panicking over a September loss, this defeat does remove a potential tiebreaker and puts the Pats in a precarious position. They’ll be favored against the Jets this week, but they then face a Week 3 matchup with a New Orleans Saints team that shockingly routed the Green Bay Packers 38-3 on Sunday, before hosting Tom Brady’s much-anticipated return to Gillette Stadium in Week 4.
NESN’s New England football takeaways is presented by Valvoline Instant Oil Change