FOXBORO, Mass. — If the season ended today, the Patriots would be in the playoffs.
It wasn’t pretty, as New England had to fight and claw for a 23-21 win over the Miami Dolphins, who were down to their third-string quarterback and without four key starters. But the Patriots played just well enough on offense and defense to get a season-saving victory.
New England can clinch a postseason berth with a victory next weekend in Buffalo, but a loss would leave Bill Belichick’s team needing help to back into the playoffs.
Mac Jones was inconsistent, completing 20 of 33 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns while committing zero turnovers. He completed touchdown passes to Jakobi Meyers and Tyquan Thornton, both of whom played well.
The Patriots were trailing 14-10 in the third quarter before Kyle Dugger picked off Teddy Bridgewater and took it to the house. New England never looked back from that point.
On the other side, Bridgewater completed 12 of 19 passes for 161 yards and one touchdown to go along with one pick before exiting the game due to a finger injury. Third-stringer Skylar Thompson wound up going 12-of-121 for 104 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the losing effort.
New England finished with 249 yards of total offense and 14 first downs while converting five of 13 third-down tries. Miami racked up 333 yards, 21 first downs and went 4-for-14 on third downs.
The Patriots moved to 8-8 with the victory while the Dolphins dropped to 8-8 with the loss. New England will finish its season with a road matchup against the Bills, with Miami hosting the New York Jets in its regular-season finale.
Here are three studs and three duds — in no order — from Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium:
WR Tyquan Thornton
It wasn’t a high bar to meet, but the rookie enjoyed the most productive game of his career — as a receiver, anyway. Thornton got three passes for a career-high 60 yards (his previous best was 37 yards) for a touchdown. Should Thornton be playing as much as he is? Probably not, especially when his significant playing time comes at the expense of Kendrick Bourne. Nevertheless, this was an encouraging performance from the second-round pick.
S Kyle Dugger
This pick-six speaks for itself:
DT Christian Barmore
The second-year defensive lineman largely played well in his first two games back from injury, but he was much more of a factor in Sunday’s game. Barmore recorded one sack, factored into another that was credited to Carl Davis and Deatrich Wise and also had at least one run stuff. He looked explosive, fresh and more like the player we saw throughout last season.
Honorable mentions: Hunter Henry, Jonathan Jones, Damien Harris, Matthew Judon, Jakobi Meyers
You can pencil in this group every week. The Dolphins’ lone touchdown in the first half came after Brenden Schooler ran into punter Thomas Morstead, giving Miami a shorter distance to work with on fourth down. The Dolphins converted and later scored on a Tyreek Hill rush. Patriots punter Michael Palardy also didn’t play well, averaging a weak 42.2 yards on his five punts, including two touchbacks. Pierre Strong took another kickoff out of the end zone when he shouldn’t have. Nick Folk missed an extra point. Rinse, repeat.
S Devin McCourty
It ultimately didn’t matter, but this pass has to be intercepted by McCourty, who had an uneven afternoon.
QB Mac Jones
Jones wasn’t terrible in this game, but he wasn’t great, either. The sophomore quarterback short-armed some throws, overthrew others and also showed too much skittishness in the pocket. Jones should’ve put on a much better performance against a banged-up, middling Dolphins defense, even though he once again faced too much pressure and wasn’t helped by multiple drops by New England pass-catchers.
Honorable mentions: Coaching (for not playing Bourne more, among other things), Nelson Agholor, Rhamondre Stevenson