FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots lost to the Miami Dolphins 24-17 on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. Here are six morning-after takeaways from the primetime defeat:

1. The slow starts cannot continue 
Matthew Judon hit the nail on the head in his postgame statement: The Patriots are not a “bad team,” but their insistence on playing like one early in games is wasting their potential. 

The Patriots faced first-half deficits of 16-0 in Week 1 and 17-3 in Week 2. In both games, they wound up rallying but couldn’t quite close the gap, resulting in a pair of one-score losses to opponents widely viewed as Super Bowl contenders (Philadelphia and Miami). 

There isn’t one single, specific issue causing these disastrous starts, and neither side of the ball is blameless. But the biggest and most obvious problem is ball security.

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The Patriots have allowed 33 first-half points through two weeks, and 20 of those came off turnovers: Mac Jones’ pick-six and Ezekiel Elliott’s fumble in the first game, and Demario Douglas’ fumble in the second.

“Can’t turn the ball over,” head coach Bill Belichick replied when asked what’s been behind the slow starts.

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2. The Patriots need to figure something out up front
Injuries along the offensive line have been a problem for New England since the start of training camp, and that group’s lack of continuity has been evident in each of the first two games.

Four of the Patriots’ five O-line starters against Miami got zero or very few practice reps together this summer. Right guard Mike Onwenu (injury) and right tackle Calvin Anderson (illness) both missed all of training camp. Left guard Cole Strange missed most of it after getting injured in the first padded practice. Left tackle Vederian Lowe arrived via trade just before cutdown day.

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Lowe also was making his first NFL start in place of Trent Brown, who was out with a concussion. Veteran tackles Riley Reiff and Conor McDermott were unavailable, as well, after suffering injuries in the preseason.

The group New England rolled out in Week 1 was almost completely different, with center David Andrews and Anderson the lone holdovers. And though the Week 2 edition had more preferred starters with Strange and Onwenu back, it continued to struggle against a Miami D-line that both lacks the Eagles’ elite talent and was missing one of its best pass rushers in the injured Jaelan Phillips.

Anderson had a rough time against Phillips’ replacement, Andrew Van Ginkel, who had one sack and three QB hits on Jones, including one near strip-sack. Lowe allowed a sack on the final drive. An unblocked rusher nailed Rhamondre Stevenson in the backfield on a third-and-1, and another instantly pressured Jones on the Patriots’ final play.

Strange was flagged once for holding. Onwenu was removed from the game late and replaced by rookie Atonio Mafi, which Belichick said was pre-planned.

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The Dolphins finished with four sacks, eight quarterback hits and eight tackles for loss, and the Patriots again were unable to run the ball with any semblance of consistency. Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott averaged 3.2 yards per carry on 20 attempts, with Jones adding another 25 yards on five scrambles.

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3. The Patriots need Demario Douglas
Douglas showed more burst and explosiveness in his six offensive snaps than any other Patriots pass-catcher did all Sunday night. Then he lost a fumble and only played on punt returns over the final three quarters.

Benching young players for ball-security mishaps is an old Belichick staple, but these modern-day Patriots need all the talent they can get at the receiver position. Gluing a potential-laden player like Douglas to the bench just to send a message isn’t the best use of resources.

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It is worth noting that Douglas clearly received that message, which he said he “needed.” The sixth-round pick also showed accountability by answering questions from several rounds of reporters postgame rather than ducking out and hiding from scrutiny.

Douglas deserves to be back in the mix when the Patriots visit the New York Jets this Sunday.

4. Christian Gonzalez is saving the Patriots’ cornerback group 
By the midway point of the second quarter Sunday night, the Patriots were down not one, not two, but three of their top four outside corners. Thank goodness for Gonzalez, who played 100% for the second consecutive week to begin his NFL career. 

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New England’s first-round draft pick hasn’t been a flawless, lockdown cover man, but he’s more than held his own against two of the league’s best receiving corps. Gonzalez spent a significant portion of Sunday’s game matched up against Tyreek Hill, helping hold the All-Pro wideout to five catches on nine targets for 40 yards. The rookie also notched his first NFL interception on a fourth-quarter deep ball to Hill. 

Belichick called Gonzalez’s pick “an outstanding play.”

“Obviously, he’s gone up against some of the best receivers in the league the past two weeks,” the head coach said Monday morning on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show, “and those experiences will pay off for him down the road.”

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Gonzalez still was holding the ball from his INT when he spoke with reporters postgame.

With Jonathan Jones (ankle) inactive, Jack Jones on injured reserve and Marcus Jones lost to a shoulder injury before halftime, Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade rounded out the Patriots’ cornerback stable against Miami. Bryant didn’t leave the field after Jones’ injury and had to play out of position on the perimeter, and Wade saw the largest workload of his three-year pro career (14 snaps) after being a healthy scratch in Week 1. 

Wade and Bryant were in coverage on Tua Tagovailoa’s two deepest completions: 32 yards to Jaylen Waddle and 18 to Braxton Berrios. Gonzalez also mistimed a hit on Berrios’ catch that might have jarred the ball loose.

“The corner position’s unfortunately been thinned out here over the last couple weeks,” Belichick said in his Monday video conference. “But I thought those guys competed well. Obviously, this is a pretty good group of receivers and quarterback, but we had our good moments. I thought those guys competed well and gave us a great effort.” 

5. The special teams mojo might be back 
The Patriots’ special teams were, by one prominent metric, the worst in the NFL last season. Two games into 2023, they’re looking much more like New England’s kicking game units of old.

After a solid Week 1 showing that featured two strong returns and some booming Bryce Baringer punts, New England delivered a field goal block for the ages Sunday night. It came courtesy of Brenden Schooler, who lined up near the sideline, motioned toward the formation and then, with a head of steam, shot into the backfield to swat down a 49-yard attempt by Jason Sanders.

The highlight-reel play kept the Patriots within striking distance late in the third quarter and gave them a necessary spark. Sanders also proceeded to miss his next attempt, a 55-yarder with 2:19 remaining that would have put the game away.

Chad Ryland went 3-for-3 on his kicks for New England (two extra points, one 49-yard field goal) while Baringer delivered punts that pinned Miami at its own 8-, 15- and 16-yard line with no touchbacks. Douglas replaced the injured Marcus Jones on punt returns and didn’t have any handling issues.

Joe Judge was rightfully criticized last season for his role in the Patriots’ offensive nosedive, but his shift back to special teams seems to have had a positive influence on those units. Judge now is New England’s de facto special teams coordinator, with Cam Achord and Joe Houston assisting him.

6. The postseason odds are not on New England’s side
Belichick’s bunch now is 0-2 for the first time since 2001. Just 11.5% of 0-2 teams since 1990 went on to make the playoffs. But we did see one team pull off that feat last season (Cincinnati), and at least one every year from 2013 to 2018. Doing so isn’t unprecedented.

New England, though, will be looking to do something only one club has accomplished in the Super Bowl era: reach the postseason after opening with back-to-back home losses. The 2003 Eagles are the lone outlier there.

Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images