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Ups And Downs: Patriots Defense Can’t Make Stops In Miami

By Matthew Geagan, CBSBoston
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Marcus Thigpen and Dont'a Hightower. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Marcus Thigpen and Dont’a Hightower. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots comeback magic dried up in the humid Miami air on Sunday, as the Pats missed an opportunity to clinch the AFC East with a 24-20 loss to the Dolphins.

“It was a disappointing game,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after the loss. “We had our chances, we just weren’t able to make enough plays in any of the three phases we need to make to win. We made some, but it just wasn’t enough.”

Plenty went wrong for the Patriots in this one, as they fell to 10-4 on the season. Not only did they not take advantage of Denver’s loss to the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night (a win would have put the Pats ahead of the Broncos in the AFC standings) but now they also have to worry about the Cincinnati Bengals knocking them out of the top two playoffs spots, costing them a bye.

Here are the Ups and Downs from the Patriots’ Week 15 loss to the Dolphins:

4 Downs

Defense Can’t Make Stops
There were times on Sunday when it didn’t look like the Patriots defense could make a single stop. Once again, they were plagued by numerous missed tackles and several breakdowns, and couldn’t come up with a stop when the team needed it most.

Near the end of the first half, Mike Wallace took advantage of having Marquice Cole covering him (in for an injured Kyle Arrington) and broke a 39-yard touchdown run on a short pass from Ryan Tannehill. After slipping Cole, Wallace made Steve Gregory miss bad and he waltzed into the end zone for Miami’s first score.

There would be more missed tackles by Gregory, as he and linebacker Dane Fletcher missed badly on Charles Clay’s fourth quarter 4th-and-5 conversion — which led to Miami scoring the go-ahead touchdown.

With the game on the line, linebacker Dont’e Hightower found himself in coverage on running back Marcus Thigpen, and didn’t even bother to turn around as the back hauled in the game-winning 14-yard touchdown grab from Tannehill.

Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard were both guilty of numerous missed tackles as well, a problem that has haunted the Patriots for most of the season.

Overall, it was a very frustrating day to watch the Patriots play defense.

Vereen A Non-Factor
Vereen was seen as the main guy to help fill the void left by Rob Gronkowski’s season-ending injury, but he was a non-factor on Sunday.

Brady went Vereen’s way just seven times in the loss, and the back finished with an anemic 31 total yards on two carries and three receptions.

Banged-Up Offensive Line
Nate Solder left in the second half with a head injury, forcing Logan Mankins to move over to left tackle. That meant Steve Kline had to take over at left guard, further straining New England’s depth on the line.

Brady stayed relatively clean in the first half, but felt the pressure in the second half. If Solder is hurt, this could become a bigger problem over the final two weeks of the regular season.

Stephen Gostkowski
The Patriots’ kicker has been solid all season, but he didn’t have a great day on Sunday.

Gosktowki’s biggest mistake came on a kickoff late in the game. The Patriots had just taken a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter, then Gostkowski sent his kick out of bounds, giving Miami the ball on their own 40. Nine plays later, the Dolphins found the end zone to take a decisive 24-20 lead.

He also missed a 48-yarder in the third quarter, just his third miss of the season. Misses are expected, but Gostkowski has to make sure his kickoffs stay in-bounds at such an important part of the game.

4 Ups

Rise Of  ‘Minitron’
Julian Edleman was the man in the offense, finishing with 13 receptions for a career-high 139 yards and a touchdown.

The 13 grabs tied a career-high for Edelman, and seven of those catches moved the chains — including three times on third down.

This was Edelman’s second 10-catch game of the season, and his fifth career 100-yard game.

Amendola Impresses
Edelman wasn’t the only receiver to go over the century mark on Sunday. Danny Amendola also had a big game, with 10 catches for 131 yards.

It was Amendola’s third 100-yard game of the season, and it was the fourth time the Patriots have had at least two 100-yard receivers in a single game.

Hooman’s One-Handed Touchdown
Michael Hoomanawanui returned after missing the previous three games and made a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch in the first half.

With Gronk out, the Patriots will take whatever they can get out of the tight end position.

Ridley Contributes
With Vereen a non-factor, Ridley made the most of his role in the running game. He finished with 34 yards on eight carries, and most importantly, zero fumbles.

MORE PATRIOTS COVERAGE FROM CBS BOSTON

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