By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Well then. That happened.
Seems as though it did indeed happen. Even a day later, replays confirm that, yup, that happened.
By now you obviously know, “that” was the most stunning, unbelievable, improbable way to lose a football game — or win a football game, depending on your perspective. How exactly that happened, we’ll take a closer look momentarily. But for the time being, we must first go back to the drive that preceded the Miami miracle to wonder what exactly the Patriots were going for on this day.
The situation: The Patriots, leading by two points and looking to kill the clock, face a second-and-10 at Miami’s 48-yard line. Miami had just used its second timeout with 1:57 left in the game. Two run plays would have allowed the Patriots to drain the clock to about a minute left in the game before a punt to give the ball back to Miami.
But the Patriots didn’t play it safe. They went aggressive.
Tom Brady uncorked a deep ball to Josh Gordon, who had a step-and-a-half on Minkah Fitzpatrick. The defender committed pass interference, and the Patriots were given the ball at the Miami 7-yard line. Being aggressive paid off.
So there the Patriots were, seven yards away from scoring the putaway touchdown. Brady had been pretty outstanding to that point, matching his single-game season high of three touchdowns. The aggressive, bold move would have asked the greatest quarterback of all time to rifle one more touchdown pass to put a nice fancy bow on this game, stretching the lead to nine points.
But there, the aggressiveness died. The risk-taking took a back seat to the safe play. Run up the middle for a yard, inside run for no gain, outside run for two yards. Stephen Gostkowski came on to kick the chip shot to give New England a five-point lead, leaving 16 seconds on the clock.
You know what happened after that, of course, but it’s important to look at the moment that preceded the catastrophe, in order to add even more befuddlement to an already baffling situation. The Patriots didn’t play it safe; they took a risk and went with a deep ball. They showed they were going for the kill. But then, they went conservative. Timidity ruled the day.
And it ended up costing them the game.
Surely, though, that wasn’t the only thing that cost them the game. Let’s dive into all of it in the leftover thoughts from the Dolphins’ 34-33 win over the Patriots.
–Actually, neither team deserved to win. I swear. We’ll get into the Patriots’ major flubs soon enough, but here’s what Miami did late in this game that really should have resulted in a loss.
On a second-and-16 early in the fourth quarter, Kenny Stills slid to protect himself a yard-and-a-half shy of a first-down marker. The Dolphins allowed a sack on third down and had to punt.
On Miami’s next possession, the Dolphins had to burn a timeout prior to a third-and-4. On that play, Kenny Stills dropped a pass off his hands. The Dolphins had to punt. Again.
On the ensuing New England possession, the Dolphins tried to burn their second timeout on the first play, because they had 12 men on the field. Officials didn’t see the attempted timeout signal; they did see the 12 men and called the penalty.
A few plays later, Fitzpatrick committed the PI on Gordon to set up what should have been the game-sealing points.
That’s the team that won the game!
–Kind of crazy to think what would have happened if an official had just seen Bobby McCain furiously signaling timeout.
That would have given the Dolphins just one remaining timeout with 4:26 remaining. If things played out thereafter the way things played out, then killing the clock becomes a lot easier for the Patriots. But, you know, butterfly effect and all of that, so we don’t know anything. Maybe the Dolphins would have had a pick-six if that timeout gets recognized by the officials.
–You’re probably quite familiar with all of the things the Patriots did wrong in order to lose the game. But for the sake of simplicity, a brief list:
–Gostkowski missing PAT
–Gostkowski missing 42-yard FG
–Brady not knowing he was out of times before halftime, taking a sack on third down, losing field goal opportunity
–Patriots playing the worst defense of all time
–We should probably get into that last one now, because the only proper question after it happens it to ask HOW IN THE WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS DID THAT HAPPEN? Let’s look.
OK, so it starts simple enough. The Patriots rush four and drop seven into coverage. Ryan Tannehill gets the ball out pretty quickly to Kenny Stills, who coincidentally enough was covered pretty tightly by Jonathan Jones. Stills made the catch, and Jones went flying by the receiver on a meek tackling attempt:
What’s Jones doing there? No one can be certain.
Rookie corner J.C. Jackson then broke down in front of Stills, forcing the receiver to pitch the ball to DeVante Parker. With Jackson pursuing, Parker pitched the ball back to Kenyan Drake, who had a full head of steam burning up the right sideline.
Kyle Van Noy, who started the play by rushing the passer, gave chase and made a diving tackle attempt, but he let Drake slip through his hands.
That shouldn’t have been a problem, though, because a half-dozen Patriots defenders were still in the picture, and Drake was essentially trapped against the boundary:
But Stephon Gilmore faded away from the ball carrier, likely worried about another potential lateral from Drake. So Gilmore floated toward the middle of the field as Drake ran up the numbers:
At the same time, offensive lineman Ted Larsen put a perfect block on Patrick Chung, teaching the youth of America that they should never give up on any play:
(That’s former Patriots draft pick Ted Larsen, by the way. Finally, revenge for getting cut at the end of his rookie training camp.)
Defensive lineman Adam Butler gave chase, but that wasn’t happening.
You obviously know that in a one-on-one tackling situation between an NFL running back and Rob Gronkowksi, the NFL running back won. But Duron Harmon still should have been able to win the footrace to the pylon. Look at this:
Harmon was four yards closer to the goal line, while Drake was running laterally on the 21-yard line. But he took some kind of angle, thereby taking himself completely out of the play.
Barf bag. Full-on barf bag.
–It *feels* like those plays NEVER work. Ever. Turns out, that feeling is backed up by fact:
Brady is 41 years old and has thrown for 50 million yards and a million touchdowns, so they’ve just been making history every week. This isn’t how they wanted to keep that streak going.
–We can never know for sure if Devin McCourty would have made that play if he were on the field instead of Rob Gronkowski. Except we absolutely, unequivocally, 100 percent know for sure that Devin McCourty would have made that play.
As has been stated three million times already, there’s just no reason to have Gronkowski on the field to play defense in a non-Hail Mary situation. The odds of that coming back to actually bite you are low, but when that worst-case scenario happens and you have your All-Pro tight end trying to make an open field play on a running back, boy does it look terrible.
And, not that this is on the same scale of Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl, but the Patriots were in the rare position Sunday of getting clowned on by the Dolphins.
The Dolphins. Clowning on the Patriots. Full-scale clownage. Oh, what a world.
–So, for the sake of bookkeeping, let’s dole out some percentages in the BLAME PIE for this loss, shall we?
Gronkowski, for not being good at playing defense: 1%
Brady, for losing FG opportunity: 15%
Gostkowski, for missing a PAT and a FG: 25%
Belichick, for having Gronkowski on the field in non-Hail Mary situation: 25%
Harmon/Jones/Van Noy/Gilmore/Jackson for failing to make a football play: 34%
I think that’s fair. Gronkowski shouldn’t have been on the field, ultimately it shouldn’t have mattered. Ten men who are paid to play defense stood in front of him. Surely one of them could have made a tackle. Or forced a bad lateral. Or something — anything — to prevent the one thing that simply cannot happen.
(There’s also, like, I don’t know, 65 percent of blame that can fall on the defense as a whole for allowing a Tannehill-led offense to gain 412 yards and score 34 points.)
–This week’s Quote That Can Be Used By Anyone Who Wants To Speculate That Everyone Hates Each Other In Foxboro would be this one from Rob Gronkowski: “Every time we practice it, it’s for the Hail Mary. But I gotta be ready for anything; it’s football.”
Shades of under-the-bus throwing, one could say. But Gronkowski said he needs to make the tackle. Nevertheless, that quote did stand out a little bit.
–There were some other parts of this game to discuss, like, for example, Rob Gronkowski looking very Rob Gronkowski-like. Eight catches (on eight targets) for 107 yards and a touchdown. There have been some people who said those days were behind him, that he had magically aged 10 years in the past 10 months and thus could no longer turn in such a performance. Those folks were wrong when they said it, and they’re certainly wrong now.
–Rob also had his first Zero Humans Defense moment of the season, by my unofficial count.
Good for Rob. He’s waited patiently for that one. Good news for him, too, because Pittsburgh is up next on the schedule.
–There have also been some people with prominent voices in this country who said that Tom Brady had a noodle arm now. Something about fettuccine or something? These people … these people are exposing themselves for sharing their desires instead of their observations when they speak. Because this:
That is not a noodle arm. No siree.
Nice finish by Cordarrelle Patterson, too. That was not an easy grab to make.
–Didn’t *love* the way Trent Brown looked on a third-and-1 run behind his rear that went for a loss of a yard:
Would be interesting to know how that happened. The rest of the line blocked down to the right. Joe Thuney picked up the defensive end, who stunted toward the inside, leaving Brown to block air. Kiko Alonso, who slid his positioning to the right side just before the snap, was able to waltz down Broadway to make the tackle in the backfield.
The Patriots scored 33 points on this day, but it still felt like they left a lot of points on the field, and that’s outside of the missed kicks and the Brady sack. This drive would qualify as one of them.
–Speaking of missed opportunities: Stephon!
That one turned out to not be too damaging, because Albert McClellan blocked a Miami punt two plays later, and the Patriots scored. But as Gilmore tries to author a Pro Bowl/All-Pro season, a pick there could have been helpful.
–This one won’t help toward potential All-Pro aspirations for Gilmore, though:
The Patriots allowed that touchdown to Brice Butler in addition to allowing two rushing touchdowns from Brandon Bolden.
Entering Sunday, Butler had just eight touchdowns in 64 career games. Bolden had just six rushing touchdowns in 95 career games. He hadn’t rushed for a touchdown since the middle of the 2014 season. He rushed for 60 yards on Sunday; he had rushed for just 10 yards all season, after rushing for 67 yards all of last season. That was after he rushed four four — FOUR — yards total in the 2016 season.
For the Patriots, allowing that duo to put 21 points on the board is not great.
–The Patriots also allowed Frank Gore to wind back the clock a solid decade. The 61-year-old running back picked up 92 yards on just 12 carries, for a ridiculous 7.7 average, and he also caught a pass for 24 yards to boot. When Frank Gore touched the football, he gained an average of nine yards. That’s outright preposterous.
Granted, the man is fourth all time in rushing yards. He’s now just 535 yards behind Barry Sanders. Respect to Frank Gore. But come on now, people. It’s 2018.
–For that matter, the Patriots’ defense in the state of Florida is flat-out abysmal. Granted, it’s a two-game sample size, but just look at the stark difference of how the Patriots’ defense performed in Jacksonville and Miami compared to everywhere else.
Patriots’ Defense In Florida: 446 yards, 32.5 points per game
Patriots’ Defense In All Other 49 States And Associated U.S. Territories: 359 yards, 21 points per game
For perspective, those better numbers outside of Florida include giving up 500 yards and 40 points to the Chiefs, and they include getting torched for 34 points by the Titans. But they’ve been good enough in other games to keep those averages somewhat at bay.
But in Florida? Forget it. The Patriots can go to Florida, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Blake Bortles or Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Bad things will follow.
(Shoutout to Brock Osweiler though: 0-for-0, zero yards, one sack. Love you, bud.)
–I mean, Jason McCourty has been having an excellent season, but he was being picked on by Ryan Tannehill. It was The Twilight Zone.
–If you saw the first blocked punt take place and said, “Oh, yes, definitely, for sure I know who Albert McClellan is,” then you, sir or madam, are a liar.
This is one of the only photos available of him at Gillette Stadium though:
–Jonathan Jones leaped over the line on a PAT attempt again. This has become a weekly Patriots “thing” now. I’ve noticed it. Some of you have noticed it. It feels like it’s being forced a bit, just with the frequency it’s being used. But, if it’s legal (it is), and it might take a point off the board (could have used that point Sunday), then it’s not the worst thing to try. Just unusual, considering every other team stopped leaping the line when the new rule banned running starts.
–The game was probably frustrating for Patriots fans to watch, but at least there was a moment of comic relief. That came when the Dolphins’ starting quarterback was hurt and had to go to the locker room early before halftime. That part wasn’t funny. But do you know what part was funny? The freaking inflatable dolphin just bouncing around like an idiot as Tannehill made his way off the field:
–On Brady’s big time brain fart, it is truly insane that he forgot how many timeouts he had. That’s at least what he said postgame, and we can and should take him at his word, based on how he took a sack when he had a chance to chuck the football over the head of a receiver.
While this was a stunning play, it was a near repeat of a play last season. That one came in New Orleans, in Week 2. In that game, the Patriots faced a third-and-9 from the Saints’ 17-yard line with 21 seconds left and no timeouts. Brady, unsatisfied with his options, ran up the middle for a largely unnecessary gain of seven. Brady was tackled with 16 seconds left on the clock.
The difference that time was that Brady was very aware of the clock/timeout situation. He popped up and immediately signaled that the field goal unit needed to scramble on to the field ASAP. The whole team signaled it. Everyone knew what was going on. Gostkowski was able to get the kick off and put three points on the board before halftime. They did it with two seconds to spare, too!
This year, what’s different? How could the quarterback possibly not know the timeout situation? How is that not relayed from Josh McDaniels at some point during the drive? How does the team look so out of sorts in a spot where they’ve regularly looked spectacular for the better part of the past 20 years?
That, as much as anything else, was a truly shocking moment from Sunday’s game. The Patriots looked like the freaking Browns on that drive.
–On the plus side, we all got to see a new interpretation of the Butt Fumble:
Folks! That is a true Butt Fumble. (Might want to check the PSI on that there football, Mr. Commissioner.)
I’m not an expert on interpretive dance, but I do believe what Lawrence Guy did right there could be considered art.
And hey, speaking of Butt Fumble, check out Mark Sanchez’s stats from Sunday: 6-for-14 (42.9%), 38 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 5 sacks, 10.7 passer rating. All right! But hey, at least he knows the terminology of the playbook and everything. That’s clearly the most important thing.
–A couple of officiating beefs. First, can we start calling false starts? I mean, it’s the most obvious, black-and-white penalty in the books. And yet …
That particular missed call didn’t matter, because the Dolphins committed an illegal hands to the face penalty. But more and more, officials are missing false starts. The Chargers benefited against the Steelers last week on maybe the worst missed false start of all time, and we also saw an official get fired for missing one earlier this season. (The Chargers also benefited from that one. Coincidence or CONSPIRACY? You make the call!)
Can we start calling false starts, people?
Also, this is pass interference:
But then again, if you watched Philly-Dallas, you’d have no idea whatsoever what pass interference actually is.
It’s just incredibly frustrating to watch these games when calls are made so inconsistently across the board — and I’m just some guy who watches games for fun. I can’t imagine how maddening it would be if my way of life and my profession depended on these calls being made or not made by officials.
–Josh Gordon caught five passes for 96 yards. He now has 701 receiving yards in 10 games with New England, and 718 receiving yards overall this year. The man had 638 receiving yards from 2014-17. What a story he’s become.
–David Andrews got to spike a football.
–One thing you have to appreciate about Julian Edelman is that yeah, he’ll occasionally make a pretty bad drop:
But he is such a reliable and tenacious football player that the quarterback shows absolutely no hesitancy to go right back to him on the very next snap to convert a third-and-2. He of course made the catch, running a near-identical quick out route on the same exact spot on the field, on a near-identical pass.
–Does this look good to you?
It doesn’t look good to me.
I’m sure it’ll be fine, though.
–Overall, what I’m left with is frustration. As someone who believes in logic and reason and a natural order to the universe, I just hate the idea that “well crazy stuff happens in Miami” can continue to serve as an explanation for these games as well as a predictor of future games to come. I just don’t like it. I need concrete, black-and-white, yes/no, up/down, solid foundations of information to fuel my belief system. And yet now I have to surrender to the truth in a statement such as “it’s a house of horrors for Brady and Belichick, so expect some mayhem” to be factual.
So, yeah. The Patriots lost Sunday, sure, but so did I. Sympathy cards are now being accepted. Thank you.
–I do believe it’s fair to say that some of the overreaction (i.e. “THIS TEAM SUCKS!”) can be attributed to Patriots followers having to adapt to the fact that this team is … just like every other team. Obviously it’s hard to pinpoint one, unified reaction from an entire region of football fans and commentators. People are individuals, you know? Still, it does feel like there’s a lot of consternation in New England at the moment.
This is to say, on a weekly basis, the Patriots are vulnerable. They’ll probably win (they have won 64 percent of their games this year), but they also might lose. That end result part is not particularly unique to this year — they’ve lost an average of four games per year over the past decade — but the team’s faults and flaws are pretty well-established at this point. We know what they are.
That’s not to say they’re bad. That’s not to say they can’t win a championship. It is simply to say that maybe instead of having something like an 80 percent chance of making the conference title game and a 50-50 shot of making the Super Bowl, those odds have dropped to, say, 50 and 25 percent, respectively.
That’s still very good! Those are still odds that most every team in this league would kill to have. But they are nevertheless a dip for a team that has established itself as the gold standard for excellence over the past two decades. Everybody appears to be handling this change differently.
–Anyways, that was a whole lot of words right there, when really, the only thing needed to describe that game was captured in a single photograph.