FOXBORO (CBS) — The Mac Jones Era in New England is off to a rough start.

The visiting Dolphins spoiled Jones’ debut on Sunday, beating the Patriots 17-16 at Gillette Stadium.

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The Patriots were in position to take a lead — either by two points with a field goal, or by more with a touchdown — late in the fourth quarter. After forcing a turnover and taking over at midfield, the Patriots drove deep into Miami territory. With a fresh set of downs at the 11-yard line and 3:35 remaining in the game, Jones handed off to Damien Harris. The running back carried to the right side but lost control  of the ball on his way to the turf.

Xavien Howard stripped the ball and recovered the fumble at the 9-yard line. The Dolphins were then able to to pick up a pair of first downs, draining the Patriots of timeouts and killing the final 3:31 of the game.

Jones completed 29 of his 39 passes for 281 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions in his NFL debut. Harris reached the 100-yard mark on the play where he lost the critical fumble.

Tua Tagovailoa completed 16 of his 27 passes for 202 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The game began with a 35-yard run by Damien Harris, starting a promising first drive for Mac Jones and the offense. But Jones stalled that progress with a fumble — essentially, a spike thrown backward, while flustered by the pass rush — that set up a second-and-23 at the Miami 43-yard line. The Patriots ended up having to punt from the Dolphins’ 37-yard line.

Miami responded by bullying the Patriots’ defense. Myles Gaskin ran for 20 yards on four carries, and Tua Tagaovailoa completed all four of his passes for 49 yards before rushing into the end zone untouched from the 3-yard line to give Miami a 7-0 lead.

Another promising Patriots drive ended when rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson fumbled at the end of a 9-yard catch-and-run near midfield. The Patriots forced a Miami punt on the drive that ensued and then drove 65 yards before settling for a field goal to cut the Miami lead to 7-3.

The score stayed there until late in the second quarter. Jones and the Patriots’ offense marched 63 yards on seven plays, capped off with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Nelson Agholor. Earlier in the drive, Agholor made a diving catch for a 25-yard gain.

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The Patriots also benefited from a roughing the passer penalty called on Elandon Roberts for a low sack on Jones. That penalty — a correct application of the rule — turned what would have been a fourth-and-13 from the Miami 29-yard line into a first-and-goal from the Miami 8-yard line. Jones threw the go-ahead touchdown two plays later.

The Dolphins tied the game before halftime, with Jason Sanders capping off a 45-yard drive with a 48-yard field goal.

Miami then came out of halftime with a drive similar to their first possession of the game, carving up the Patriots to the tune of a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in 4:09 to take a 17-10 lead. A 30-yard completion from Tagovailoa to DeVante Parker was the big play of the drive, which ended with a 3-yard pass from Tagovailoa to Jaylen Waddle for the score.

The Patriots responded with a scoring drive of their own, thanks in large part to a picture-perfect pass up by Jones up the right sideline to James White, which went for 26 yards. Jones threw incomplete on third-and-8, though, leading to a successful 42-yard field  goal for Nick Folk to cut Miami’s lead to four points late in the third quarter.

The Patriots would mount another scoring drive that spanned the end of the third quarter and first 4:24 of the fourth quarter. Dreams of a touchdown were dashed when Jakobi Meyers dropped a pass on third-and-4 from the Miami 15, forcing the Patriots to settle for a 33-yard field goal to cut Miami’s lead to 17-16.

Jonathan Jones came up with a massive interception for the Patriots on a third-and-7 near midfield in the fourth quarter, coming down with a prayer of a Tua pass that pinballed off a couple of bodies before landing in Jones’ hands.

It looked good for the Patriots to take the lead, with the offense driving deep into Miami territory. But on first-and-10 from the Miami 11-yard line, Damien Harris fumbled. Xavien Howard stripped it and recovered it at the 9-yard line.

The game marked the first career start for Jones, who was the 15th overall pick in April’s draft and beat out veteran Cam Newton for the quarterback job in New England this summer.

It was also the first regular-season game with fans at Gillette Stadium since the 2019 season, after the building remained closed to fans for the entirety of the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Patriots get back to work next week with another divisional game, as they travel to the Meadowlands to play the New York Jets.

CBSBoston.com Staff