All losses count the same in the NFL. An “L” is an “L” no matter how you slice it. But waking up in New England this morning had to feel better than waking up in Tennessee. Or Green Bay. Or Indianapolis. Or Buffalo. All those teams are legitimate post-season contenders with many national media pundits having them as favorites to win their respective conferences. The Patriots are in the same boat as those teams after the first week but were facing vastly different expectations headed into the season. It wasn’t the start the team or its fans were looking for. All the good feelings about Mac Jones and his great performance are dimmed by the result. But the expectations for the season must have changed after seeing the performance yesterday.
The Patriots showed a lot of promise for the season but were constantly outdone by their own mistakes. Turnovers and penalties quickly became the story of the day. It was an uncharacteristic brand of football for the Patriots, one that is not usually seen under Belichick. One might wonder if the number of offseason acquisitions are still learning what the “Patriot Way” entails. The future seems to be in great hands with Mac Jones, the team is talented, but everything needs to be put together in a complete effort. After reviewing the film, it was apparent that the Dolphins didn’t so much as win this game but that the Patriots lost it.
The Patriots dominated the Dolphins in the box score but lost in two very important categories: turnovers and penalties. The Patriots outgained the Dolphins 397 yards to 261, including advantages in the passing game (Pats:272, Fins: 185) and rushing (Pats:125, Fins: 76). The Patriots had 25 first downs compared to the Dolphins 15, held an advantage in time of possession (Pats: 36:43, Fins: 21:17), and total plays (Pats: 70, Fins: 46). The Patriots also put on a clinic in third-down efficiency, converting 11 of 16 attempts and holding the Dolphins to 4 of 10. But the Dolphins beat the Pats at their own game. For years the Patriots would allow opponents to commit stupid penalties or commit a big turnover. The Dolphins did just that yesterday. They allowed the Patriots to dig their own hole and see if they could climb out of it. The Pats did on multiple occasions and almost did for the entire game but fell just short. As the “extended preseason” portion of the Patriots season wears on, expect those little things to be cleaned up.
After having three drives of 14 or more plays last year, the Patriots had three such drives yesterday. The offense showed much more precision and efficiency than it ever showed a season ago. Gone are the clunky and awkward feel. The operation was much smoother with Mac at the controls. He did a great job setting protections pre-snap and dissecting post-snap coverage rolls. He didn’t look much like a rookie after his first drop back. Mac was 14-18 for 112 yards vs the blitz, 14-19 for 102 yards while under pressure, and was 8-12 for 89 yards on third down-converting 66% of those times. Miami had 9 QB hits with Jones completing passes on six of those plays. For all the talk about making him look like a rookie, he looked anything but against a well-coached and talented Miami defense. The Dolphins blitzed on a higher percentage of plays yesterday than their season average last year, so it wasn’t for a lack of trying. After Stevenson’s drive on the second drive, Jones led the Patriots offense to inside the Miami 25-yard line on 5 of the next 6 drives. This offense is good. It is going to get better.
The defense was much improved over last year’s model. A run defense that was a sieve for large portions last year held a talented Dolphins attack to 76 yards on the ground. Of the Dolphins passing yards, 106 were after the catch. 66 more came on 50/50 balls and incredible catches by Waddle and Parker. Taking those numbers into account with the total passing yards (not the net passing yards), Tagovailoa threw for 96 air yards (yards the ball traveled before being caught), remove the two catches by Parker and Waddle and Tagovailoa accounted for 30 air yards…..which is just a ridiculous total in the modern-day NFL. Not sure if that says more about Tua or if the Pats’ secondary is borderline obscene even without Gilmore.
Every team would trade a “pretty loss” for an “ugly win” but there is a lot to be positive about after yesterday’s game. If there is a coaching staff that can get these little things fixed, it’s the one meeting in the headquarters of One Patriot Place right now.
Full Game Recap
The Patriots’ first drive was symbolic of how the rest of the game was going to go; a lot of good undone by a single bad play. Damien Harris took his first carry of the year for 35 yards off the right tackle.
Another carry by Harris, one by Jonnu Smith, and a third-down carry by James White netted the Patriots a fresh set of downs. Then Mac Jones got his first regular season drop back. Rookie mistakes should be expected throughout the season and Mac got his first out of the way quickly: a desperate attempt to toss the ball to Smith 9 yards behind the line of scrimmage resulted in a fumble that was recovered by the tight end resulting in a loss of 13 yards. The Patriots’ offense is reverting to its days as a schedule-based attack, one that must play smart football and stay ahead of the chains. This play is the antithesis of that football mentality. Two plays to White netted the Pats 6 yards before Jake Bailey came on for his first punt attempt of the afternoon. A lot of good undone by one play.
The Dolphins took over at their 20 and marched 80 yards for a touchdown in 10 plays. The Patriots’ defense had success throughout the afternoon but struggled against the Dolphins’ first offensive series of each half. These plays are often a scripted portion of a game plan. It’s interesting that the advantage here laid with the Dolphins coaching staff to keep the Patriots defense off balance when following their game script but were unable to continue that momentum at any other point throughout the game.
The Patriots next offensive series followed suit as the first: forward momentum before a single play undid it all. Taking over at their own 26 after a return by Gunner Olszewski, the Pats got a new set of downs before rookie Rhamondre Stevenson fumbled the ball on a 9-yard reception. Stevenson had a rookie debut he’d like to forget. He paired his fumble (he had ball security issues in college) with an absolute dismal showing in pass protection before not seeing the field again. He got a total of 5 snaps for the game. There is a case that Stevenson may have been down before the fumble, but it really only matters what the refs see.
Given the short field, the Miami offense went backward. Matt Judon and Kyle Dugger teamed up to drop Myles Gaskin for a one-yard loss on second down after a Tua incompletion on first. On third down Kyle Van Noy got a little retribution for his offseason release, dropping Tagovailoa for a 10-yard sack. The Dolphins punted from their own 41 after taking over at the New England 48.
The Patriots’ next drive would take 14 plays, cover 75 yards and result in a field goal. The drive was the first of three that would take 14 plays. The drive also mirrored the Patriots’ first two: a lot of good undone by a single bad play. Harris and Jones did the bulk of the work moving the Patriots down to the Dolphins 14-yard line. Harris took a handoff and raced to the goal line, being dropped just short of scoring. What should have been first and goal from the one turned into second and 20 from the 24-yard line after a holding call on LT Isaiah Wynn. Two passes netted 13 yards and the Pats settled for the first of three Nick Folk field goals on the day.
The teams traded punts on the next three possessions before New England would score their first touchdown of the season. Jones and the offense took over at their own 37-yard line. A reception and rush by Harris had the Pats with a new set of downs at their 49 before Mac found Nelson Agholor for a gain of 25 yards to the Miami 26. The pass was an absolute rope thrown low and away from the converging defenders. It also showed Mac has the ability to make changes on the fly in a game. In the previous drive, Mac had tried to make the same throw but placed it with more touch down the center of the field. The added touch allowed old friend Jason McCourty to knock the ball away at the last second from Agholor. On the completed pass Mac put some extra zip on the ball and drove it to where only Agholor and a chance to make a play.
After an incompletion and a 9-yard run by Harris, the Patriots faced third and 1 from the Miami 17. A penalty for roughing the passer on ex-Patriot Elandon Roberts gave the patriots first and goal from the Miami 8. The penalty came as a result of the so-called “Brady Rule”-one that prohibits defenders from hitting a QB below the knees. #12 may not be with the team anymore but is still finding ways to help his old team. After a 1-yard run by Harris, Jones would fire his first NFL touchdown to Agholor off of play-action. Under pressure, Jones stood in and fired a short pass to the left flat where Agholor turned back inside and went uncontested into the end zone. Mac standing strong in the face of pressure and delivering accurate passes was a theme all day.
The Patriots’ lead didn’t last long as the Dolphins drove down for a field goal as time expired in the first half. The drive started with a great catch by Jaylen Waddle. Of the Dolphins’ 185 passing yards, 36 came on this incredible catch by Waddle, and another 30 came on a great catch by DeVante Parker in the third quarter.
The Dolphins scored their final points of the game on the opening drive of the second half. Again, the Patriots’ defense struggled against the scripted plays of the Miami offense. Buoyed by the 30-yard pass to Parker and strong running from Gaskin, the Dolphins had first and goal from the Patriots 3-yard line after 8 plays. Tagovailoa hit Waddle in the left flat on a well-designed play-action boot.
The first of the Patriots’ second-half drives started at their own 9-yard line after Brandon King was called for holding on the kickoff return. Harris ran three times for ten yards and a first down before another penalty backed the Pats’ offense into a first and fifteen situation. Jones found Agholor for a 21-yard connection out to the New England 35. A holding penalty on first down made it first and 20 before the Dolphins bailed out the Patriots’ offense with an “Illegal Use of Hands” penalty to give them an automatic first down. A run by White netted negative one yard and an incompletion on second down had the Patriots facing third and 11. Jones connected with White for a gain of 26 on an absolute DIME.
A 9-yard connection with Hunter Henry and a 10-yard run by White had the Patriots at the Miami 26 yard line. Harris lost 4 yards on the next snap before a 6-yard pass to White set up third and 8. Jones was looking for Bourne on a back-shoulder throw to the left boundary, but a miscommunication between QB and receiver led to the ball falling well short of the route. Folk trotted out and connected on his second field goal.
After taking possession the Dolphins’ offense became well acquainted with Adrian Phillips. The safety/linebacker hybrid dropped RB Salvon Ahmed for a 3-yard loss on first down. After an incomplete pass on second down, Phillips dropped Myles Gaskin for a 2-yard loss to force the Dolphins to punt.
The Patriots would again drive down the field in 14 plays before settling for a field goal. Jones started the series by finding Kendrick Bourne for a gain of 17, but an Illegal Blindside Block on Shaq Mason meant the play only netted the Patriots 2 yards of field position. After a Harris run, Jones connected with Henry for 16. Two receptions by James White set up third and 5 at the Miami 48. Jones identified the Dolphins pressure pre-snap and quickly dumped off a pass to Henry in the right flat for the conversion. Jonnu Smith picked up ten more on first down on a short pass from Jones. A 3-yard connection with Meyers and an incompletion gave the Patriots third and 7 at the 29. Jones found White over the middle for 8 to convert. Mac was a machine on third downs all game as they converted 11 of 16 opportunities. Two 3-yard carries by Harris meant another third down. Jones delivered a catchable ball to Meyers as he crossed from left to right but the receiver couldn’t haul it in. The Pats settled for Nick Folk’s final field goal of the day.
With their lead cut to one, the Dolphins’ offense took the field looking to get some breathing room. Tagovailoa hit Parker on an RPO for 15 on first down. The Patriots were constantly playing a soft zone of first down, often surrendering these easy throws. A 5-yard run and a 3-yard reception for Gaskin had the Dolphins facing third and 2 at their own 48. An “Ineligible Man Downfield” penalty negated the successful conversion and forced the Dolphins into a third and 7. Tua dropped back and faced quick pressure from a looping Phillips. Tagovailoa reversed field and threw up a prayer before getting crushed by Judon. The attempt caromed off Jonathon Jones and then Gesicki before falling into Jones’ hands for the interception.
Taking over at midfield, the Patriots’ offense began a clock bleeding drive that would need to culminate in points. Harris ran for a yard on first down before Jones found Meyers for 3 yards on second down. Jones continued to be the hot hand on third down, finding Meyers for 7 and the conversion. The Patriots would run on their next four plays, gaining 8, 1, 3, and 5 yards to give them second and 5 at the Miami 27. Jones found Smith for 11 to give the Patriots first and 10 at the Miami 11. The next play would be the Patriots’ last as Harris fumbled and the Dolphins defense recovered. After taking over with 8:07 left in the game, the Pats took 4:36 off the clock before turning it over.
A penalty on first down gave the Dolphins first and 14 from their our 9. The Patriots continued their first down theme of soft coverage, allowing Tagovailoa to find Parker on an RPO for 13 yards. A 2-yard run by Malcolm Brown gave the Dolphins a new set of downs. Two more carries for Brown gave the Dolphins a third and 1 opportunity to put the game away. QB sneak specialist Jacoby Brissett converted with a 2-yard gain, allowing the Dolphins to take knees to end the game.
Tying Up Loose Ends
After tight ends accounted for 18 receptions all last year, the group had 8 catches yesterday. This after Henry missed all the preseason games and Jonnu Smith got a total of four snaps. This pairing started to show late in the game yesterday and will only improve with more time together in live action.
Want to see why the Pats were ok with Thuney moving on? He’s in blue and wears #71.
For a team that often prides itself on ball security and practicing in the worse possible conditions to better their ability to hold onto the ball, four fumbles yesterday was concerning. Two of them were turnovers, while the first knocked them out of field goal range on their first drive. After losing by a point, those plays are the difference. Expect Belichick to cover everything and everyone in Crisco this week at practice.
It was mentioned multiple times that Uche looked stronger during the preseason. He put some hard evidence on tape yesterday.
After spending the money on Karras to be the starting center before Andrews returned, it was interesting how the Pats handled the Trent Brown injury. Instead of inserting Karras at LG and flipping Onwenu over to RT (where he was All-Rookie a year ago), the Pats inserted Justin Herron and then benched him for Yasir Durant. Brown’s injury bears monitoring moving forward but it looked like the Pats were playing it safe with him.
Olszewski quietly was on the field for 11 offensive snaps yesterday.
Henry and Smith had similar snap counts, playing 54 and 55 respectively.
Meyers played 74 of 75 offensive snaps in case there was any question about who is WR1.
Harris was on the field for 40 and carried the ball 23 times.
James White touched the ball on 10 of his 28 snaps, lining up with his usage before last year.
Rookie Christian Barmore got 26 snaps. Nothing to sneeze at but significant when compared to Lawrence Guy’s 29. Godchaux paced all defensive linemen with 36.
The linebackers were a rotation with Judon and Hightower leading the group. Judon had 48, Hightower 42, Bentley 39, Van Noy 35, Uche 15, and Winovich 12.
J.C. Jackson and McCourty both played 100% of the defensive snaps.
Been a theme throughout training camp but this is a tightknit team. Might account for nothing but I bet it comes into play throughout the season.