HAVING failed to pull another one from the fire, and having faltered in his effort to erase a four-point deficit in the final ticks for the second time in five weeks, Tom Brady was none too happy.
Had he salvaged this one, he would’ve exited Sun Life Stadium with a new hat, a new T-shirt, and the 11th AFC East championship of his illustrious career, but instead he left Miami with only the same bag he showed up with — and a rather succinct explanation as to why.
“We had plenty of chances all day. We made some good plays,” he said, “then we made plenty of (expletive) plays.”
With that, the Patriots quarterback stepped down from the podium and ended his postgame press conference after barely a minute and just two questions. Anyone who wanted further explanation from Brady for New England’s 24-20 defeat wasn’t going to get it.
But, then again, he’d really already said all that needed to be said.
This time the rally wasn’t foiled by attempting to drive the length of the field in a monsoon, a penalty that was called, or a penalty that wasn’t. This time there was no ready-made excuse built in to the conclusion.
This time the Patriots just simply didn’t make enough good plays to win, and so even in spite of playing relatively decently over the balance of the afternoon they were forced to pay the price for the mistakes they did make — those consequences including letting the Dolphins stay alive in the divisional race with two weeks remaining in the regular season, losing control of their destiny in the tussle for home-field advantage in the AFC tournament, and further doubt about their ability to win on the road.
“We just didn’t make enough plays in any of the three phases to win,” added Pats coach Bill Belichick, who wasn’t much more loquacious than Brady. “We came up short in every area. Nothing was really good enough. Yeah, there were some good things — but nothing was really good enough. We’ve got to do a better job all the way around: offense, defense, special teams, coaching, playing, blocking tackling, throwing, catching.
“I don’t think anything was bad, it just wasn’t good enough, or they were a little bit better, however you want to look at it.”
Playmaking is typically thought of from the offensive perspective, and the game certainly could’ve turned out differently had the Patriots taken better advantage of their opportunities on that side of the ball.
They scored only 20 points despite 453 yards of offense. They entered Miami territory on seven of 10 possessions, but went just 1-for-4 in the red zone — where Rob Gronkowski’s absence showed up, and figures to continue showing up, the most. Then Danny Amendola had a potential game-winner go through his hands in the end zone, thanks partially to tight coverage, on the final series.
Special teams sure could’ve been better, too, as Stephen Gostkowski interrupted what had been a Pro Bowl-caliber campaign by missing a 48-yard field goal and booting a kickoff out of bounds to give the Dolphins possession on the 40-yard line with four minutes to play.
But the most damning of the missed chances to make a play — particularly for what they say about the Patriots at this point — came on defense.
The first sequence came just prior to halftime, when Dolphins coach Joe Philbin used two timeouts with the Patriots on offense in an attempt to give his own attack a chance to do something before the break. “It was very important that we made something happen,” he rationalized afterward — but it was risky. To that point his team had been shut out, and then after two incompletions it risked giving the ball back to Brady with plenty of time to do something.
But on third and 10, Ryan Tannehill hit Rishard Matthews for a 24-yard gain. Five plays later, on another third down, Mike Wallace took a Tannehill pass and ran 39 yards to paydirt. Essentially, the Dolphins made the plays where the Patriots didn’t.
And then they did it again in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The decision itself was something of an indictment of the beleaguered defense, considering the potential backlash if it didn’t work, but Philbin was confident enough in his team’s chances of converting that he ordered his troops to try and pick up a fourth and 5 from his own 45 with less than three minutes to go.
If it failed, the game would’ve been all but over — though, again, it was the Dolphins that made the play with the game on the line. Tannehill flung the ball to Charles Clay in the flat, and although the Patriots had read the play properly, had tacklers in the area, and had a chance to blow it up, Clay squirted through the defenders and went for a gain of six. Four snaps later, the Dolphins were celebrating Marcus Thigpen’s go-ahead touchdown catch.
And the Patriots were left hoping for a play that — too often on this day — never came.
“We had plenty of chances to win,” said Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins, who started at left guard, but moved to left tackle when Nate Solder left the game with an injury in the second half. “I felt like we were always moving the ball until a certain point where we wouldn’t make any plays, or we’d make a mistake that would kill the drive.
“It was one of those days where you’d get going, and then you’d stop yourself or they’d stop you. I feel like we were stopping ourselves.”
Dave D’Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.