New England Patriots came into their Sunday Night Football game against the Miami Dolphins looking to notch their first victory of the young season. Instead, for the second consecutive week, a slow start and strange finish combined to leave the Patriots still searching for that elusive first win.
New England offensive guard Cole Strange wound up with the football, via a lateral, on the Patriots final offensive play. After initially being awarded a fresh set of downs on the fourth down attempt, the spot was ruled short of the first down marker after review. The overturned call secured the 24-17 win for Miami.
It is now twice in two weeks that an overturned first down call on a fourth down attempt has ended the Patriots hopes of a comeback victory.
As much as these plays at the end of games have been an issue, it is the Patriots slow starts that continues to do them in. After falling behind the Philadelphia Eagles 16-0 a week ago, last night Miami took a 10-0 before the New England was able to get on the scoreboard. If the Patriots continue to fall behind early every game, they will continue to struggle finding success. As a result of starting games slowly, the Patriots have now failed to lead at any time in their opening two games.
New England received the opening kickoff, but was forced to punt after initially moving the ball a bit. When Miami’s offense took over, their firepower was immediately noticeable.
Playing with great speed and lots of pre-snap motion, the Dolphins had the Patriots backtracking the entire length of the field. Miami began at their own 15-yard line but drove 13 plays down to the New England four. The Dolphins had positive yardage on their first 10 plays of the drive. Fortunately for the Patriots, their “bend but don’t break” defense was once again on display, as they forced the Dolphins to settle for a field goal attempt and 3-0 lead.
New England answered with a nine-play drive of their own, though it did not end in points for the Patriots. The drive halted when rookie wide receiver Demario Douglas fumbled following a 10-yard completion, which was recovered by the Dolphins. The turnover was the final play of the first quarter.
The Dolphins began the second quarter with the ball at their own 27-yard line. Their ensuing drive was spearheaded by a pair of long completions from Tua Tagovailoa to Jaylen Waddle, and an unexpectedly effective run game. When Raheem Mostert took a handoff eight yards to the end zone, Miami saw their lead increase to 10-0.
After trading punts, New England finally found their way on the scoreboard. A drive featuring Mac Jones completions to Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker and Hunter Henry helped move them into Miami territory. Although they were unable to find the end zone, rookie placekicker Chad Ryland ended the drive with a 49-yard field goal, his first in the NFL.
The Patriots had cut the deficit to 10-3 with under two minutes to play in the first half. Considering how overmatched they had looked in the first half at times, this seemed encouraging as halftime approached. But before intermission arrived, the Dolphins put an exclamation point on the first half of football.
It took only 10 plays and 1:38 of clock time for Miami to move the ball 75 downfield. While New England did a good job taking away Miami’s primary weapons, the supporting cast controlled this drive for the Dolphins. Salvon Ahmed, River Cracraft, Durham Smythe and Braxton Berrios all picked up big chunks of yardage to help get the ball to the two-yard line. From there, Tagovailoa found All Pro Tyreek Hill in the end zone, giving Miami a 17-3 with only 11 seconds remaining in the half.
New England Patriots were facing a seeming insurmountable 14-point deficit at halftime, with the Miami Dolphins set to receive the second half kickoff.
Matthew Judon had a huge sack on the Dolphins opening possession of the second half, forcing a punt. The Patriots quickly gave the ball back however.
Bill O’Brien seemed intent on establishing the Patriots running game in the second half. Going into the game, the Miami rush defense seemed exploitable, but New England had failed to do that in the first half, gaining just 30 yards on the ground. After five plays, including four runs, the ball was back in the Dolphins hands with an opportunity to increase their 14-point lead.
Tua Tagovailoa helped engineer another methodical Miami drive, where the Dolphins continued to take what the Patriots were willing to give. Taking up 6:23 of clock, the Dolphins drove 71 yards on 12 plays. Again, the Patriots were able to hold off a touchdown, with Miami forced to settle for a 49-yard field goal attempt.
Brenden Schooler then made the play of the game for New England up to that point. He ran down the line of scrimmage, perfectly timing his rush past the right side of the Dolphins line. Schooler managed to easily block Jason Sanders field goal attempt, which was recovered by teammate Kyle Dugger. The special teams play brought the Gillette Stadium crowd to life. The crowd was as loud as it had been all game, and the Patriots had the ball with a chance to make it a one score game.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, turnovers once again did them in. After converting a key fourth down attempt on a QB sneak, Mac Jones next play was intercepted. On a pass intended for DeVante Parker down the sideline, Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard stepped in a stole the ball back Miami.
Finally, after forcing a three and out for Miami, New England’s offense finally found the end zone. Back-to-back completions to JuJu Smith-Schuster and Hunter Henry, were followed by a nice Mac Jones scramble for 18 yards. When Jones found Henry in the end zone for a six-yard touchdown two plays later, the Dolphins lead was down to 17-10.
Momentum continued to build for New England on Miami’s next possession. Rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez snagged his first NFL interception on a pass intended for Tyreek Hill. With 9:56 to play, the Patriots suddenly found themselves in a one score game with possession of the ball.
New England’s offense couldn’t capitalize on the turnover, however. After two incompletions and a sack, the Patriots punted the ball back to Miami. One play later, running back Raheem Mostert took off like of a rocket, and 43-yards later was in the end zone. Roughly a minute after the Gonzalez interception had given the Patriots life, Mostert had all but extinguished it in a flash.
Trailing 24-10, the New England Patriots offense finally showed what they are capable of. In a 13-play drive, the no huddle offense worked to perfection for the Patriots. A balanced attack finally had the Dolphins looking uncomfortable. The drive was ultimately capped off by a two-yard Rhamondre Stevenson touchdown run. In a game that had become a roller coaster of emotions, the Patriots were back within a score at 24-17. There was 5:29 remaining in the game, and this one was far from over.
The Dolphins next drive was jumpstarted by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty against Patriots rookie Marte Mapu. Bill Belichick was incensed on the New England sideline, demonstrably screaming at the linesman that Mapu was going for the tipped ball when he collided helmet-to-helmet with Jaylen Waddle. After Mostert picked up another first down on an 11-yard run, he nearly sealed the game for the Dolphins with back-to-back runs, which brought up a third and one situation. At this point, a first down for Miami would have virtually sealed the win, but Tua Tagvailoa fumbled the snap. Although he was able to recover his fumble, this set up a 55-yard field goal attempt by Jason Sanders, who already had one blocked. Sanders missed wide left, and New England was still alive.
Mac Jones completed two passes to Kendrick Bourne for 16 yards, the ball now at the Miami 39-yard line. Following a sack, courtesy of Bradley Chubb, and an incomplete pass, the Patriots needed to pick up 18 yards just to get a first down. The third down pass was a 14-yard completion to Mike Gesicki, picking up a large chunk of the needed yardage. On fourth down, Jones went back to Gesicki once more.
Although New England needed to at least pick up four yards, Gesicki was short of the first down marker when he caught the pass. By the time he had caught it, it was clear he was not going to be able to pick up the first down yardage on his own. That is when the Patriots offensive line attempted to come to the tight end’s rescue and keep the chains moving.
Somehow Mike Gesicki was able to successfully complete a lateral to offensive guard Cole Strange. As Strange was being tackled by Dolphins defeders, his Patriots teammates pushed him from behind. Strange did his best to keep his legs pumping and secure the football. He was brought down in a pig pile near the Miami 29-yard line, which is where he needed to be. The officials ruled a New England Patriots first down, and the crowd was going crazy.
Moments later, all the excitement was erased. Official replay determined Strange had been stopped just short of the needed yardage, and the ball was turned over on downs. Tua Tagovailoa took a knee on the Dolphins next play, and the game was over.
Despite a valiant comeback attempt from New England, once again the hole they had dug for themselves to start the game proved to be too much to overcome. As 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Alex Barth accurately noted, “if the difference between winning and losing is whether or not your guard can pick up two extra yards on the ground after a fourth-down lateral, that play probably wasn’t your biggest issue.”
The New England Patriots (0-2) now find themselves as the lone AFC East team without a win. Next week they will take on the New York Jets (1-1) on the road. The Miami Dolphins (2-0) meanwhile sit atop the division, despite starting the season with consecutive away games. The Patriots and Dolphins will meet again in Miami on October 29.