Monday, January 10, 2022

Patriots Drop Season-Ender to Dolphins, 33-24

The Patriots played sloppy and from behind and couldn't get over the hump, losing 33-24 to the Dolphins in Miami. The loss means the Bills (who won anyway) are AFC East Champs and the Pats are the #6 seed in the AFC. Next up will be those aforementioned Bills, up in Buffalo, with a chance to advance on the line.

This game was emblematic of why the Patriots are not likely to go very far in the playoffs. For two decades, New England under Bill Belichick had certain features, most of which this team lacks. BB himself has said that more games are lost in the NFL than won. And the Pats myriad mistakes week after week lost them more than their fair share this year.

I planned to shellack the team for their poor play. But the more I thought about it, the more that seemed like punishing this team for the amazing success of past teams. That didn't feel fair.

It is difficult to win games in the NFL and tough to get into the playoffs. And rarely does a rookie quarterback lead a team to the post-season, but Mac Jones did just that. They improved on last year's 7-9 record with lots of free agent spending, a great draft, and steady development of their signal caller.

The epitaph of the Patriots 2021 season is yet to be written. But given their inconsistency they will undoubtedly be done sooner rather than later. They started the season 1-3 and finished the season 1-3. It was that 8-1 record in middle of the year that was so enticing, that got our hopes up so high.

Just a few weeks ago they beat Tennessee and held the first seed in the AFC. Since then, they are 2-3 and didn't force a single fumble in those five games. Two notes to keep expectations realistic: no rookie QB has ever gotten to the Super Bowl, and it's been 10 season since a team with a losing record down the stretch hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. (Trivia question: Can you name the team that finished 1-4 but still won it all that year? Answer below.)

So Mac Jones will get his playoff experience this year, one, two, or maybe three games. And then it'll be over and we'll be on to 2022. Could they catch lightning in a bottle like the 2018 team, you ask? Maybe, but probably not. That team was solid in special teams, had a great running attack, and had some guy named Brady at quarterback.

As for the Miami game, what a stinker. Center David Andrews had an "equipment issue" and had to be replaced for one snap; that snap was fumbled on the exchange. Lawrence Guy lined up improperly on a punt, giving the Dolphins new life and three free points a few plays later. The pick-six by Mac Jones on a "film study" play where Miami knew exactly what was coming.

Three, count 'em three, dropped interceptions. That's becoming a theme with these guys; lately they seem to drop more than they catch. The brutally bad personal foul on Brandon Bolden, though all he had to do was jump over the sliding punter and it would have been Pats ball at the Miami 43. You know, back when the game was still a game.

The team got gashed by the run-pass option, which is an updated version of the Wildcat. And twice when they had Miami in third-and-long, and there was no running back (so no RPO), they lost contain and Tua ran for first downs to kill them. The last of those came when they needed a stop to get one last chance late -- a chance that never came.

It's unclear whether the coaches didn't change scheme to attack the RPO or if the team just lacks the defensive speed to do so. Either way it was unacceptable, because they knew it was coming and had a week to plan.

The team probably doesn't have a Super Bowl run in them this year. They probably never did, despite the long winning streak. So enjoy every game you get. There is something fun about watching a team with nothing to lose and low expectations. IIRC that happened exactly 20 seasons ago in what turned out to be their first magical run.

Where does that leave us? The team finished the season 10-7, in the #6 seed (after the Raiders victory), and they travel to Buffalo this Saturday to take on the Bills in the season's rubber match. I wrote in the Season Preview that the Pats actually play Buffalo better in Buffalo. So it's not that bad that they are playing there; after all, they won the game up there and lost the one at home.

Biggest on-going concern: How slowly the offense seems to start. They can't afford to fall behind early next week or Buffalo could steamroll them. It's incumbent on Josh McDaniels to figure out how Buffalo's D will attack and have something ready to counter it.

Non-QB MVP: Wideout Jakobi Meyers, who had some sensational catches and ended up with 4 catches for 70 yards.

Statistical oddity: Punter Jake Bailey set team marks two years in a row. Last year he averaged a franchise-record 48.7 yards per punt. This year he tied for the franchise record by having three punts blocked. Any prediction of what record he'll tie or break next year?

Water-cooler wisdom: "Certainly not an AFC powerhouse, but once you're in the playoffs anything can happen."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 10-7 & 0-0!

PPS. Trivia Answer: the 2021 Baltimore Ravens went 1-4 in their last five games but pulled it together to win the Super Bowl

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