Maybe it was a case of looking ahead to a mammoth showdown this Sunday in Pittsburgh. Or maybe the injuries and suspension of a superstar tight end finally caught up with the Patriots.
Or maybe, just maybe, Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, the Dolphins were the better and more inspired team.
Whatever the reason, the Dolphins, led by a rejuvenated Jay Cutler, kept the Patriots from clinching their ninth straight AFC East title Monday night with a 27-20 win over the Patriots. The loss snapped the Patriots’ eight-game winning streak and ended their 14-game road win streak. New England’s last road loss came on the same field, a 20-10 defeat in the 2015 season finale.
The loss drops the 10-3 Patriots a game behind the 11-2 Steelers in the race for the No. 1 seed in the conference, with the critical showdown this Sunday at Heinz Field. The Patriots failed to convert a single third-down conversion (0-for-11) for the first time since Sept. 29, 1991, when they failed on all six chances in Arizona.
“That was pretty bad,” Brady said when asked about going 0-for-11. “Can’t get worse than that. We’ve had a lot good nights this year. This was a bad night.”
“We weren’t good enough in any area, we weren’t consistent enough. Just not good enough in any area,” Bill Belichick added after the game.
As for any suggestion that the Patriots were looking ahead to the Steelers, Belichick shot that down immediately.
“No. Gimme a break,” Belichick said in a completely dismissive manner. “Any questions about the game?”
Belichick said the Dolphins didn’t change much of their game plan from the Nov. 26 game, when they beat the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.
“No, I wouldn’t say it’s dramatic,” Belichick said. “They did a better job than we did in all three areas of the game. Give them credit.”
Kenyan Drake, the second-year running back out of Alabama, devastated the Patriots with 114 yards on the ground and 79 yards in the passing game.
For a full box score, click here.
Brady, who falls to 7-9 lifetime in Miami, clearly struggled all night, throwing a pair of interceptions in a regular season game for the first time since 2015 when he threw two against the Eagles at Gillette Stadium. Both interceptions came at the hands of second-year corner Xavien Howard, who covered Brandin Cooks like a glove all night.
Brady, in one of his worst games in a Patriots uniform, finished 24-of-43 for 233 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Rob Gronkowski served his one-game suspension for his elbow to the back of the head of Tre’Davious White in Buffalo on Dec. 3.
“It was just a bad night,” Brady said. “Have to move on. It’s a short week. We have a lot to catch up on. I certainly have a lot to work on. (Gronk’s) a great player. When he’s out there, it helps us. We’ve got some other good players. I’ve got to throw the ball better.”
On defense, sack leader Trey Flowers (ribs) missed a second straight week and linebackers David Harris and Kyle Van Noy (injured last week in Buffalo) sat out. The defense compensated with Elandon Roberts playing inside for a majority of the snaps with newly-signed Jonathan Freeny, Eric Lee and Marquis Flowers also getting looks. But another big blow came early in the first half when defensive tackle Alan Branch went to the locker room with a knee injury and did not return.
Unlike two weeks ago, when the Patriots handled Matt Moore at Gillette Stadium, it was Jay Cutler getting the start for the Dolphins at quarterback. DaVante Parker dropped a routine pass over the middle on the first snap of the game. But on the second play, Kenyan Drake ripped off a 26-yard run up the middle.
Parker made up for it by grabbing a 15-yard pass on 4th-and-1. Then Cody Parkey hit the first of two first-quarter field goals, a 30-yarder that gave the Dolphins a 3-0 lead. Remarkably, this was the first time the Patriots trailed since being down 7-0 against the Chargers in Week 8 on Oct. 29, an amazing span of over 290 minutes.
On offense, Tom Brady looked shaky to start, facing blitzes and going 3-and-out twice in the first three series of the first quarter. The other series ended with a Brady’s fifth interception of the season, a badly underthrown ball intended for Brandin Cooks. Xavien Howard undercut the route for the interception that set up the Dolphins at the Miami 40.
Brady and the Patriots didn’t generate a first down until a pass to Rex Burkhead in the left flat for eight yards just a minute into the second quarter. The Patriots had two yards of offense in the first quarter, the fewest in Brady’s career.
Then, with a cross A-gap blitz coming in Brady’s face on New England’s fourth drive of the game, the Patriots QB lofted a pass down the right sideline. Dion Lewis reached out with his right hand and hauled it in for 20 yards to the Miami 28.
WATCH: Just unreal pass and catch from Brady to Lewis. And the audible was “Linda!” pic.twitter.com/wgVKh53pI0
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 12, 2017
The Patriots would punch it in several plays later on a 3-yard Rex Burkhead run.
The 7-6 lead didn’t last very long. The Dolphins responded with a 7-play, 80-yard drive that featured a 47-yard Cutler-to-Kenyan Drake connection to the New England 16, beating Elandon Roberts in coverage. On the next play, Cutler hit Jarvis Landry for 16 yards and a touchdown. But the score was nullified as the Patriots received a brief reprieve on a Laremy Tunsil holding call.
Jordan Richards whiffed on a safety blitz with Cutler in his sights and Drake caught a pass that drove the Dolphins to the New England 5. But Landry would score on a Cutler bootleg to his right, hitting the receiver for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
With the Patriots getting the ball to start the second half, Brady had a chance to get the Patriots offense back on track. Instead, Howard caught up with Brandin Cooks on a deep go pattern and picked off his second pass of the night. He returned it to the Patriots 48. It was the first time since Week 3 (vs. Houston) that a Patriots’ opponent started a drive in New England territory.
The Dolphins drove down the field and Cutler lofted a 25-yard pass to the back left corner of the end zone. Jakeem Grant went up and made an athletic grab over Malcolm Butler for a 20-10 lead. On their next drive, the Dolphins drove 82 yards, capped off with a 4-yard touchdown pass over the middle to an uncovered Jarvis Landry, giving the Dolphins a 27-10 lead. That prompted safety Duron Harmon to rip into his teammates on the sidelines.
WATCH: Duron Harmon has seen just about enough from his defensive teammates pic.twitter.com/XOjZIn5cN8
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 12, 2017
With just over eight minutes left in the fourth, Grant nearly had a chance to put the dagger in the Patriots when he again beat Malcolm Butler on a go-route down the right sideline. But the pass fell through his hands at the Patriots’ 10-yard line and the Patriots were able to force a punt.
A 23-yard connection to Danny Amendola put the Patriots at the 1-inch line with 1:41 left in the fourth. James White was called for illegal motion. On the next play, Brady found Hogan in the end zone but Hogan could not get both feet down. Brady threw a pair of incompletions before Stephen Gostkowski connected from 33-yards to make it 27-20 with 53 seconds remaining. The Dolphins recovered an onside kick that traveled only eight yards. Patrick Chung suffered a leg injury on the scrum.
Chris Hogan was targeted several times and caught his first pass on the first play of the fourth quarter in his first game back since Oct. 29, when he injured his shoulder against the Chargers.