There’s no denying that the New England Patriots looked flat-out terrible in their loss to the Miami Dolphins, but their putrid performance raises the question, were they even trying to get the “W”?
The New England Patriots finished their season with a 20-10 loss in South Beach, which was their third straight loss in Miami. The loss not only costed them the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but it was also one of the worst performances a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team has ever had. This terrible performance raises the issue if the Patriots were even trying to win, or if they preferred to keep their players healthy and take whatever seed they got.
Offensively, their gameplan was very different from most games. The Pats tried to pound the ball on the ground for the entire first half, as Brady had a total of five passing attempts, which is a career low for a QB who has been in the league for 16 years. Steven Jackson was the lead power back for the Pats, but he struggled to get anything going, as he only ran for 34 yards on 14 carries with a long carry of six yards. He did find the end zone once, and, similar to his game against the Jets, he looked better on the field that his stats displayed.
Still, this run-heavy attack indicated that the Patriots did not feel very comfortable with Tom Brady dropping back to pass with Cameron Fleming at left tackle and the rest of the line simply playing poorly in past weeks. Brady was pressured on almost every play, and, worse yet, this pressure came quickly. This is where you noticed that Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are missed. Due to their absence, Brady was forced to hold on to ball longer, because Brandon LaFell and Keshawn Martin continue to struggle to get open.
Amendola did play, but only in 3-WR packages, as the Patriots were still worried about the possibility of him re-injuring himself. Otherwise, everyone who was active received their normal amount playing time, and the fact that Rob Gronkowski played the entire game- and that Tom Brady also stayed in despite injuring himself- illustrates the want to win. Therefore, it does seem like they were putting the best team of fully healthy players out there offensively.
Defensively, the same thing can be said, though I wouldn’t be surprised if both Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones were healthy enough to play, were it a playoff game. Everyone who was active did play their normal role. One thing that was noticeable was that Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung did not look like themselves after returning from injury, which emphasizes just how much the Patriots wanted to win this game.
Belichick actually looked a bit puzzled on the sideline during the game. It seemed like the plan was that the defense would play well enough for the offense to run the ball and put up somewhere around 20 points, but it didn’t work out that way. Still, the Patriots are in a good spot in their quest to defend their title, as the strongest competition is in the NFC. There will be a lot of talk about how the Patriots have massive issues and are in trouble, but they are going come out and wreck whoever they are playing in the divisional round, especially since it won’t be Denver or Pittsburgh.