Patriots vs Dolphins: Takeaways from New England's 24-20 Loss to Miami
There was no miracle this week for Tom Brady, and the Patriots lost a chance to seize the top seed in the AFC.
The Pats have lost four games this season and every one of them has gone down to the very end, but are they an elite team? They're certainly a well-coached and fearless team, but do they still have enough healthy talent to win a Super Bowl?
They'd certainly have to get hot and that could start next week in Baltimore.
The Pats need only one win to lock up the AFC East, they're near locks for the playoffs, but what will they do when they get there?
Here are the takeaways!
It's crucial that the Patriots root for the Cincinnati Bengals to lose as many games as possible. They hold the tiebreaker over New England after beating the Pats 13-6 in Week 5.
The Bengals play the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens. Both those games should be competitive, but how the Bengals finish the regular season will have a big impact on whether or not the Patriots get a bye.
The more Andy Dalton interceptions the better for New England.
The battered Pats need as much rest as they can get, especially with offensive tackle Nate Solder leaving the game with a concussion.
Gostkowski's First Bad Game of 2013
Hard to criticize Stephen Gostkowski too much after the great season he's had, but he didn't do the Pats any favors on Sunday against the Dolphins.
His missed 48-yard field goal killed any momentum the Pats had after an impressive 10-play, 50-yard drive to open the second half.
He followed that up by sending his final kickoff out of bounds and setting the Dolphins up on their 40-yard line for the game-winning drive.
Gostkowski is still having one of his best seasons, but this game won't be on his highlight reel.
Hightower Leads in Tackles
Dont'a Hightower led the Pats with nine tackles, including eight solo stops. His improved inside presence has helped solidify the Pats' recent problems against the run. But his limitations in coverage were still apparent against the Dolphins, and that's where the Pats were hurt most in this game.
Sealver Siliga also looked impressive in front of Hightower in shutting down the Miami run game, chipping in with a sack and two tackles, including one for loss. Siliga has been a late-season bonus for a defensive line that needed a two-gapper.
Kyle Arrington was also active with eight tackles (including one for a loss) and a sack. He continues to fight through injuries and is one of the underappreciated members of the secondary.
There were some bright spots on the Pats defense but not enough and never sustained. They'll have to find some consistency in the playoffs.
The Pats continued to manage Stevan Ridley's snaps and got good production from LeGarrette Blount (11 carries, 47 yards) in the starter's role.
Still, it's clear that Blount lacks Ridley's explosiveness and ability to make something out of nothing. Ridley finished the game with eight carries for 34 yards. He ran hard and protected the ball well.
Perhaps Ridley's fumble issues this year have had a positive side effect. He's healthy and running angry at the right time of year.
Will the Pats trust Ridley enough to give him the ball consistently in a playoff game? That will be determined in the last two games of the regular season.
But one more fumble and he's likely done touching the ball for the year.
Amendola Starting to Click
Danny Amendola finished with 10 catches for 131 yards, including 57 yards on the final drive to set up the shots into the end zone.
Last week it seemed like Brady was not finding Amendola when he was open, but this week things looked better, and really, Brady doesn't have much of a choice.
Amendola is now starting to pick up some yards after catch. Early in the year there weren't many of those. It's a sign that Brady is gaining trust and confidence.
Amendola will have to continue to step up with the absence of Rob Gronkowski.
Whack-a-Mole on Defense
If you told me before the game the Patriots defense would hold Miami to 4-of-11 on third down, get four sacks, allow only 89 rushing yards, I'd have bet the Pats would win big.
But even when they play well in all the areas that have haunted them this season, they could not come through in the clutch. Again, they forced no turnovers, a staple of the defense from 2010-2012,
The Patriots defense is good, not great. They'll play well in spurts, but not with consistency. And they'll give up some big plays. Sometimes they're clutch. Sometimes they're not.
Is this a championship defense? It doesn't look like it right now, but at least they've shown some improvement in their weakest areas.
There were some performances to build on in the loss to Miami, and the Pats will get another tough test next Sunday in Baltimore.
Edelman Becoming a Star
Julian Edelman had 13 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted 19 times and is quickly becoming Tom Brady's new favorite receiver.
Best of all with Edelman was his clutch three catches including a touchdown reception on a go-ahead fourth-quarter drive. He also had a 12-yard catch on third-and-10 on the final drive for the Pats.
Edelman is showing up in the clutch moments of games and that's a clear sign of how far he's come since being a spot reserve on offense in his first three seasons.
With Edelman on just a one-year deal, he's quickly becoming one of the most interesting potential free agents of the coming offseason.
It's clear now that any Patriots Super Bowl run will revolve around the "Edelmandola" offense with a sprinkling of Shane Vereen, who finished with a disappointing 21 yards of total offense.
If Stevan Ridley can get going, the Pats' offense might catch fire once again.
The Patriots Are 10-4
All things considered, the Patriots look like a 10-4 team, and they are a 10-4 team. They're not a 14-2 or 13-3 squad that can win tough games on the road in December.
They're very well coached and will play hard the entire game, but the injuries have left them thin, especially in their defensive front seven.
They'll still make their plays on both sides of the ball, and they make opponents bring their best games, but there are flaws with this team, especially on defense.
The offense should get a boost when receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins return, and that might be just the spark they need.
Ultimately, the Patriots need just one more win to lock up the division and a playoff berth. They very well might miss out on a bye now and have to see a team like the Ravens or Dolphins again in the Wild Card Round, but it's clear they'll battle whoever they see down to the final gun.
But against teams that don't beat themselves, the Pats are likely in trouble next month.