With 1:21 left in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady reached into his hat looking for another rabbit but came up empty.
Here are the initial grades for the Patriots players.
Tom Brady: B+
Brady was able to perform well, considering he was playing with four slot receivers and some backup tight ends as his main weapons.
He moved the ball effectively with the quartet of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce and Austin Collie—he finished 34-of-55 for 364 yards—but missed the likes of Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Rob Gronkowski inside the 20-yard line. Their height would have been very helpful in the game's waning moments.
Brady was not pleased after the game, showing his displeasure quite vocally.
Brady. "Made some good plays, made a lot of shitty plays." Drops mic after 72 seconds and departs. #patriotstalk— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) December 15, 2013
LeGarrette Blount: B+
Blount finished with 11 carries for 47 yards, providing a consistent force running the football for New England. He cannot be taken down by the first tackler when he runs with his pads in front of him.
Shane Vereen: C
Vereen wasn't a big part of the offensive scheme, due in part to Miami's insistence on keeping multiple sets of eyes on the shifty running back. He totaled two carries while the Patriots ran the clock out in the first half and caught three passes for a mere eight yards.
James Develin: B+
Develin came through on another short-yardage play and continues to blow open holes for his fellow running backs. He has become a solid part of this offense.
Ridley still has quite a burst. He only saw the ball eight times—totally 34 yards—but you can see that he is close to breaking a big run.
Julian Edelman: A
Danny Amendola: A-
Edelman and Amendola combined for 23 catches on 270 yards on the day but came up 14 yards short of paydirt when the Patriots needed it. Amendola dropped a tough—but catchable—ball in the end zone that would have given New England the lead.
Danny Amendola on the dropped pass in the endzone on what would have been a tough play to reporters, "I'd like to have that one, yeah."— Ian Logue (@IanLogue) December 15, 2013
Outside of the red zone, these two are absolutely lethal. However, Tom Brady needs a bigger threat to keep defenses honest close to the goal line.
Josh Boyce: B
Boyce stacked another good performance on top of last week's game against the Cleveland Browns. He brought in four catches for 42 yards, despite leaving the game early with what appeared to be a foot injury.
WR Josh Boyce, who didn't finish the game, limps out of the locker room.— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) December 15, 2013
Austin Collie: C+
Collie—filling in for the injured Thompkins and Dobson—was able to snag two catches for 25 yards. He is a solid underneath receiver who has quickly earned Brady's trust.
Kenbrell Thompkins: I
Aaron Dobson: I
Thompkins and Dobson were again held out of the game due to injuries.
Michael Hoomanawanui: B
Hoomanawanui made a ridiculous one-handed touchdown catch but couldn't haul in the winning score in the fourth quarter. You be the judge—check out the picture above—of whether Hoomanawanui was interfered with.
Matthew Mulligan: C+
Mulligan wasn't targeted by Brady but was able to throw some decent blocks for his running backs. With Rob Gronkowski out for the year, Mulligan is the only true inline tight end left on the roster.
Nate Solder: B
Logan Mankins: B
Josh Kline: C+
Ryan Wendell: C
Dan Connolly: C-
Marcus Cannon: C+
The Dolphins only had one sack, but Cameron Wake's five quarterback hits—Miami had seven total—were huge plays. Tom Brady had to rush his throws, often resulting in incomplete plays.
Josh Kline and Logan Mankins didn't miss a beat after Nate Solder left wit ha head injury—his second in as many weeks—but the right side of the offensive line continues to struggle with defensive-line stunts.
Rob Ninkovich: B
Ninkovich received a lot of attention from tight ends and running backs, in addition to the offensive linemen assigned to block him. Despite the extra blockers, Ninkovich was able to notch a couple tackles in addition to some token pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Chandler Jones: B+
After being dominated by Dolphins left tackle Bryant McKinnie in their last matchup, Jones had an active day this time around. He registered two quarterback hits—including one sack of Tannehill—and two tackles for loss. Jones now has 11.5 sacks on the year.
Andre Carter: C-
Carter failed to show up on the stat sheet for the third week in the row. At this point, I'd like to take another look at rookie Michael Buchanan at the edge-rusher position.
Sealver Siliga: B
Joe Vellano: B-
Siligan and Vellano each recorded a sack of Tannehill and helped hold the Dolphins running attack under 100 yards.
Chris Jones: C
Jones has lost some snaps to Siliga. He is going to need to work on his ability to stop the run to earn more reps on first and second down.
Dont'a Hightower: A-
Hightower is going to be blamed by many fans for being in coverage when Dolphins running back and kick returner Marcus Thigpen caught the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game.
However, if you want to blame someone, take it out on Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia for having Hightower in a position that accentuates his weaknesses. Thigpen talked about the play after the game, per the team's official website:
It was a play that we designed this week in practice. And the way it was supposed to work, I was supposed to actually go against the linebacker one-on-one, which I did. But it didn't play out the way we wanted it to, but I was went in there and made something happen and Tannehill had enough trust in me to throw it up and I caught it and made something.
Before that play, Hightower had his second very good game in a row. He was very active against the run and has improved in his pattern recognition and zone-coverage responsibilities.
Brandon Spikes: B-
Shockingly, Spikes did not record a tackle on the day. That doesn't mean he didn't have an impact. Spikes blew up blockers on a few occasions, opening things up for his teammates to make the play.
Jamie Collins: B-
Collins continued to make plays in coverage during his rookie season. He tipped one pass on the day and helped out with two tackles as well.
Dane Fletcher: C
Fletcher had an unnecessary penalty—pass interference on what was likely an uncatchable throw—that cost the Patriots four crucial points. Other than that crucial error, Fletcher was able to get some pressure on Tannehill and was decent in coverage.
Devin McCourty: B+
McCourty was his normal dependable self, patrolling the deep recesses of the field and coming up strong in run support. McCourty might be the most underrated safety in the league.
Aqib Talib: B+
At first blush, I didn't see many passes completed in Talib's area. It seemed like Tannehill was content going after Alfonzo Dennard and others. I'm looking forward to watching Talib's performance when the coaches film is available.
Kyle Arrington: B+
Arrington recorded a sack—he has proven to be a very effective blitzer—and was in on seven tackles. He was beat deep by Mike Wallace on one occasion but had enough recovery speed—and an underthrown ball—to prevent the catch.
Logan Ryan: B
Ryan was beat deep on a good play by Rishard Matthews, but he continues to impress as a rookie. He makes veteran plays on a weekly basis and is always a danger to make an interception.
Alfonzo Dennard: D+
Dennard was beat on multiple occasions by Tannehill and whiffed on a couple of weak tackle attempts. This was easily the worst game of his Patriots career. He was replaced by Logan Ryan late in the game.
Marquice Cole: D
Cole came in for an ailing Kyle Arrington and promptly gave up a catch to Mike Wallace. He subsequently missed the tackle, allowing Wallace to score easily.
Steve Gregory: C-
Gregory also missed badly on the Wallace play, giving the Dolphins momentum going into halftime. He finished with six tackles on the day but didn't have as big of impact as he normally does.
Stephen Gostkowski: D+
After a phenomenal performance against the Cleveland Browns, Gostkowski had an abysmal performance against Miami. In addition to missing a 48-yard field goal, Gostkowski's errant kickoff set the Dolphins up with great field position on their final drive.
All in all, this poor performance was likely an aberration in what is shaping up to be a career season for Gostkowski.
Ryan Allen: A
Allen was solid as a holder and consistently bombed punts down the field. He finished with a 45.7 net average on three punts.
Danny Aiken: A
Aiken was in good form against Miami, consistently hitting on his long snaps.
Matthew Slater: B+
Nate Ebner: B+
Chris White: B-
Tavon Wilson: B-
The coverage units were in good form, holding the Dolphins to a 12.5 average on kickoff returns and a 4.5 average on punt returns.