3 Takeaways from Patriots' Week 18 LossJanuary 10, 2022
3 Takeaways from Patriots' Week 18 Loss
No matter what happened Sunday, the New England Patriots were going to be heading to the playoffs. However, they had an opportunity to potentially win the AFC East title and perhaps even capture the No. 1 seed in the conference, so there was plenty for them to play for.
Instead, though, New England will head to the postseason coming off a defeat and will be going on the road in the Wild Card Round. The Patriots ended the regular season with a 33-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium and a record of three defeats in their last four games.
New England will travel to face the AFC East champion Buffalo Bills on Saturday night, marking the third time the division rivals will play this season.
Before the postseason begins, here are three takeaways from the Patriots' Week 18 loss.
Slow Starts Have Been Costly of Late
During their recent tough stretch, the Patriots have been getting off to slow starts. And Sunday was no different, as the Dolphins scored the first 17 points of the game. New England scored only 10 points through the first three quarters and trailed by 14 heading into the fourth.
Over the past four games, the Pats have been outscored by their opponents 38-7 in the first quarter, with their only points coming in Week 17 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which were an NFL-worst 3-14 this season. New England trailed Miami 14-0 at the end of the first quarter on Sunday.
The Dolphins stretched their lead to two touchdowns when Xavien Howard picked off Mac Jones and returned it 37 yards for a score with six minutes and seven seconds to go in the first quarter. It was the rookie quarterback's fifth interception over the past four weeks, as he has endured some late-season struggles.
"Whether it's energy, focus, execution, you name it, we're not doing anything well enough early in the games to give ourselves a chance to get in a rhythm and remain competitive early on," Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said, per Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.
If New England starts slow again in Buffalo on Saturday, it will likely be difficult to overcome. So the Pats need to find a way to come out stronger to open games.
Injuries Piling Up at a Bad Time
It's never a good thing to have injuries build up when the start of the playoffs is so close. But that's the situation facing the Patriots, who could be without some key players when they kick off against the Bills in the AFC Wild Card Round.
On Sunday, New England was without linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee) and safety Kyle Dugger (hand). Then, left tackle Isaiah Wynn (ankle) and running back Rhamondre Stevenson (head) both got hurt in the first half; Stevenson returned, but Wynn did not.
The Pats also lost defensive tackle Christian Barmore in the fourth quarter, as the rookie was carted off with a knee injury. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the 22-year-old will undergo an MRI on Monday, although the early exams were "promising."
If New England is without any of these players for its first playoff game, it will need to find ways to fill those spots. And that could be tricky, as all of them have been key contributors during a successful season.
Perhaps the Patriots will have good fortune and get most (or all) of these players back. For now, though, there's some cause for concern.
The Pats Need to Shift Momentum to Win in Playoffs
At one point this season, the Patriots were the hottest team in the NFL. They had won seven games in a row and were in first place in the AFC East at 9-4 heading into their bye in Week 14. But New England hasn't been the same team over the past month.
After missing the playoffs in 2020 (the first season of the post-Tom Brady era), it's impressive that head coach Bill Belichick got the Pats back to the postseason so quickly. There have been a lot of positives, and the franchise seems to be heading in the right direction again.
If New England wants to beat Buffalo and go on a deep playoff run, though, it needs to reestablish its momentum because little has gone right over the past four weeks.
But the Pats are treating the postseason as a fresh start.
"It's a new season," New England tight end Hunter Henry said, per Reynolds. "It really is. Everything is on the line now."
The Patriots and Bills split their regular-season series, with the road team winning each time. New England won 14-10 in Week 13, while Buffalo avenged that with a 33-21 victory in Week 16.
The Pats now need to beat the Bills again.