Sunday's Loss Was About More than Miraculous Play for the New England Patriots

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Let's just get this out of the way now.  The play that ended Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins was embarrassing. It might have been the single worst defensive play in NFL history. There was little resistance offered by the Patriot defense. It felt as if everybody who was out there thought somebody else was going to make the tackle. Nobody on the defense thought Kenyan Drake had any real chance of scoring before it was too late.


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

It's easy to say this now, but I was pleading for the Pats to go for it on their final fourth down late in the game. Best case, they score and - provided Gostkowski decides to hit the extra point - they go up 9 points and the final seconds become irrelevant. Worst case, they continue to suck in the red zone, come up empty on fourth down and give the ball back to Miami with less than 20 seconds left. Now, they're only up two points, but Miami has the ball inside their own 10 with no timeouts. It really would've taken a miracle for the Dolphins to pull that one out. 

Yet, they decided to kick the field goal, and you know the rest. Then while the Dolphins celebrated the fact that their playoff hopes were still alive, the Patriots kissed home field advantage goodbye, and lamented a missed opportunity to create some separation between themselves and the Houston Texans in the race for a first round bye. The last play of the game was just an exclamation point on what was another putrid defensive effort on the road. 

I consider myself an optimist when it comes to the Patriots; others may call me delusional. Either way, I've tried to stay positive on the defense all year because of the way they have played at home, against some good competition. However, after its latest showing, I've resigned myself to the fact that I have no idea what is going to happen with this team each week. Each week, I've held out hope that the defense that has shown up at Gillette Stadium, would decide to make the trip. It's led to disappointment just about every week. 

Yes, the last play of the game had me yelling things at the TV that would not make my mother proud. It's more than the frustration from that play that has me down on the defense. The inability to stop a 90-year old Frank Gore and a special teamer in Brandon Bolden pushed me over the edge. The only time Bolden should run for 60 yards, is if he gets 60 carries. His first touchdown was inexcusable. It looked as if even his former teammates didn't take him seriously, because nobody came even close to touching him. 

The Dolphins ran for 189 yards, and averaged a ridiculous 9 yards per carry. The Patriots controlled the clock, holding the ball for 11 more minutes than Miami, but it didn't matter. The defense offered no resistance and couldn't come up with any timely stops. Miami moved up and down the field, and fast. Every touchdown drive for Miami lasted 6 plays or less. 

Now, I'm entering every road game with hopes that the defense is able to get one or two stops throughout the game, and the offense is able to score 30+. I think that's the way they're going to need to win on the road; even though 33 points wasn't enough this week. 

The worst part about that loss is that it overshadowed the play of the offense. All the attention Rob Gronkowski is getting because of his inability to tackle should be directed towards his performance on the other side of the ball. It was his best game of the year, and he looked like the Gronkowski we've grown accustomed to seeing; a great sign headed into the postseason. 

The defensive meltdown also distracts folks from the games that Julian Edelman and Tom Brady had. It was certainly Edelman's best game this year and it was up there for Brady as well. Brady made some great throws, moved well in the pocket and it didn't feel like he forced the ball to one particular guy all game. He hit the open man for the most part. It was another strong game for Josh Gordon as well, as he continues to prove his worth. The inability to run the ball was unfortunate, but didn't really affect what the offense wanted to do. 

All this being said, I have no idea what to expect this week when the Pats travel to Pittsburgh. Losers of three straight, the Steelers season seems to be slipping away. With a trip to New Orleans on the horizon next week, Pittsburgh is fighting for its playoff lives this week. The Pats could be catching them in a vulnerable state coming off of a bad loss to a bad Oakland team, or they could be catching a desperate team at home fighting for its season. 

James Connor may not play, but I think at this point it doesn't matter who is in the backfield against this defense. After what I saw last week, it wouldn't shock me to see Stevan Ridley run for 75 yards and two touchdowns this week. Also, if they had trouble covering Kenny Stills, how the heck are they going to fare with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster?

I expect the offense to have its way with Pittsburgh's defense, as it usually does with Brady under center. Derek Carr just picked them apart last week. I'd expect the Pats to put up 31 this week, but will it be enough? 

Both teams are talented, but this game is going to be about mental toughness. The Steelers' season is slipping away. Will they be locked in, or a little shaken by recent performances? The Patriots were 7 seconds away from clinching another division title and playoff spot. After a crushing loss, how do they respond? 

This game could test the Patriots' resilience in multiple ways. Given their play of late, and the magnitude of this game, I'm expecting the Steelers to show some fight early on. How will the Patriots handle an early punch from Pittsburgh? If they find themselves down a couple of scores early, do they have the toughness to weather that early storm and fight back in a hostile environment? It's something they haven't been able to do this year.

There are some interesting storylines and subplots for what is always a fun game between these two rivals. The Patriots still control their own destiny in terms of securing a first round bye. With games remaining against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, both at home, a win on Sunday virtually locks up that bye for New England. It should be fun.


Follow me on Twitter - @mcvay34


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Boston Sports Syndicate: Sunday's Loss Was About More than Miraculous Play for the New England Patriots
Sunday's Loss Was About More than Miraculous Play for the New England Patriots
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