Maybe they were looking ahead. Maybe injuries finally caught up to them. Maybe the suspension of star tight end Rob Gronkowski was too much to overcome.
Whatever the ailment — or combination of them — the New England Patriots flopped 27-17 in a stunning loss to the Miami Dolphins Monday night, snapping an eight-game winning streak and preventing them from clinching the AFC East.
Next Sunday’s marquee matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which will likely determine supremacy in the AFC, suddenly lost a little luster.
What was most shocking was the degree of futility the Patriots (10-3) displayed.
In the first quarter, quarterback Tom Brady did not complete any of his four passes — unless you consider an interception to Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. In that first period, Miami (6-7) outgained New England 123-2.
The Dolphins dominated the Patriots in first downs (21 to 14), time of possession (36:09 to 23:51), and total yards (362 to 248).
Third downs killed drive after drive. The Patriots, who entered Week 14 ranked fourth in the league converting 44.9% of their third down tries, failed to convert a single one of their 11 attempts.
Wide receivers just could not separate and get open. Brady’s first completion to a receiver came with 10:18 to play … in the third quarter. He finished the game completing 24 of 43 passes for 233 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Brady never appeared comfortable, was under pressure most of the night, and appeared to have problems diagnosing Miami’s coverages.
This was the first time New England, which had restricted opponents to 11.9 points a game during its winning streak, allowed more than 17 points since a Week 4 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
The Patriots sorely missed Gronkowski, who was suspended for a dirty hit last week against Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White. They also could have used starting right tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle) and a number of key contributors on the defensive line.
As ugly as it was, one silver lining remains: If New England defeats the Steelers (11-2) in Week 15, they’ll have the inside track to home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.