Who would have expected the Dolphins to be in this situation just a little over a month ago? It feels like the weekly paper cuts are starting to add up and this once promising 8-3 squad has all but played their way out of playoff contention. They still have a viable path forward to the postseason-win and root for Buffalo against New England-but they’ve missed so many opportunities to lock this up, it’s hard to have faith at this point.
So what specifically went awry in New England? Well first off, they were without a large number of their star players. In a season that has been plagued by meaningful injuries to this team, they were especially shorthanded without Terron Armstead, Tua Tagovailoa, Xavien Howard, and Bradley Chubb (that’s over 28% of their 2023 salary cap).
Even with those injuries, the Dolphins seemed in control of this game with a touchdown lead half way through the third quarter. The defense was playing well and the offense was moving the ball effectively. Well then, what happened? Let’s take a look at the game defining plays to figure out what went wrong.
More Games are Lost than Won
This was a game that Miami gave away. Maybe they lose anyway without the mistakes, but they give themselves a much better chance. There was one series that really decided the outcome of the game, can you guess which one?
Here was the play sequence that ended up costing Miami the game in New England. pic.twitter.com/PZD7w8Lk4K— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) January 4, 2023
This drive starts with 3:51 left in the 3rd quarter. The Patriots just capped a drive with a field goal, so the score is 14-10 (Miami leads). That field goal is the first points the Patriots managed to score since the middle of the 1st quarter. Some points on this drive would be great, but the biggest thing is to maintain the lead.
Play #1: They go play action here with a two man route concept w/Ingold and Wilson leaking out as possible check downs. Teddy has Tyreek for a 1st down if he throws early, but ends up holding the ball and taking a shot (I believe this is where he hurts his pinky).
Play #2: Shell can’t get enough of Barmore and he splits him and Hunter Long to knife into the backfield. Outside of Barmore, it’s blocked up well and would probably have been a nice play.
Play #3: False start on Brandon Shell. Now a 3rd &15 rather than 3rd &10.
Play #4: Empty set with max protect. Three man route concept with a checkdown to the running back. New England has it completely covered up, but Teddy tries to squeeze it into an impossible window. Should have thrown it away or checked it down.
These are the moments or drives where good (or dare I say great) teams tend to announce to the league that they’re for real. The Patriots bring it to within four points, but if the Dolphins score a touchdown on this drive or manage to eat up clock and kick a field goal, they probably walk away with the win.
The Patriots take the lead on the interception return and on the very next drive, Skylar Thompson (who had to come in when Teddy got hurt on the previous drive), throws another interception. After a pair of punts (one from Miami and one from NE), the Patriots score a touchdown to make it 24-14 and that’s all she wrote.
Running out of Chances
This team has had countless opportunities to punch their ticket to the playoffs during the second half the season. Miraculously, they still have an opportunity to do it next week against the New York Jets. It looks like they’ll be without Teddy Bridgewater and Tua Tagovailoa against the Jets, after the team added Mike Glennon for emergency depth.
That means we will see rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson face off against one of the best secondaries in the NFL with a playoff birth (potentially) on the line. I can’t say I love our chances but it would make for one heck of a story, wouldn’t it?