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Monday, December 16, 2013

Nothing Will Be Easy For The Patriots From Here on Out This Season

It was a very weird day in the AFC: the Patriots had a golden opportunity this afternoon to take control of the No. 1 seed with a win in Miami (after Denver loss to San Diego on Thursday). Unfortunately, the Dolphins (8-6 overall, 4-3 home) had other plans though as they beat New England (10-4 overall, 3-4 away) 24-20 at Sun Life Stadium. The Pats just missed out on another last-second victory as Michael Thomas picked off Tom Brady (34 of 55 for 364 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) in the end zone to wrap it up. The night ended with plenty of help from the Bengals as they lost 30-20 at the Steelers to remain in the No. 3 spot in the conference.

I'd like to come up with a more creative reason or a viewpoint not already shared by most but New England's biggest issues: injuries on defense and not having Rob Gronkowski particularly in the red zone (1 of 4) were a major factor in this loss. Julian Edelman (career-high 13 catches, 139 yards, 1 TD) and Danny Amendola (10 catches, 131 yards) were locked in with Brady, they combined for 33 of 54 targets (61%). Miami clearly focused on shutting down Shane Vereen (2 carries, 13 yards; 3 catches, 8 yards) and without Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, that's pretty much where Brady's options sit.

This is to take nothing away from the Dolphins, they are a good team and with their last two games at Bills then hosting the Jets, they could very well find themselves in the postseason as well. Ryan Tannehill (25 of 37 for 312 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) is improving and they are tough to beat when Mike Wallace (6 catches, 105 yards, 1 TD) is involved in the game-plan.

The first three quarters were actually pretty dull, setting the stage for a wild fourth in the heat. New England went 16 plays for 83 yards on their opening drive but they had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski (remember that). Michael Hoomanawanui made his first touchdown catch as a Patriot a memorable one: he speared it with one-hand to give the Pats a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Wallace shook loose for a 39-yard touchdown catch and run with 32 seconds left in the first half. It was a huge momentum swing for the Dolphins and conversely against the Patriots' defense which had pitched a shutout up to that point. A 32-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis was the only score of the third quarter and it tied things at 10.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Dolphins went up 17-10 on a two-yard touchdown catch by Daniel Thomas. Apparently New England had never seen a swing pass before. The Pats had another long drive (15 plays, 67 yards) stall in the red zone (sense a pattern here?) and Gostkowski's 23-yard field goal cut it to 17-16.

After a timely stop by New England's defense, yes this really happened, Edelman caught a 24-yard touchdown (similar to Wallace's) that gave his team a temporary 20-17 lead. Of course Miami went right down the field and Tannehill found Marcus Thigpen for a 14-yard touchdown. Dont'a Hightower was burned by that nobody, proving yet again that he can't do anything right.

New England is at Baltimore (7-6) next Sunday afternoon (4:25, CBS) at M&T Bank Stadium in the game that was flexed out of Sunday Night Football for Bears-Eagles (huh?). The Ravens are in Detroit tomorrow night for Monday Night Football so hopefully that important game takes something out of them along with the short week of preparation. The Ravens are always a tough matchup for the Patriots and this will be the first time they've met since last season's AFC Championship shellacking by Baltimore at Gillette Stadium en route to their unexpected Super Bowl triumph vs. San Francisco.

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