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Patriots comeback falls short, 24-20

Sunday, December 15, 2013

 

Would it be more of the same for the New England Patriots, or could they find a way to re-invent themselves as the post-season approaches?

It was a better start Sunday for the Patriots, but the Miami Dolphins - needing a win to stay in the chase for a playoff spot of their own - pulled off a 4th quarter Patriot-like comeback to snap a seven-game losing streak to New England and finish with a last-second 24-20 win in Miami.

With come-from-behind wins over the previous three weeks - each time having to come back from a double-digit deficit - starting strong was definitely a priority against the Dolphins.  After the defense forced a Miami punt on the opening series, the New England offense cranked out a 16-play, 83-yard drive on its' first possession.  Even though the drive resulted in a 22-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal, the march consumed a whopping 7:13 off of the clock, setting the tempo to the Patriots' advantage early.

Both defenses settled in, somewhat surprisingly, from that point forward.  While the Patriots defense has proven challenged in getting off the field on 3rd down plays over the past month, they allowed Miami just three first downs on the first three Dolphins' possessions.  As the second quarter began with New England leading 3-0, Miami began a time-consuming drive on their 33 that stalled short at the Patriots' 24...with two big sacks (from Joe Vellano and Chandler Jones) that helped keep Miami out of the red zone.  On a 42-yard FG attempt, a fumbled snap was recovered by Nate Ebner at the NE 31...giving the defense (and special teams) a huge stop with just over three minutes to play in the first half.

Miami's first four first-half possessions - punt, punt, punt, fumble.  With that kind of effort from the defense, Tom Brady and the offense finally took advantage.  Moving the ball to the Dolphins' 13, Brady found TE Michael Hoomanawanui on a 3rd down play in the end zone, making a tremendous one-handed catch in the back corner for the touchdown...and a 10-0 lead with 1:35 to play before the half.

Which proved to be more than enough time for the Dolphins' offense to answer.  Ryan Tannehill fired a 39-yard TD strike to Mike Wallace with 32 seconds left to get Miami on the board, as the Dolphins' offense finally found the openings in the NE defense for an 82-yard drive (in eight plays) and 10-7 game at halftime.

With the opening drive of the 3rd quarter, a promising New England drive was stopped short at the Miami 30 after three straight Brady incompletions.  Gostkowski came on to attempt a 48-yard FG, which he barely missed wide left.  The miss ended a streak of 21 straight field goals made from inside of 50 yards for Gostkowski...and gave the Dolphins solid field position at their own 38.

An offensive holding call kept Miami from nearing the end zone, but Caleb Sturgis connected on a 32-yard field goal to tie the score at 10-10 with 7:31 to play in the quarter.  After Cameron Wake got to Brady for the first QB sack of the game, a Patriot punt left the Dolphins with the ball at their own 34.  Immediately going to work on the middle of the field against the Pats' linebackers, Tannehill hooked up twice with Brian Hartline...and another to Wallace to reach the NE 18.  After the first penalty of the game against the Patriots was called against Dane Fletcher for interference against Dion Sims, Miami pounded again at the suddenly-softening middle defense to set up a go-ahead score as the 3rd period came to an end.

On the first play of the 4th quarter, Tannehill hit Daniel Thomas with a two-yard scoring pass...giving Miami 17 unanswered points and their first lead at 17-10.  With five 4th quarter comeback wins already this season, Brady set out for #6 by pitching the offense into Dolphin territory, hitting Julian Edelman on a 3rd down pass to the 39.  Again hitting Edelman for two more completions over the middle, the drive fell short on a 3rd down blitz at the Miami five...leading to a 23-yard Gostkowski FG for a 17-13 game, and 7:45 remaining.

For the second time in the game, the Patriots held the ball for 15 plays (16 plays on the first quarter drive) but could only muster two field goals for their efforts.

Needing a stop, the Patriots' "D" delivered as Alfonzo Dennard came hard on a 3rd down corner blitz, forcing an early throw by Tannehill that was tipped at the line of scrimmage.  With 6:43 still to play, NE took over at its' 27, Brady moved the offense with surgical precision, finding Edelman and Austin Collie on completions to the Miami 24.  Then, Edleman (seven 4th quarter receptions, 12 for the game) broke free on a catch and run inside the 20 that he carried into the end zone on a 24-yard completion, and the Patriots moved back on top 20-17 with 4:07 left.

Miami got a big break with field position starting at their own 40 after Gostkowski's kickoff went out of bounds...a rare mistake in the kicking game.  Facing a 4th and five at their own 45, the Dolphins picked up a first down as Tannehill found Charles Clay (his first catch of the day) at the NE 49 just before the two-minute warning.  With 1:24 on the clock, Tannehill found Rishard Matthews open with a tight-rope catch at the NE 14, and two plays later, hit Marcus Thigpen for the go-ahead score, beating Dont'a Hightower into the end zone.

24-20, Miami.  1:15 left.  80 yards away.  Could the Patriots do it again?   Blitzing on almost every play, Brady found Danny Amendola on a 4th and eight to keep the drive alive at the NE 45, and again at the MIA 32 with 37 ticks left on the clock.  Brady to Edleman for 13 more to the 19, 27 seconds left.  After almost hitting Amendola in the end zone, it came down to 4th down from the 14 yard line with seven seconds left, after a 3rd down try to Hoomanawanui could have been called for interference.

Brady was intercepted in the end zone as Michael Thomas, signed just this week off of San Francisco's practice squad, stepped in front of Collie to give Miami its biggest win in several years, keeping them alive in the AFC playoff chase.  For the Patriots, nothing has been clinched yet, not even a playoff spot...and a road game at the defending Super Bowl champ Baltimore looms next week.

Seems like more of the same for New England, after all.  Just not the ending they were hoping for.

Post Game Notes

With a win, the Patriots could have clinched the AFC East Division title for the 5th straight season, and 11th time in Bill Belichick's 14 seasons as head coach...through three quarters, Shane Vereen was held to just three catches for eight yards, after a record-setting 12-catch performance last week against Cleveland...four of Brady's 41 career comeback victories have come against Miami...with the NE loss, Denver moves back into the drivers' seat for the top seed in the AFC, and the Patriots now find themselves potentially slipping to the 3rd spot at 10-4 overall, pending Cincinnati's Sunday game...Brady was 34-55 for 364 yards with two TD's and the INT, Edelman finished the day with 13 receptions for 139 yards in the losing effort, and Amendola had 10 catches for 131 yards...Wallace led MIA with six catches for 105 yards and a score, while Tannehill went 25-37 for 312 yards with three TD's and no picks...the Patriots opened the game with a 16-play, 83-yard drive that drive that resulted in a 22-yard field goal. It is the first time the Patriots scored on their first possession since Oct. 20 at the New York Jets when RB Brandon Bolden finished a 10-play 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown...Brady has now thrown for 300+ yards four straight games.  His personal record is five straight, accomplished in 2009...Brady also passed John Elway for 5th all time in career completions...Edelman set a career high with 139 receiving yards...Gostkowski has now connected on 23 straight field goals in the 4th quarter...

 

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