If someone watched their first game of the 2017 NFL season on Monday night, they’d have no doubt the Miami Dolphins were the superior team to the New England Patriots.
The Dolphins domination of the Patriots in a 27-20 win was thorough and shocking, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. The way the Patriots looked, with little answer for Jay Cutler on defense and practically nothing from any wide receiver combined with an off night from Tom Brady, there will be overreactions this week. The Patriots looked terrible, there’s no way around that.
And it doesn’t matter.
The Patriots’ season won’t be defined by one off performance in Miami, but it very well could be defined by what happens against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. If the Patriots win, they’ll be in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Their final two games are at home against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. The loss on Monday probably won’t affect where the Patriots end up being seeded in the AFC. The Patriots are famously laser-focused, but they’re human and it sure looked like they were looking ahead to the Steelers.
One key takeaway from Monday night is the Patriots need to get healthy. We know Rob Gronkowski, suspended for Monday night’s game, will return. They need some reinforcements in the front seven. Defensive end Trey Flowers and linebacker Kyle Van Noy were both inactive, tackle Alan Branch went out early with a knee injury, and it showed. Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake met little resistance with 114 yards rushing and 79 more receiving. Jay Cutler had a throwback performance with 263 yards and three touchdowns. The Dolphins controlled the game more completely than the final score indicated.
That the Patriots didn’t seem engaged doesn’t explain away everything. The lack of any big plays by any receiver was troubling. No Patriots receiver even caught a pass in the first half. Brady played his worst game of the season, and perhaps in many seasons. The Patriots didn’t convert a third down all night. That’s the first time the Patriots failed to convert a third down in a game since a 1991 loss to the Phoenix Cardinals. There was nothing positive out of the performance. It’s not the way you want to look going into the biggest game of the season. But given that the Patriots hadn’t lost in more than two months, it’s probably not a sign that they are suddenly falling apart.
Ultimately, Monday night’s loss will be a footnote if the Patriots win their final three games of the regular season. They’ll get the No. 1 seed if they do that, and the playoffs will come through New England. Maybe it was best for the Patriots to get this absolute clunker out of their system now.
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