How could the New England Patriots play this poorly?

How could the New England Patriots play this poorly?

“No,” Belichick finally said in apparent disgust. “Gimme a break.”

But the Patriots couldn't buy a break as they kissed their eight-game win streak goodbye.

Brady didn't complete any of his four passes in the first quarter — unless you consider his first interception to cornerback Xavien Howard. In that opening period, Miami outgained New England 123-2.

Overall, 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). The Patriots did not convert any of their 11 third-down attempts. According to ESPN Stats, the last time that happened to New England was in 1991 … when Belichick was coaching the Cleveland Browns.

Brady uncharacteristically served up two interceptions, both to Howard.

“We lacked energy,” safety Duron Harmon lamented, adding “it seemed like they wanted it more than us.”

As ineffective as the Patriots looked, though, they may have one thing working in their favor. One mark of Belichick’s teams is hyper-focused attention that rarely feeds an actual losing streak. Since 2001, when Brady became the starting quarterback, New England's record following defeats is 40-11. 

How could the New England Patriots play this poorly?

How could the New England Patriots play this poorly?


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The real key for the Patriots, though, may be a player who wasn't on the field Monday. All-pro tight end Rob Gronkowski was suspended for a dirty hit in Week 13 against Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White. The Dolphins used a lot of single-safety looks and tried to disguise their pass rush. But because Miami didn’t have to worry about Gronk, it could focus its attention on smothering New England’s wide receivers. The first pass caught by a Patriot receiver Monday came with 10:18 to play — in the third quarter. Simply put, the Patriot wideouts didn’t get open. Brandin Cooks caught one pass.

Even though Gronkowski will be back, the Steelers historically play a lot of zone and might try to mimic Miami’s strategy. But Pittsburgh's margin for error will also likely be razor thin, given Chris Boswell has needed to drill a game-winning field goals inside the final minute each of the past three weeks. And the defense has not re-calibrated after the crushing loss of linebacker Ryan Shazier.

Still, the Steelers are riding an eight-game winning streak. Given the Patriots will surely be challenged in what is expected to be a playoff-like atmosphere at Heinz Field, racing out to a strong start may be necessary for New England.

“That’s always important in the NFL,” Brady said. “When you play from ahead, you don’t turn the ball over. You can get a lead and play on your terms. A lot of things go your way. Tonight, we got behind and turned it over. Had to play on their terms all night, and they kept mixing up zone and man and ultimately kept us out of a rhythm. And if you don’t convert on third down, it’s not a good sign.

“We’ve got to work hard on all those things. We’re in a decent place, and we’ve got to go to Pittsburgh and try to beat a real good team.”

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