For the first time since 2008, the Patriots (6-8) will be on the outside looking in of the playoffs. The Dolphins (9-5) officially eliminated their AFC East rivals from postseason contention after handing them a 22-12 loss on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. Meanwhile, Miami continues to hold its own playoff destiny in its hands, only needing to win out to stamp a ticket in.
This game was slow to start; both clubs failed to put up points in the first quarter as the defenses stepped up early. New England had the game's first momentum swing as J.C. Jackson picked off Tua Tagovailoa to end a 95-yard drive by the Dolphins offense with no points. The Patriots capitalized on that turnover with a field goal and eventually added to that lead with another boot by Nick Folk prior to halftime.
The problem for the Patriots was that they could never reach the end zone, constantly leaning on Folk to put points on the board with his foot. That failure to get touchdowns throughout the contest opened the door for Miami to get back in this game rather quickly. Coming out at halftime, Tagovailoa flashed his first-round potential by leading three touchdowns drives that traveled over 70 yards apiece to eventually take the led over New England. As Miami piled up 22 points in the second half, the Patriots continued to have problems finding the end zone and managed just six points off two more field goals by Folk.
Cam Newton finished his day with 209 yards passing. Meanwhile, Tagovailoa completed 20 of his 26 throws for 145 yards, a touchdown and a pick, also rushing for two touchdowns. With Miami missing key figures like receiver DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki, Brian Flores leaned on the ground game and did so splendidly. The Patriots had no answer to a Dolphins rushing attack that totaled 250 yards on six yards per carry and three scores.
For a deeper breakdown of how this game unfolded, check out our main takeaways below.
Why Miami won
The Dolphins largely played a clean game outside of one interception by Tagovailoa in the first quarter and they simply didn't shoot themselves in the foot. That discipline play highlighted the deficiencies that the Patriots have on offense and the Dolphins did a strong job at keeping them out of the end zone and settling for field goals. Even as Miami trailed going into halftime, the deficit was just six points, which Tagovailoa and company were able to make quick work of in the third quarter, marching 72 yards down the field for a touchdown to open things up. Once the Dolphins starting to find a nose for the end zone, they were able to run away with this contest, piling up 22 points in the second half to New England's six.
With key skill position players like Parker and Gesicki sidelined, the Dolphins leaned on the ground game and did so splendidly. As a team, they rushed for 250 yards and three touchdowns. Salvon Ahmed led the way with 122 and score while Tagovailoa rushed for two touchdowns in the win.
Why New England lost
The offense continues to be the Achilles heel for Bill Belichick's club. Despite 303 yards of total offense, New England failed to reach the end zone in Week 15 and it proved to be their undoing. The defense did its part in the first half by shutting out the Dolphins, but the offense wasn't able to fully capitalize on it and managed just two field goals before the break. Those scoring issues continued for the Patriots in the second half as they added just six more points off two Nick Folk attempts while the Dolphins found a groove and outscored this unit by 16 over the final two quarters.
The 250 rushing yards allowed were the fourth-most given up in the Bill Belichick era and allowed the Dolphins to have tremendous advantages in time of possession, first down differential, and total plays.
After the Dolphins came out of the locker room at halftime and scored their first touchdown of the day, the Patriots were eventually able to retake the lead courtesy of a 45-yard field goal by Nick Folk with just over four minutes to play in the third. That lead didn't last long, however, as Tagovailoa led a 90-yard touchdown drive that gave Miami a lead that they'd hold the rest of the way.
At the time, the Dolphins only went out to a six-point advantage over Bill Belichick's club, but by how the Patriots offense had played up until that point a six-point lead might as well have been a 36 point deficit. New England managed another field goal on its ensuing drive and Miami thumped them with a touchdown. Ballgame.
Play of the game
Gotta give credit to the style points when you can. After Tagovailoa was able to weave his way in for his second rushing touchdown of the day, Miami elected to go for two to try and extend its lead to six. Brian Flores' club then deployed a hook-and-ladder conversion attempt, which they executed to perfection. Tagovailoa completed a pass out left to receiver Isaiah Ford, who then tossed it to Salvon Ahmed and the running back had no issue cruising into the end zone for two.
There was some extra juice to this play as Ford was acquired by the Patriots at the deadline earlier this season but was eventually waived and the receiver found his way back to Miami. While this play is hardly enough to qualify this contest as a "revenge game" the ex-Patriot was a thorn in his former team's side on Sunday.
From here, the Patriots will finish out the stretch at Gillette Stadium with matchups against the AFC East champion Bills and Jets. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are looking down the barrel of two critical games to keep their playoff hopes alive. They head to Las Vegas to face the Raiders in Week 16 and then finish out the regular season in Buffalo against the Bills.