Patriots fall to Dolphins, 22-21
I don’t have a whole lot to say about this game. I didn’t see it, and from looking at the Gamebook it looks like New England gave as good as they got, but fell in the last two minutes off a field goal. Normally playing the reigning division champs to a near-stalemate would be reason for pride, it isn’t in this case. The Dolphins were missing their best player in RB Ronnie Brown and were still able to come away with a win off of three field goals by K Dan Carpenter as well as a stellar game by QB Chad Henne.
Which just drives home the sad truth that makes this Patriots team different from the 2001-07 editions: an inability to win close games. The defense falls apart in the second half, and allows teams to come back and keep the game close while waiting for a late-game break that might allow them to take the lead. It happened against the Colts. It happened against the Broncos. And now it happened against the Dolphins, which puts them just one game out of first place in the division and drops the Patriots to 7-5. Cincinnati defeated the hapless Lions and San Diego is comfortably ahead of the equally-hapless Browns as of this post. With a Chargers win, the Patriots slide to two games behind the Bengals and Chargers in the race for the #2 seed in the AFC.
This isn’t the first time the Patriots have gone into the final four weeks of the season only two games north of .500. A best case scenario would be the 2001 season, where New England ran the gamut from then on and emerged as Super Bowl champions in one of the greatest upsets in NFL history. In 2002, the Patriots went from Super Bowl champions to 9-7 and out of the playoffs. In 2005, the Patriots finished 10-6 and won their division, only to fall to an overpowering Denver team in the Divisional round. They were also 7-5 at Week 13 of last year, finished 11-5, and missed the playoffs.
For now, the Patriots go home to play the 5-7 Carolina Panthers. While New England is undefeated at home this season and are 17-2 in December the last 5 years, the Panthers have a dangerous rushing attack led by RB Jonathan Stewart and RB DeAngelo Williams. The last meeting between these teams was a 27-17 victory for Carolina in Week 2 of 2005 as they avenged their Super Bowl XXXVIII loss.