FOXBOROUGH — The New England Patriots’ habit of trailing in the fourth quarter was bound to catch up with them.
When it did, it cost them a chance to clinch their fifth straight AFC East title.
Discouraging? Not to defensive end Rob Ninkovich.
“I just look at the next opportunity to play another game,” he said Monday. “You can’t get discouraged in the NFL. If you do, it’s not going to help you the next weekend.”
The Miami Dolphins moved two games behind the Patriots in the division with a 24-20 win over New England on Sunday sealed by Michael Thomas’ interception in the end zone with 2 seconds left after Tom Brady had thrown three straight incompletions.
It was the fifth straight game the Patriots (10-4) were behind in the fourth quarter and the fourth time in that stretch that the outcome was decided in the final minute.
“A game shouldn’t come down to the last four plays,” tight end Michael Hoomanawanui said. “We have to play better throughout the whole game.”
At least they led at halftime on Sunday for the first time in five weeks. But a Miami touchdown drive in the final two minutes cut the Patriots lead to 10-7 at intermission.
“Every NFL football game comes down to a few plays,” Ninkovich said. “In every game, even a game where it’s kind of a blowout, there’s a few (games) that could go the other way if the (plays) are not made.”
Just ask Stephen Gostkowski.
In a 27-26 win over the Cleveland Browns, he kicked a 50-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, then executed the Patriots first successful onside kick in 18 years to set up the winning touchdown pass with 31 seconds left.
But just one week later, in Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins (8-6), Gostkowski failed on a 48-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter, just his third miss of the season. Then he sent a kickoff out of bounds after the Patriots took a 20-17 lead on a 24-yard pass from Brady to Julian Edelman with 4:07 remaining.