The New England Patriots suffered one of the worst regular season losses of the Brady-Belichick era, allowing a four-win Miami Dolphins team to come into Gillette Stadium and leave with a 27-24 win. Here are five quick takes from the stunning defeat.
1. Defense fails when its needed most
This coming week should have been an opportunity to take a step back and assess where this Patriots defense ranks among the league's greatest of the last 35 years. Instead, the unit will have to come to grips with its stunning failure on the biggest drive of the season, one that will result in New England playing on Wild Card weekend for the first time in a decade.
After the Patriots put together an 8-play, 60-yard scoring drive to take a 24-20 lead with 3:53 left in the game, the defense only needed one stop to all but ensure the team would win and clinch the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Instead, the unit allowed itself to be picked apart by Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins' offense, surrendering two third-down conversions before Fitzpatrick hit tight end Mike Gesicki for a 5-yard touchdown with 24 seconds to play.
For a defense that by all measures ranks among the best in league history, it was an almost inconceivable outcome.
2. Parker bests Gilmore
One of the biggest surprises of the day was the performance of Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker, who went head to head with Stephon Gilmore and largely came out on top. Parker made eight catches for 137 yards on 11 targets, primarily with Gilmore in coverage, including three catches on the final drive that helped set the Dolphins up inside the Patriots' red zone.
Overall, Fitzpatrick went 28 for 41 with 320 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots' defense, and Parker's decisive victory in his matchup over Gilmore played a big part in the game playing out the way it did.
3. Double-score squandered
The Patriots offense was terrible in the first half, but shortly before halftime an opportunity to potentially gain some momentum presented itself. After stuffing a Miami run on 3rd and 10 with 1:50 to play in the half, it looked as if the Patriots could run a two-minute drill, maybe get some points on the board, and then possibly execute a double-score after getting the ball back to start the second half. Instead, Bill Belichick pocketed his timeouts and ran the clock out to end the half, and coming out of the break the team immediately went three and out to effectively waste two valuable possessions.
Given the final margin of defeat, even a field goal on one of those drives would have potentially made a big difference.
4. Roberts catches touchdown pass
On a day where little went right for the Patriots, one notable highlight was the performance of Elandon Roberts. The linebacker turned fullback was once again an integral part of the Patriots offense, playing a key role in both of the team's touchdowns.
On Sony Michel's 4-yard touchdown run in the second, Roberts plowed through the line to clear a wide open hole for Michel to run through. Then in the third, Roberts made one of the most memorable plays of the season, grabbing a 38-yard touchdown catch while breaking several tackles to tie the score at 17-17. Beyond simply being awesome, the touchdown also was the 540th of Tom Brady's career, moving him past Peyton Manning for No. 2 on the all-time list behind Drew Brees.
How did he feel about it after the game?
"It's straight. We lost," said Roberts afterwards.
5. No rest for Edelman
Julian Edelman has taken a beating over the past few weeks, but with the Patriots in need of a win to clinch the bye, they couldn't justify sitting him to rest for the playoffs. The team wound up splitting the difference, playing Edelman primarily as a decoy who wasn't particularly involved in the offense. Edelman finished with three catches for 26 yards on seven targets, giving him 100 catches for 1,117 yards on the season, but with the loss, he won't see much of a benefit in terms of rest. New England will be back in action next weekend at Gillette Stadium, and Edelman will be needed if the Patriots are going to make any kind of playoff run.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.