By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
One game-winning touchdown. One season-changing play. That is how quickly things can turn on a team in the NFL; just seconds away from taking care of business, the Patriots came up one play short. Woefully, horrendously short.
It’s hard to put into words what just happened to this Patriots team and their season as a result of Kenyan Drake’s miracle last-second touchdown in the Dolphins’ 34-33 win on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. But here’s an attempt.
At the end of the day, a loss in Miami is nothing shocking for Tom Brady, who fell to 7-10 in his career there. But on an afternoon when Brady would’ve been the reason they won if the defense didn’t implode on the final play of the game, the way the Dolphins pulled this one off is worth talking about. And will be talked about for a long, long time.
The most glaring miscue on Drake’s touchdown, the one that will get the most attention, was by Rob Gronkowski, who took a bad angle as the “deep safety” on the final play and stumbled as Drake outran him to the pylon. It’s possible that Gronkowski, who usually defends against Hail Mary plays but not laterals, wasn’t supposed to be out there in the first place. But there were several inexcusable mistakes before the play even got to that point.
Jonathan Jones can’t wrap up Kenny Stills, who made the final reception and got off his quick lateral in time. J.C. Jackson doesn’t get to DeVante Parker in time as he flips it to Drake. Another missed tackle, this time by Kyle Van Noy, springs Drake back toward the middle of the field, where he slips through an opening behind Trey Flowers and Stephon Gilmore. Chung takes a bad angle of his own and gets sealed off. Drake bounces back to the sideline and he’s off for the end zone from there, as Gronkowski got caught closer to the middle and clearly didn’t have the speed to catch up with him.
Game over. Just like that, the Patriots go from maintaining No. 2 seed in the AFC, with No. 1 in sight, to needing some serious help to have any hope of reaching the top of the conference.
It looked like the Chiefs would give the Patriots the break they needed, at one time trailing 24-17 to the Baltimore Ravens. But K.C. battled back to win 27-24 and put themselves in a very strong position for home field throughout the AFC playoffs at 11-2. The Houston Texans, however, did lose to fall to 9-4 themselves and keep the Patriots ahead of them in the conference. The Chargers have a chance to move to 10-3, presenting another possible roadblock to the No. 1 seed even if the Chiefs faltered.
Not all is lost for the Patriots after this defeat. A win in Pittsburgh next Sunday would certainly take a lot of the sting away. But it just stings so bad.
That’s the kind of game-losing breakdown you never see in the NFL, especially not from a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team. If the Pats end up faltering on the road in the playoffs, this will be the loss (the one play?) that’s pointed to that sent their season south. It’s the type of loss that could change a season one way or another. And this loss basically happened on one incredible, back-breaking play. And those adjectives don’t do it justice.
But if any team can also rebound from a defeat like this, it’s the Patriots. At the end of the day, it took a miracle for it to happen.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.