New England Patriots

  • Miami is historically a house of horrors for Bill Belichick’s Patriots. So it’s not the least bit surprising that Sunday’s 20-7 loss essentially came down to two horrific breakdowns, one on each side of the ball.

    The Dolphins were gifted two touchdowns in the game, which made the difference in an otherwise tightly contested battle between two offenses that struggled to consistently move the ball. Both scores took advantage of fundamental errors by the Patriots, which extended to both the players and the coaches.

    When you have a close game decided by two single, inexcusable plays, you’re left wondering what the hell went wrong.

  • Zolak & Bertrand | Reacting to Patriots-Dolphins

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  • Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was short on explanation for what happened on the strip-sack touchdown, which Miami’s Brandon Jones created by getting to quarterback Mac Jones completely unblocked. But Belichick did acknowledge that something went awry in terms of setting protections up front.

    “We didn’t block him,” Belichick said during his Monday video conference. “We had enough people to block him and we just didn’t get it handled right. Obviously.”

    Setting pass protection is typically the responsibility of the quarterback and/or the center, and it’s the coaches’ job to prepare them to do that properly – on every single play. The Patriots have had issues allowing free pass-rushers going back to 2020, with Cam Newton at quarterback.

    That also happens to be the first year since the retirement of former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. They’ve cycled through O-line coaches since then, and now have Matt Patricia and Billy Yates running the group. The revolving door has clearly led to disorganization in the post-Scarnecchia era.

  • Patriots color commentator Scott Zolak, who called the game with Bob Socci on Sunday, attempted to figure out what went wrong on the strip sack as part of his “X’s and Zo’s” segment on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand Monday morning. He’s looking most closely at left tackle Trent Brown, who blocked inside and reacted late as Dolphins safety Brandon Jones blew by him. But he’s also wondering whether the right play-calls were made in the first place.

    “What I need to know is what the line call was, because it’s very difficult for me to put it on one guy,” Zolak said. “Now, the way it looks after you watch [the play], it should’ve been Trent Brown, unless the call was for him to ‘pinch.’ If you’re [told to] pinch, you’re stepping down inside to help, that’s a pinch call. Now, if he’s told to ‘fan,’ now he’s got to step back left and protect the first guy off that left side, which ended up being the strong safety, who perfectly timed up the snap count and hit it at the line of scrimmage and there was no chance of getting it.

    “Was there not a call for [Brown] to fan? If the call is ‘fan,’ his first step is all the way to the left and outside, to get the first defender outside. I see him step down and inside. So something tells me, he either missed the call, or it was the wrong call.”

  • Zolak also explained that the Patriots in the past might have their running back in as a “scan back,” whose job would be to sew up any loose ends as far as blitzes and free rushers. The “last line of defense,” so to speak. But on this play, Damien Harris immediately released into the flat, while tight end Hunter Henry was also deployed as a receiver. If Brown didn’t mess up his assignment, then someone failed to recognize the play coming, because they had enough personnel for a guy to stay back and block.

    The Dolphins tried similar blitzes later in the game and the Patriots successfully adjusted, according to Zolak. But obviously, the damage was done.

    Monday’s bigger mystery, however, is what happened on Tua Tagovailoa’s late-second-quarter touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle. But this could simply be a question for defensive play-caller Steve Belichick, and/or linebackers coach Jerod Mayo. On the play, a fourth-and-7 from their own 42, the Patriots approached it as if the Dolphins were going to hand it off, or run a shorter play to move the chains and give themselves a shot at a field goal.

    The “last line of defense” on this play was safety Kyle Dugger, who took a bad angle to Waddle and whiffed. Dugger was accountable for the play when he spoke to reporters after the game.

    “Terrible angle by me. Bad eyes. I didn’t locate the defender. I didn’t do my job basically; really poor play by me,” Dugger said. “Corners trust in me to be in the middle of the field and I wasn’t there. So it was definitely all me – bad play.”

  • There’s no question that Dugger – and Jalen Mills, for that matter – could have executed better on the play, or put forth more of an effort than they did. But the play belies a lack of focus and poor preparation. Leaving Dugger by himself to prevent a possible touchdown was at best dangerous, if not negligent.

    Linebacker Matthew Judon told reporters after the game that the Patriots defense “know they’ve got to pass it” on that fourth-and-7 play. Which begs the question of why they’d deploy just a single-high safety with so many men down in the box. How prepared were they to defend the pass? Especially THAT pass?

    It’s a subtle indication that there’s still a level of dysfunction between the players and coaches. And that’s the side of the ball that ostensibly has been left up to Steve Belichick and Mayo to clean up themselves, without a need for Bill to intervene.

  • The season is long and there’s time to correct things. They even did some of that in-game on Sunday. But those kinds of back-breaking mistakes rarely happened in the Tom Brady era. Or, perhaps, it should be known as the Scarnecchia/Josh McDaniels/Brian Flores era.

    But the Patriots’ coaching staff is what it is. Even if it never becomes clear who should be blamed for plays like what we saw in Miami, they’ll still need to figure out what happened and fix it with what they’ve got. Help is not on the way.

    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.