The Patriots are officially eliminated from playoff contention. With the Patriots eliminated, Miami is now the clear front runner for the 7th seed in the playoffs. After this loss to Miami, New England falls to 6-8. This will be the first year the Patriots have missed the playoffs since 2008 when Matt Cassel ended up as the Patriots starter for most of the year. Despite this loss feeling crushing, the Patriots' playoff chances still were around 5%. The Patriots' Week 14 loss to the Rams seemed to put the playoffs basically out of reach. If the Patriots could've managed to win vs. the Rams and Dolphins, they probably would have been able to make it. This would've been due to their useful head-to-head tiebreakers against teams like the Ravens, Raiders, and Dolphins.
To be completely honest, Cam Newton did not have that bad of a game. Newton passed for over 200 yards and ran for 38. However, the Patriots' offense again had Red Zone troubles. The Patriots failed to score a touchdown, and put kicker Nick Folk to work, as he converted all 4 of his field goal attempts successfully. Patriots WR Jakobi Meyers lost a fumble which looked to be costly, but the Patriots defense forced a punt. The game looked to come down to the wire until Miami advanced down the field easily following a Pats FG and scored a crucial TD. This TD made the score 22-12, which would be the final.
Run Defense Problems
The Patriots poor run defense was of heavy aid to the Dolphins offense. The Patriots allowed 250 rushing yards. The Dolphins' 3 touchdowns also all came from run plays. This defensive incompetence was probably due to the player turnover in New England's front seven. The Pats' front seven includes some players the casual Patriots fan would not recognize. Names like Terez Hall, Tashawn Bower, and Byron Cowart line that front seven. These players are relatively inexperienced, explaining their inferior play. The Patriots also lost LB Ja'Whaun Bentley to injury during this game, weakening the defensive front even further. This cobbled together run defense proved to be unhelpful, as Dolphins RB Salvon Ahmed had a day. Ahmed ended up with 122 yards on 22 carries.
The Patriots' pass coverage was marginally better than the run defense. Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa had a lackluster performance, and threw a goal-line INT to CB J.C. Jackson, but beat the Patriots with his legs, rushing for 2 Red Zone TDs. The Patriots also lost one of their defensive stars, Stephon Gilmore, to a knee injury during the game. This weakened the Patriots' defense even further, and it all culminated in a demoralizing 22-12 loss.
With the Patriots Eliminated, What's Next?
Now that the Patriots are eliminated, it presents the question: do the Patriots try to win their final 2 games? I think the Patriots will try to win their final 2 games, but will probably lose to the Bills and beat the Jets. A 7-9 record would move the Patriots up in the draft order, but not noticeably. They could probably snag a WR with this pick, which is an area of crucial need. The Patriots will also have a decent amount of cap space to help re-acquire talent to try to rebuild their roster. The Patriots will also presumably have players like LB Dont'a Hightower and WR Marquise Lee back next year after these players opted out of the 2020 season. Players like these will instantly improve the Patriots' roster outlook.
But overall, the Patriots need more offensive playmakers and need to create a passing game in addition to the established run game. Additionally, if the Patriots bring back Cam Newton, his throwing mechanics and decision making as a passer need to be worked on. With these things in mind, I think the Patriots could build on their rushing attack and create a possibly competitive team. In 2021, of course.