Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
3:58
PM ET

MIAMI -- Thoughts on the New England Patriots' 24-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium:

What it means: The Patriots fall to 10-4 and miss out on the chance to clinch the AFC East. Furthermore, after they had the door open to potentially earn a No. 1 playoff seed with wins in their final three games, that opportunity is now off the board. This game came down to a few plays, as many of the Patriots' games have this season. A gutsy call by the Dolphins to go for it on fourth down on their winning march was a biggie. The Patriots had a valiant final drive that fell just short.

Up-and-down defense can't hold: When the Patriots needed their defense to come up with the stop, the unit couldn't deliver. It didn't help that normally reliable kicker Stephen Gostkowski booted a kickoff out of bounds, giving Miami the ball at the 40-yard line. The injury-ravaged defense had its moments, but two things stand out: (1) When it needed to come up with the big stop in the big moment, it couldn't; (2) The turnovers have dried up the past two weeks, and that's not good news for a D that thrives on them. Without those turnovers, the D is vulnerable.

Great finish: From a pure football standpoint regardless of rooting interest, most would agree that this was another thrilling finish. The Patriots' resilience was on display again, as they showed they are a tough team to knock out. The Dolphins deserve credit for doing so -- as it took all 60 minutes.

Stock watch: Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui earns a spot here for a sensational one-handed 13-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. The Patriots had been stopped in the red zone on their first trip, and just when it seemed like the loss of Rob Gronkowski was playing a major role in the team's red zone struggles ... Hoomanawanui delivered. Still, red zone struggles overall were an issue in the game.

Injuries to monitor: Starting left tackle Nate Solder, who had been on the injury report with a concussion, left the game in the second half and did not return. The team announced that he had a head injury. ... There was no official announcement, but rookie receiver/kickoff returner Josh Boyce didn't finish the game, with Austin Collie taking his place. That could have been performance-related.

What's next: The Patriots visit the Ravens on Sunday. The game will kick off at 4:25 p.m. ET after being flexed out of prime time.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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