- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Picked-up pieces from fourth-quarter review of the Patriots’ 24-20 loss to the Dolphins:
1. An overall tough day for Patriots safety Steve Gregory, as the Dolphins’ touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter was a play he could have made. At the snap, the Dolphins created some play action by pulling tight end Charles Clay right-to-left across the formation, bringing receiver Mike Wallace on a fake right-to-left end-around, and also faking the handoff to running back Daniel Thomas who was headed to the right. Gregory peeked into the backfield at all the run-action and because of it was a step slow to get to the right flat to account for Thomas coming out of the backfield to catch the 2-yard touchdown.
2. Rookie receiver Josh Boyce’s final play of the game was his 19-yard kickoff return with 14:54 remaining. He was seen limping out of the locker room after the game. Three plays later, left tackle Nate Solder took himself off the field.
3. What was probably quarterback Tom Brady’s worst throw of the day came on first-and-10 from the Dolphins’ 13 yard-line (8:42 remaining) when he was in the shotgun with an empty backfield, couldn’t find an initial place to go with the ball, then rolled slightly to his right before throwing into heavy traffic. Brady was fortunate that one wasn’t intercepted as safety Chris Clemons broke on the ball.
4. Those hoping for more red zone runs from the Patriots can point to LeGarrette Blount’s 8-yard run on second-and-10 from the Dolphins’ 13 as one reason why. Blount ran hard, and on a day when the Patriots didn’t have any big targets in the red zone, it seems fair to wonder if they could have benefitted from turning a bit more to their big back to see what he could produce.
5. On the next play, third-and-2, Dolphins end Derrick Shelby came in untouched between right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Marcus Cannon, who were engaged with rushers, to force an incompletion. Bill Belichick said the Dolphins were bringing many defenders up to the line in the red zone -- sometimes rushing with them, and sometimes backing off -- and on this play it looked like the line needed to slide to the right at the snap. When that didn’t happen, it created the dreaded runaway rusher because the Dolphins had five rushers against four blockers, which is seldom a good thing for an offense.
6. One of the positives for the Patriots in the game was improvement on third-down defense. The Dolphins were 4-of-11 on third down, and a corner blitz by Alfonzo Dennard (6:57 remaining) produced one of those stops. The undermanned defense, which couldn’t come up with the big stop on the Dolphins’ winning drive, did have one on the previous march. So it wasn’t all bad.
7. Receiver Julian Edelman seemed peeved that umpire Fred Bryan created a traffic jam on an incomplete pass over the middle (4:34 remaining) on the drive that the Patriots went ahead 20-17. But that didn’t deter Edelman from using Bryan as a human shield of sorts on the next play -- a 24-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Edelman aligned to the right of the formation and came across the middle behind Bryan, who had to duck as Brady delivered a dart. Dolphins safety Reshad Jones took a bad angle (somewhat impeded by tight end Michael Hoomanawanui) and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe over-pursued and Edelman was gone.
8. On the fourth-and-5 play in which Dolphins tight end Charles Clay caught a screen and ran 6 yards, the Patriots were in their 4-1-6 dime defense. Clay initially aligned in the backfield before motioning to the far right (cornerback Logan Ryan lined up across from him). The throw to Clay was a bit behind him, but he made a nice catch and was able to get up field as tight end Dion Sims blocked down on Ryan, and safety Devin McCourty and linebacker Dane Fletcher were blocked. Safety Steve Gregory made initial contact at the Miami 48, which would have stopped Clay short, but it wasn’t a clean shot and Clay lunged forward for another 3 yards for the first down. The Patriots’ best cornerback, Aqib Talib, had aligned over receiver Brian Hartline on the opposite side where the Dolphins had three receivers.
9. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower has taken some heat for his coverage on running back Marcus Thigpen’s go-ahead 14-yard touchdown catch, but as ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi pointed out, he was initially responsible for jamming tight end Charles Clay at the line of scrimmage. Hightower has had struggles in coverage at times this season, and asking him to jam one player and then cover another is significant. The Patriots had switched their linebacker personnel on the play, taking off the 4-1-6 dime with Dane Fletcher and going to the 4-2-5 nickel with Hightower and Brandon Spikes at linebacker. That decision backfired on them.
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