Have the New England Patriots reverted back to their old ways?

Christian Barmore #90 and Joejuan Williams #33 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Christian Barmore #90 and Joejuan Williams #33 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The 2021 NFL regular season is officially in the books. The New England Patriots ended the season with yet another frustrating loss, this time at the hands of the Miami Dolphins, dropping their final record to 10-7.

While it was ultimately pretty inconsequential considering the Patriots had already clinched a playoff spot last weekend, it would have been nice to end the regular season on a high note.

Instead, the Patriots finished off the regular season losing three of their last four games, which ultimately resulted in them throwing away the top seed in the AFC East and settling for a wild card spot instead. It’s hard to believe we were talking about the Patriots as the best team in the AFC just a month ago, but hey, a wild card spot is still a pretty good finish for the first season of the Mac Jones era.

But the Patriots don’t appear to be trending in the right direction heading towards the playoffs, and that’s certainly a bit worrisome. They have really been beating themselves lately rather than actually getting outplayed by their opponent, and you can make a pretty decent case that they should beaten both the Dolphins yesterday and the Indianapolis Colts right after their bye week last month had they just gotten out of their own way.

Truth be told, this team has looked as bad as they looked to open the season, and that’s not a good sign. They started the season making tons of horrible mistakes that ended up killing them, and cleaned them all up during their seven game win streak in the middle of the season. But now the mistakes are back, and they couldn’t have popped up at a worse time.

The New England Patriots need to clean up their mistakes if they want any shot of advancing in the playoffs

Maybe it’s just the hometown bias, but I came away from this game thoroughly convinced the Patriots were a better team than Miami. Yes, the Dolphins had a very good gameplan that they executed well, but truth be told, they didn’t really have to do much in this one. Tua Tagovailoa only threw for 109 yards, and the Pats offense committed three turnovers (although one came on the final play of the game).

Before you even had a second to sit down, the Patriots found themselves in a quick 14-0 hole. Deficits like that aren’t very easy to overcome. The defense couldn’t stop Miami’s offense on the opening drive, and Jones threw a pick six on his third snap that essentially guaranteed New England would be playing from behind for most of the afternoon.

This was only the tip of the iceberg. The defense couldn’t stop Duke Johnson on the ground and dropped at least three would-be interceptions that were gifts from Tagovailoa. The offense committed some frustrating turnovers, with Jones mishandling of Ted Karras‘ snap midway through the third quarter being particularly devastating. And the special teams unit continued to struggle, committing a pair of penalties that directly led to a pair of field goals for Miami.

And yet the New England Patriots were in this game right until the end. They were down by 17 points with under seven minutes to go, and had they stopped Tagovailoa on a third and 8 right after the two minute warning, they would have had a shot to at least tie the game. Had they erased their mistakes from earlier in the game, this probably wouldn’t have even been a contest.

Instead, we can add this game to the list that is filled with what-ifs and what-could-have-beens. What if Jones didn’t throw a pick six or commit a fumble deep in Miami territory? What if Dont’a Hightower filled his gap and tackled Jonathan Taylor instead of letting him break free for a game-clinching touchdown? The list goes on and on.

This is just how the season began for New England too; filled with what-ifs that fans have been daydreaming about all season long. It’s only fitting that it started and ended against the Dolphins in the regular season.

Next. Pats defense still has room for improvement. dark

The saving grace here is that the season isn’t over for the New England Patriots. There’s still time for them to correct their mistakes, and come out and deliver the goods in their upcoming playoff matchup. As we saw during their seven game win streak, this team can hang with anyone when they don’t get in their own way.

But the team is running out of time to fix their flaws. It’s not necessarily one big issue that is destroying them, but a group of smaller ones that continue to pile up. The Patriots need to break the mistake-prone cycle they currently find themselves in, otherwise their stay in the playoffs will be a very short one.