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The Patriots’ Reign at the Top of the AFC Is All but Officially Over

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:25 PM
Jack Winter
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:25 PM
  • The Patriots lost to the Dolphins on Sunday.
  • New England doesn’t have a bye in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
  • Its dynasty seems all but officially over.

The New England Patriots entered Week 17 with a 97 percent chance  of getting their tenth consecutive postseason bye. They were 17-point favorites over the Miami Dolphins, who hadn’t won at Gillette Stadium in over a decade.

All victories in the NFL are earned. But if there was one result that seemed foregone before Sunday’s games kicked off, it was certainly that the Patriots would take care of business against the Dolphins with a first-round bye and home-field advantage on the line.


Slumping Toward The Playoffs

Miami came from behind to beat New England 27-24  on Sunday, courtesy of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s touchdown pass to Mike Gesicki with 24 seconds remaining.

It was the culmination of a hard-fought game between two teams who know each other exceedingly well. But any notion that Miami’s win over New England was a fluke ignores its statistical context and the latter’s struggles over the final month of the regular season.

The Dolphins out-gained the Patriots in total yardage 389 to 352. They had eight more first downs than New England, too. Fitzpatrick was awesome against football’s top-ranked pass defense , throwing for 320 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. Tom Brady, meanwhile, went 16-of-29 for 221 yards, two scores, and an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

The loss marked the third in the Patriots’ past five games after they began the season 10-1. Their defense wasn’t quite as dominant over that stretch but still played well enough to prop up an offense that has underwhelmed since the season kicked off.

The problem? New England’s passing attack has clearly regressed since September. Brady ended the regular season by completing 55 percent of his throws or less in six of the Patriots’ last seven games. He’s passed for more than 300 yards just once since early October, and it came in a loss to the Houston Texans.

Source: Twitter 

Tough Postseason Path

The Patriots could have washed away their late-season struggles by entering the playoffs with a bye, using that crucial extra rest time to regroup in their quest for a second straight Vince Lombardi Trophy. Instead, New England finds itself in an increasing state of crisis during the time it normally thrives.

Brady was stoic after the game, insisting his team simply needs to play better next week with its season on the line.

Superior execution and fewer mistakes could definitely be a winning recipe for the Patriots in the wild-card round. They’ll be playing at home as heavy favorites against a team – no matter who their opponent is –  that barely managed a winning record during the regular season. Home-field advantage plus the guile and experience of Brady and Bill Belichick should be enough for New England a week from now.

But against the surging Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium? Or on the road versus Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens with an AFC title on the line? There’s just nothing to suggest these Patriots would be able to muster the playoff magic that helped propel their predecessors to championships.

Baltimore blew out New England 37-20 in early November, while three weeks ago Kansas City became the first team to win in Foxborough since 2017. Belichick and the Patriots, it bears reminding, have never played in the Super Bowl without the aid of a first-round bye.

Source: Twitter 

It’s too early to write off New England entirely. The Patriots proved during last year’s playoffs that they can beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead, and it wouldn’t be shocking if Belichick had a few tricks up his sleeve that frustrated Jackson in a potential matchup with Baltimore. Maybe the Patriots, somehow, have one last run in them.

But no sports dynasty lasts forever. And as the playoffs dawn, New England’s seems bound to come to an imminent end.