Patriots Stumble in Season Opener to Miami
Week 1 of the NFL season was host to a classic AFC East rivalry matchup between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. It was also the first time since the 2019 playoffs that Gillette had fans in the stands, while last season, the COVID Pandemic had other plans. Plenty of talk circulated the prior week about the release of former Patriots QB Cam Newton and Alabama rookie Mac Jones as the starting QB. Although this matchup has plenty of implications already about the AFC East hierarchy in the post-Tom Brady era of the division, a larger discussion centered on the two quarterbacks of Sunday’s game.
Both being QBs out of the University of Alabama, Miami signal-caller Tua Tagovailoa and Patriots signal-caller Mac Jones not only have a lot to prove to their alma mater, but also to themselves. Alabama has yet to have a quarterback pan out as expected in the NFL since Ken Stabler in the 1970s. As for themselves, Tua’s performance in Miami last year was decent but left a lot to be desired from the 5th overall pick to the point where some labeled him a draft bust after just nine starts. Mac, on the other hand, inherited one of the most powerful offenses Alabama has had in recent memory, and his fall to the 15th overall pick in 2021 was largely due to assumptions that he was carried to greatness on the backs of receivers Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, as well as RB Najee Harris.
On the other side of the ball, a lot of new faces for the Patriots defense made big splashes in the preseason. Regardless of the massive splashes in free agency that landed the Patriots DE Matthew Judon and the return of LB Kyle Van Noy, the Patriots are still missing star CB Stephon Gilmore due to his rehabbing of a 2020 season-ending quad injury that had everyone holding their breath.
On to the game now, Jones looked outmatched early on by Miami’s defensive line. Immense pressure on a collapsing pocket forced a fumble that was thankfully recovered by TE Jonnu Smith on a drive that ultimately ended in a punt from Pro Bowler Jake Bailey. Miami proceeded to pick apart the defense and claim the early lead at 7-0. On the following drive, Pats rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson’s fumble killed the Patriots momentum. Fortunately, Miami’s recovery would end up stalling as well, and the Patriots would end up responding with a Nick Folk field goal. Eventually, Miami’s defense cracks let a bullet of a pass slip into WR Nelson Agholor’s hands, and into the end zone for the Patriots to take the lead at 10-7. The final drive of the first half brings the game to a 10-10 tie with a 48 yard Jason Sanders field goal.
Receiving the second-half kickoff, Miami struck quickly for their final time of the game, with Tua slinging a 30-yard bomb to DeVante Parker. The Dolphins would cap off the drive with a 3 yard TD pass to fellow Alabama draftee, Jaylen Waddle, to put the Dolphins up 17-10. A long, 8-minute field goal drive ensues for the Pats, in which it seems like Jones is being groomed well into the classic dink-and-dunk offense Belichick oversees. A quick Miami 3-and-out sets up another lengthy field goal drive for New England that shortens the lead to 1. Here the game gets sloppy and neither offense does much, as a bobbled interception thrown by Tua leads to a fumble deep in Miami territory by Damien Harris. Miami would go on to win with a final of 17-16.
Despite losing the game, Patriots fans have reason to be intrigued. Mac Jones, in his debut, went 29/39, with 268 passing yards, 1 TD, and 0 INTs, and overall looked more composed in the pocket than his Alabama predecessor opposing him. The TE corps was far more involved than last year, and the receivers looked overall more in sync. While unable to overcome a defensive team in Miami Week 1, the Patriots should have an easier job ahead of them in Week 2 against the NY Jets who they face Sunday with a 1 PM kickoff.