Missed it by ...that much. Danny Amendola can't hang on to Tom Brady's pass in the endzone with 21 seconds left in the game. (USA Today photo)

Missed it by …that much. Danny Amendola can’t hang on to Tom Brady’s pass in the endzone with 21 seconds left in the game. (USA Today photo)

The Miami Dolphins scored a late touchdown and then held on with a great defensive effort deep in their own red zone with an interception of Tom Brady in the end zone to hold on for a 24-20 win that keeps their playoff hopes alive.

The Patriots missed a golden opportunity to clinch the AFC East and wrest control of the AFC’s #1 seed from the Denver Broncos who lost on Thursday to the San Diego Chargers.

The road doesn’t get any easier for the Patriots who have to travel to take on the suddenly hot Baltimore Ravens on the road next Sunday at 4:25 p.m.

Here are some observations from Sunday’s game:

Too Many Plays Left on the Field: The Patriots suffered from a definite lack of clutch on Sunday, too many dropped passes, too many missed tackles and that was a major factor on why the Dolphins came away victorious.

Josh Boyce had a couple of dropped passes and his second probably cost the Patriots three points. On third and long, Brady hit Boyce with a pass that wouldn’t have netted a first down but would have given kicker Stephen Gostkowski a closer field goal attempt. His kick just sailed over the goalpost, (which was good in Baltimore last season) but had Boyce hauled in the pass, would have ended up inside the posts for a field goal.

Miami in contrast made all the big plays on the day, the biggest was the fourth and five screen pass to Charles Clay, a play the Patriots had snuffed out but he was able to power his way for six yards and first down on the Dolphins final touchdown drive.

Defense Not Good Enough For January: Once again, the Patriots defense was not up to the task of getting a stop on an opponent. This time they allowed the Dolphins to march down the field late in the fourth quarter for the game winning touchdown.

Having Miami in a 3rd and 15 and a 4th and 5 on the final drive, they couldn’t stop Tannehill who picked them apart for most of the day. The injuries suffered by this defense have reached the critical stage and overall they aren’t good enough to stop good teams and will be an Achilles heel come January.

The last six weeks the Patriots have allowed a very un-Belichick like 167 points which averages 27.8 points per game. There are just too many pieces missing and they are going to have to outscore opponents. Does this mean cancel the rest of the season? No because as we’ve all seen, anything can happen but missing your two starting defensive tackles, your best linebacker and with a secondary all playing hurt, the scales have tipped to critical stage.

No Gronk ….Big Problem: We said on our Patriots 4th & 2 podcast this week, the Patriots would be able to move the ball, and they did rolling up 453 yards of offense on a good, tough Miami defense. But the issue would be the red-zone and the Patriots were a dismal 1 for 4 on trips inside the twenty.

The offense had two very impressive 15-play drives that ate up the clock where Brady moved them down the field only to have to settle for field goals and on the final drive Brady was picked off in the end zone by recently signed Michael Thomas on a desperation fourth down pass with just seven seconds left.

There isn’t much time left in the season, and the play-calling will have to utilize the running game much more in the red zone, something that was lacking all day but it can be done. They just can’t rely on Tom Brady pulling a rabbit out of his hat every week.

Gostkowski Has First Bad Game of 2013: Stephen Gostkowski who has been so outstanding all season had two big negative plays on the day. Gostkowski missed a 48 yard field goal that drifted just wide earlier in the game. Those three points would prove pivotal as at the end of the game as the Patriots, on Brady’s final drive would have needed only a field goal to win the game.

But even bigger perhaps was just after Julian Edelman had scored on a 24 yard touchdown giving the Patriots a 20-17 lead. Gostkowski attempted to drive the ball deep into the end-zone but hooked it badly left. The ball went out-of-bounds and the Dolphins had the ball at the 40 yard line.

With a defense that is hurting and struggling to stop anyone, it was a big blow.

Edelman/Amendola Step Up Big: On a day where the Patriots had issues scoring, they had no such issues moving the ball and that a lot to do with both Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola who played huge games for the offense.

Both made several key catches and both went over 100 yards receiving. Edelman in particular has really evolved into his Welker-like role with the team and was immense, catching 13 passes for 139 yards including the 24 yard go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Amendola had a big game as well hauling in 10 passes for 131 yards with several being key plays. But Amendola couldn’t haul in Brady’s first down pass from the 19 yard line with 21 seconds left, going up and getting both hands on the ball before Thomas was able to knock it away.

With Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Rob Gronkowski all missing and Miami doing a fantastic job on covering Shane Vereen (3 rcpts, 8 yards) the team needed the veterans to step up and they did in a big way.

Brady Comes Oh-So-Close: In the first meeting between the two teams, Tom Brady passed for only 115 yards. On Sunday in Miami and without three of his biggest weapons, Brady passed for 364 yards and 2 touchdowns and down by four with less than two minutes to go, he very nearly did it again, leading the Patriots to a late win.

The Patriots moved from their own 20 with 1:15 to go in the game to the Dolphins 19 yard line with just 27 seconds left. Brady threw a perfectly thrown ball that Danny Amendola that he just couldn’t haul in.

After a Miami off-sides penalty moved the ball to the 14, Brady threw incomplete to Edelman and then threw another pass into the end zone that TE Michael Hoomanawanui has to catch. While many will point to Gronkowski and rightfully say, he’d have caught the ball, the fact is Gronk wouldn’t have had single coverage either.

But Brady overall had a very good game, the play-calling left something to be desired, whether that is on Josh McDaniels or Brady calling audibles at the line of scrimmage is arguable, but Brady was throwing the ball well, even with an offensive line that was badly banged up.

We’ll have a lot on the Ravens later this week as the Patriots face another tough road team, speaking of Baltimore, something to keep in mind this week is, if Baltimore beats the Patriots and ends up with the sixth seed, New England may face them on Wild Card weekend…..

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