The New England Patriots Will Look To Turn the Page Heading Into the Playoffs

After a disappointing Week 18 loss to the Miami Dolphins, 33-24, the New England Patriots will look to turn the page and focus on the playoffs. In a game in which the Patriots could have taken the division crown with a win and a Buffalo Bills loss, it is stunning that New England was not ready to play. They quickly put themselves in a 14-0 hole, and they lacked intensity and urgency until the fourth quarter once again. That is becoming a familiar pattern and they have now dropped three out of their last four games in a similar fashion but the Patriots must now focus on getting ready for the playoffs.

After Week 18 Loss the New England Patriots Must Get Ready for the Playoffs

Since the Bills and the Las Vegas Raiders won, the Patriots fell to the sixth seed and will face the Bills in Buffalo on Saturday night. It will be the third time these teams have met in the last five weeks but it is arguable that being the fifth or sixth seed made no difference. The Pats were going to face either the Bills or the Cincinnati Bengals, and neither team would be an easy matchup. Fans and pundits were divided on which team they would rather face, and it has been hotly debated all week. But even if New England had won their game they still would have fallen to the sixth seed when the Raiders won.

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The Patriots will not want to watch the game film; it will be painful. It was a poor effort all around, and no unit will be spared from the wrath of Bill Belichick. But it is important to point out what went wrong so mistakes can hopefully be fixed. However, they will not spend long on this film; they will be eager to erase the pain and focus on getting ready for a playoff game in Buffalo. It has always served the team well when they have moved on and focused on the next opponent. 

Struggles in Miami

Miami has been a house of horrors for the Patriots, especially late in the season. New England has lost their last six games in Miami, and five of them have come in December or January. It is mind-boggling that they have struggled to win in Miami lately, but some theories are floating around as to why that is. One theory is that it is too hot as even temperatures in the 70’s combined with the humidity in Florida can be a problem for cold weather teams. Anyone who has ever suited up in full pads or visited Florida can attest to that. Belichick had the team practicing indoors with the heat cranked up to try to get the team acclimated to playing hotter weather. Then they took it one step further and used the bring your own bench strategy. These were not just any benches but air-conditioned benches. That may have helped them stay cooler, but it did not improve their play. 

Perhaps the best explanation is that former Patriots assistant Brian Flores was the Dolphins head coach (he was fired on Monday), and he knows the Patriots organization inside and out. He started as a scouting assistant in 2004 and moved his way up, and finished his Patriots tenure as the linebackers coach in 2018. Even though the players have changed in New England, the coaching philosophy is still the same. Flores knows how to find their weaknesses and exploit them. He has also been motivated to beat his former employers, like a little brother who wants to beat their bigger brother. Shockingly, Flores was fired Monday morning after the Dolphins finished with a record of 9-8 and missed the playoffs. 

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The Big Picture

Yes, the Week 18 loss to the Dolphins was alarming to some, but it is not as bad if you look at the big picture. The Patriots still made the playoffs, which is a huge accomplishment for any team, and they did it with a rookie quarterback. Mac Jones is the only rookie quarterback to lead his team to the playoffs this season. It is a promising sign that this team is heading in the right direction for the future. 

Even though the Patriots lost three of their last four games because they faced deficits early, they managed to fight their way back and make those games close. Just one defensive stop at the end of any of those games could have flipped the outcome(s). They would have won the division with one more win and two additional wins would have given them the top-seed in the AFC and a first-round bye. It is impressive that they were even in contention for anything this season, considering where they were last season and that they had a rookie quarterback under center. 

The good news for New England is that three out of the four losses to end the season will all be irrelevant with a win over Buffalo in their AFC Wild Card matchup. And that is what their focus should and will be on all week.

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