At 2:56 p.m. CT on Sunday, Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick became a cult hero in Kansas City, joining the likes of Len Dawson, George Brett and Patrick Mahomes.
OK, OK, … not quite.
But make no mistake about it: If the Chiefs win the Super Bowl this season, Fitzpatrick’s game-winning touchdown throw against the New England Patriots — which came with 24 seconds left and delivered the Dolphins a 27-24 upset victory — will be a reason why. Thanks to the Dolphins’ victory, the Chiefs locked up the No. 2 seed in the AFC, plus a corresponding first-round bye that will be critical for one of the league’s most banged-up playoff teams.
Fitzpatrick, who may have cemented his case as the best journeyman quarterback of the past two decades, is indeed recognized in Kansas City as “Fitzmagic,” so much so that a few Chiefs fans started donating $14 apiece to his charity after his Sunday heroics.
But one fanbase that should be worried about the carnage from the latest reincarnation of “Fitzmagic” is New England’s. Their Patriots, the Beasts of the AFC East, and dreams of a repeat title are in trouble.
And not just because they lost the game. But because of when they lost the game, to who, and how.
Not even Brady sugarcoated the loss.
“Well, it was a great chance for us to not play next week,” Brady said. “So, we didn’t take advantage of it. We just didn’t play good enough and we all wish we would have done a better job. Certainly I do.”
The Patriots’ offense was mid-grade against the Dolphins, just like it has been all season long. At this point, with the calendar only days away from turning to 2020, we’ve seen little to think it will change, as retired tight end Rob Gronkowski’s absence has never been more apparent.
For 16 games, the Patriots have consistently lacked an answer when competent defenses take away Julian Edelman and James White. And the Patriots knew it.
That’s why they took a swing on radioactive All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown in September. Brady does not trust the other receivers, and with a beat-up offensive line in front of him, the Patriots’ running game hasn’t established itself either, leaving New England outmanned against teams that can take away their two primary offensive threats (i.e. most good teams).
Plenty of times this season, the Patriots (12-4) have ridden their top-ranked defense and special teams to victory. But when either of those units falter even a tad, it often results in a loss, as we saw Sunday.
And even though the Patriots’ defense surrendered the game-winning score late, it wouldn’t even have mattered if the Patriots’ offense had done its job against a spunky but still bad Miami defense.
Against the Dolphins, New England ran for 135 yards on 27 carries. That’s the average that Miami’s 27th-ranked rushing defense has surrendered this year. If New England was actually good at running the ball, it would have rushed for more.
While White, a sensational receiver out of the backfield, caught a touchdown pass, he and Edelman combined for six catches and a measly 59 yards. Everyone else had 10 catches for 162 yards, with numerous missed opportunities against the league’s 28th-ranked pass defense.
And, yes, folks, those struggles even include Brady, the verifiable football G.O.A.T. Brady battled with inaccuracy all game, even when he wasn’t pressured, as he completed 16 of 29 passes for 221 yards and an interception. Most of the completions were of the short variety and against a group that typically gives up 265 yards per game.
This happened at home!
Against a divisional foe with a bad statistical pass defense!
In a game in which they were playing for a first-round bye!
By any measure, this is a brutal and unacceptable loss for New England, the type that portends to playoff failure. We almost never see this from the Bill Belichick Patriots. When it’s late in the season and they need to win a game, Belichick’s Patriots almost always get the job done, especially when they’re facing an opponent they know intimately in Foxborough.
All hope is not lost. Although they’re now stuck playing on wild-card weekend, typically in the playoffs, you can’t go wrong picking the team with the best coach-quarterback combination to go the whole way. For years, that has been Brady and Belichick, and after six rings, if any coach and quarterback combination deserves the benefit of the doubt, it’s those two.
However, the respect the Patriots have earned over the past two decades has led many — including myself — to dismiss this season’s warning signs.
If the Patriots end up representing the AFC in the Super Bowl for the fourth straight year, you can bet we’ll all be referring to the latest dose of “Fitzmagic” as the wake-up call this offense needed to get there.
“We’ve got to dig deep this week — we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and get ready to go,” safety Devin McCourty said. “Like I said earlier, no one feels sorry for the Patriots not getting a first-round bye in the playoffs. It is what it is. We talk about it each year, each team has their own journey and this is our journey to go out there next week, wild-card weekend and have an opportunity to continue to play. If we want to earn the right to play next week, we’ve got to go out there and play well.”
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