The New England Patriots lost in heartbreaking – albeit thrilling – fashion last season down in Miami… expect no such result this time around.
What was your least favorite moment in the 2018/2019 New England Patriots season last year?
Unequivocally, mine came in Week 14 down in Miami, Florida, at Hard Rock Stadium on December 9, when the 9-3 Patriots fell to the 6-6 Dolphins on a bizarre series of passes, laterals, and runs that coalesced into an improbable 34-33 walk-off touchdown victory by Kenyan Drake… forever to be known afterward as either the “Miami Miracle” or the “Miracle in Miami.”
There’s no denying the final seven seconds of that game were plenty exciting. Even as a Patriots fan, you had to turn, tip your ball cap, and shake the hand of the nearest Dolphins fan if there was one nearby. It’s exceedingly rare to see the kind of desperate, last-minute hijinks NFL teams try to pull in those scenarios actually pay off… let alone without an accompanying hailstorm of yellow flags signifying all manner of penalties.
I remember exactly where I was during that excruciating, unbelievable, breathtaking final play. I remember staring at a sea of television screens, waiting patiently for the yellow graphic to appear in the bottom-right corner of all those screens with the word ‘flag’ on it.
And yet that graphic never came.
Patriots fans have recently been spoiled/saved by the referees in several high-drama moments, much to the chagrin of other fans. It hasn’t done anything to quiet the chorus of voices who think the NFL somehow favors the Patriots and wants them to win – because relations have always been so rosy between New England and the league, right??? – and yet it’s difficult to deny we’ve come out on the better end of some questionable calls over the past couple years.
The Jesse James non-touchdown in Pittsburgh two years ago. The Austin Seferian-Jenkins non-touchdown in New York two years ago. The Kelvin Benjamin non-touchdown against the Bills two years ago. Even the roughing-the-passer penalty in Kansas City last year.
New England would have no such luck in Miami last season as the Dolphins’ desperate miracle play unfolded. By my count, at least five Patriots tackles were whiffed. That stat in and of itself probably gave poor Bill Belichick many sleepless nights, as New England has long been known for its strict adherence to proper tackling as a basic fundamental of its football program.
All that went out the window in those final seven seconds.
Poor, poor Rob Gronkowski. He was having a rough season as it was by his own lofty standards, battling injuries and ineffectiveness all year long. He may very well have already begun mulling retirement at this point in time, and then to be in a position on prevent defense when you’re the last man standing between a quality win for your team and an embarrassing loss… and to miss your tackle at the goal-line.
In fairness, Gronkowski “didn’t have the angle,” as the play-by-play announcer crowed on live television at the time. He stumbled somewhere around the 15-yard line, so it would have been next to impossible for anyone to make up that ground and keep Drake from scoring at that point.
Regardless, he took significant heat for the gaffe… though not as much as his head coach did for putting him back there on defense to begin with. Fans, analysts, pretty much anyone who saw the end of the game openly wondered afterward why Belichick had Gronkowski inserted for that play.
Belichick reasoned that Gronk was in to patrol the end zone and prevent the Hail Mary play if then-Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill decided to try and heave it down there. After all, Gronkowski frequently moonlighted during his NFL career as a gigantic, hulking safety on defense whose job it was to bat the ball down when opposing teams tried the Hail Mary.
The only problem with this idea is that the Dolphins weren’t exactly in a Hail Mary-type of situation there at the end of the game.
Keep in mind: Miami began that play at their own 31-yard line. That means that for a Hail Mary throw to have occurred, Tannehill – who has never been known for his arm strength – would have had to chuck the ball at least 69 yards through their air, probably longer, if he wanted to have any hope of getting it anywhere near the end zone for a touchdown.
For context, the longest the football has been thrown through the air in the past 10 years during a real NFL game came when the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers rocketed a 68-yard pass to Richard Rodgers on a 2013 Hail Mary against the Lions, per CBS Sports’ John Breech.
Ryan Tannehill is certainly not Aaron Rodgers.
But enough on the past.
Bill Belichick, Rob Gronkowski, and the New England Patriots obviously all got the last laugh by winning Super Bowl 53 over the Rams, effectively negating whatever bad juju and embarrassment they suffered at the hands of the Dolphins that fateful day.
New England won their sixth Lombardi Trophy when all was said and done. Miami lost their next three games to finish 7-9, miss the playoffs, and fire their head coach. You decide who ultimately prevailed last season.
This year, both teams head into the rematch in very different fashion.
The Patriots are 1-0 after a crushing victory over the Steelers. The Dolphins are 0-1 after a humiliating loss to the Ravens. Most power rankings and polls have New England slotted as the No. 1 team in the NFL. Those same lists have Miami dead-last at No. 32 as the worst team in professional football right now.
Could there be a Miracle in Miami Redux?
Don’t count on it.
Whereas the Patriots have all the look of a Super Bowl favorite – and should be even stronger than they were on Sunday night with the major additions of Antonio Brown and Kyle Van Noy on offense and defense, respectively – the Dolphins are in full-blown tank mode. Miami’s offensive line is a joke now that they traded away their best player (Laremy Tunsil), and their quarterback is one of either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Rosen. Their defense just got fire-blasted for 59 points at home.
This AFC East rivalry might get back on track next season if the Dolphins reload their roster across the board with a bevy of high draft picks. But for the time being in 2019, anything other than a clean New England season sweep would be astonishing, given the current disparity between these two teams. That sweep should get started on Sunday.