Gresh's Grades: Late mistakes burn Pats in Miami
This is a tough one because this banged-up group gave everything they had, showing us that their margin for error is smaller than ever. They improved on third down on both sides of the ball, but the late mistakes hurt them. The path to the No. 1 seed is now far more difficult.
They didn't get the big touchdown late in the fourth quarter, which was indicative of the kind of day they had in the red zone. The offensive-line issues are glaring and it scared them from running the ball in the final period, when they threw 30 times on 33 plays. Though Tom Brady was only sacked once, the pressure was noticeable. No Rob Gronkowski means no margin for error.
I thought through it all, TB12 battled and stood tall in the pocket in the face of pressure. There were a couple of throws you could quibble with, but it was pretty much all on him in the fourth quarter and they nearly pulled it out again. His game operation was very good, though it was a lot for him to carry after they abandoned the run game for the better part of the second half.
RUNNING BACKS: B
LeGarrette Blount came out of the shoot firing away with some tough running and a CATCH, something we haven't seen much from him as a Patriot. When he runs north-south, he's a punisher. Stevan Ridley was himself in limited carries, but they went away from him and the run game itself. He's running the ball well and needs more carries. Shane Vereen was the focus of the Dolphins' attention as they attacked him in the run and passing game, hitting him every chance they could. He was a non-factor in the passing game. Overall, though, this has been the most consistent position group this season.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A-
I thought Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola were awesome and gave all they had. Edelman is making himself a rich man; he had 13 catches Sunday, catches that moved the chains and kept drives alive. Amendola looked good; the worry last week that he was dinged up proved not to be the case. He did a nice job of getting good body position and picking up yards after the catch. He almost made a great catch for a TD on the final drive as the ball was on his fingertips, but it was knocked away on a good defensive play. Josh Boyce was competitive, but his drop was reminiscent of the early-year drops from Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. They badly need both of them back, because TB12 needs a big bailout guy when pressured.
OFFENSIVE LINE: D
The loss of Nate Solder in the second half forced them to move Logan Mankins to left tackle and to play Josh Kline at left guard. Kline was in because Marcus Cannon was in at RT due to an up-and-down performance from Will Svitek was in and then out. Playing third-stringers doesn't bode well for the health of TB12. That said, the coaches have to trust this group in the fourth quarter to run the ball. Too much pressure on the QB and too many free, unabated rushers to TB12. If Solder is forced to miss more time, that's a massive issue.
The point total was very respectable. The effort was there, though the execution -- particularly the shoddy tackling -- was sketchy. The bodies are beaten and banged up and it's starting to show. Kyle Arrington goes out and two plays later his replacement, Marquice Cole, gets scored on after Steve Gregory channeled his old self with a bad angle and bad tackle. The LBs are trying but their coverage is not good right now, and they got little second-half pressure. Plus they gave up the lead after the bad kickoff. They're trying . . .
DEFENSIVE LINE: C
Miami's running game was never a 'real' factor in this one. Thirteen of the Dolphins' 89 yards came on a reverse, which was the longest run allowed by the Pats 'D'. The pass rush in the first half was outstanding as they got to Ryan Tannehill for three sacks. But they got only one sack in the second half. Chandler Jones was a beast again, though, to be fair, he was invisible on the final drive when Miami scored the game-winning RD. This group is hanging in there, but needs more from lesser players.
The passing coverage just isn't there with Jerod Mayo out. People are hammering Dont'a Hightower for the final touchdown, but that's not his best role. He was close, though close doesn't count in the NFL. Brandon Spikes was okay, but never made a 'wow' play. And Dane Fletcher is one of those third-string guys who is getting massively exposed in coverage. I hammered him a few weeks ago and now we're seeing the "real" player IMHO. They were good against the run, but what they're being asked to do had changed dramatically from earlier in the year.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D
Aqib Talib did a good job on whoever he was asked to cover. Problem was, it wasn't Mike Wallace . . . and Wallace ended up doing some damage. Alfonzo Dennard got picked on a few times, making his lack of high-end speed was evident, and Arrington's cramp ignited the Dolphins and gave them life before the end of the half. Logan Ryan played well. Steve Gregory took some bad angles at times and he and Devin McCourty had some bad open-field tackling efforts. Gotta buck up, even if injured.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Ryan Allen did a very nice job punting the ball, with a big average and nice net along with a kick inside the 20. The punt return game wasn't an issue because they kicked it out of bounds. Stephen Gostkowski, on the other hand, gets an F. I can give him a pass on the missed FG because it's a low-percentage kick, even though we expect him to make it. But the kickoff out of bounds was inexcusable, especially given the problems they have on defense.
IT AIN'T BROKE . . .
1) Brady's gumption. He battles. Hard. | 2) Special teams. Bad day for Gostkowski. But he'll be okay. | 3) Coaching. Because they're so well coached, that's why they're competitive.
. . . BUT IT NEEDS FIXING
1) Complimentary football. Take care of the 'D' and score TDs when given the chance. | 2) Balance. They have averaged 49.5 pass attempts a game the last four games. No bueno. | 3) Health. The problem is, there is no rest for the weary because they need every win so no one can sit. | Andy Gresh is a talkshow host on 98.5 The Sports Hub and for nine years has worked pre- and postgame analysis on the Patriots Radio Network. He is also co-author of the recently released book "The Great Book of Boston Sports Lists." Follow him on Twitter @greshandzo.