FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — More times than not, the sight of Rob Gronkowski approaching the end zone has signaled good things happening for the New England Patriots.
Yet there was the image of Gronkowski awkwardly crashing to the ground in a desperate attempt to prevent Kenyan Drake from crossing the goal line during Sunday’s last-second 34-33 loss to the Dolphins .
Talk about something being the opposite of what people have come to expect from the Patriots.
While Miami’s pass and double-lateral on the final 69-yard touchdown play got all the attention in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss, coach Bill Belichick reiterated there were other miscues that contributed.
There was Stephen Gostkowski’s first missed extra point in 38 tries this season and only his second missed field goal inside 50 yards in 2018.
New England also missed a scoring opportunity at the end of the first half. Albert McClellan blocked a Miami punt inside the Dolphins 20, setting up the Patriots on the 15 with 14 seconds left and no timeouts. Tom Brady completed a 13-yard pass to Gronkowski to get the ball to the 2. But Brady was sacked by Robert Quinn on the next play — very unlike Brady to miss a scoring opportunity — leaving New England’s lead at 27-21 at halftime.
Finally, on its last series of the game, the offense failed to get into the end zone and settled for a 22-yard Gostkowski field goal, despite having a first-and-goal on the 7.
“I think there were a lot of things that could’ve been better in the entire game,” Belichick said. “I think the game was about a lot more than that (final) play, but certainly that play wasn’t a good one for us.”
Belichick said the reason Gronkowski was at safety instead of Devin McCourty, one of New England’s best defensive players: “It would be his ability to play the deep, long throw.”
But the coach then admitted that Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill probably didn’t have the arm strength for such a desperation heave.
“I think it was a little too far to get to the end zone,” Belichick said, “but certainly a deep pass in that situation is a possibility. I wouldn’t rule that out.”
The irony of the ending is that it overshadowed one of Gronkowski’s best performances of the season. The tight end finished with eight catches for 107 yards, marking the 28th 100-yard game of his career. The only tight end with more 100-yard games than Gronkowski is Tony Gonzalez with 31. It was just Gronkowski’s second 100-yard receiving game this season and his first since New England’s season opener.
Fullback James Develin also continued to impress with his fourth rushing touchdown in four games. He had one in his first 74 career games.
“It’s going to test our character. It’s going to test our mental toughness,” Gronkowski said Sunday. “I mean, I feel like I’ve been going through that all year, and now to get to this point now. We’ve just got to keep working hard. We’ve just got to keep grinding. We’ve got to keep focusing and just come together as a team more.”
Still, the loss only meant their route to reaching another Super Bowl will be that much tougher.
As stunned as New England’s players felt as they trudged off the field following the loss , other surprise results around the conference on Sunday kept their hopes of securing a ninth consecutive first-round bye in the playoffs very much alive.
The Patriots (9-4) began preparations for their Week 15 game at Pittsburgh still on track to capture the second seed in the AFC behind Kansas City (11-2), which stayed in first place after fighting off Baltimore in overtime. Los Angeles improved to 10-3 after its win over Cincinnati and has the conference’s second-best record. But the Chargers are division-mates with the Chiefs and would have to settle for a wild-card spot if nothing changes over the final three weeks of the regular season.
New England holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Houston, which is also 9-4 after its loss to Indianapolis. And courtesy of the Steelers’ loss to the Raiders, even should Pittsburgh (7-5-1) beat New England, it would still trail the Patriots in the AFC standings. The Texans would move ahead of the Patriots in the AFC if they beat the Jets on Saturday and the Steelers win Sunday.
Patriots center David Andrews said the fact they still have a say in where they finish up is the only thing they were thinking about when they walked back into the team facility Monday.
“We’ve got a lot we can do better. We got a big challenge coming up this week, so that’s what our focus is on,” he said on Monday. “We can’t do anything to change what happened yesterday, so we gotta move on.”
Special teams captain Matt Slater, invoking Belichick’s classic parlance, said everyone in the locker room is officially “on to Pittsburgh.”
“I don’t think there’s really much else to talk about,” Slater said. “Over the course of the season it’s gonna be very rare that things go your way all the time. And we’ve certainly been spoiled around here with some good fortune over the years. So we’re just gonna move forward and focus on the Steelers and what we need to do to perform well there.”
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