FOXBORO — The dam appeared to break Sunday with 8:45 remaining.
Out of the dam flowed shock, disappointment, grief, frustration. All thanks to Raheem Mostert.
Leading 17-10, Mostert burst through the middle of Bill Belichick’s defense and left waves of stadium silence in his wake on a 43-yard sprint to the end zone. The first defender to touch him was a teammate who patted him on the back as he reached the Dolphins’ sideline.
Miami had seemingly broken a Patriots team that had achieved the following: a fourth-quarter interception of Tua Tagovailoa, holding Tyreek Hill to 40 harmless yards and a blocked field goal.
All the Pats needed was an average showing from their offense. Mac Jones and Co. couldn’t deliver.
The Patriots scored two touchdowns, including one on the drive immediately after Mostert’s dagger. Great.
They also coughed up two turnovers: an early fumble by rookie receiver Demario Douglas and a gross interception in the third quarter. They averaged 2.9 yards per carry on designed runs against a defense that allowed more than double that the week before to the Chargers. And despite Miami missing a 55-yard field goal in the final minutes, which gifted them another shot at a fourth-quarter comeback, they failed.
Fourth-and-3. Ball at Miami’s 32-yard line.
The Patriots surrounded Jones with running back Rhamondre Stevenson, tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki, receivers DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne. Jones rolled left and hit Gesicki, who seconds before being slung down at the waist lateraled backwards to left guard Cole Strange.
It looked like Strange had powered forward for a first down. Review decided otherwise. Ballgame.
Boos rained down at Gillette Stadium, as real as the raindrops that had soaked their disappointing season opener versus the Eagles. Fans were right to boo. Think of all the Patriots offense had wasted.
A spectacular effort from rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who successfully shadowed Hill in critical situations. A Gonzalez interception in the fourth quarter that flipped the game. And a beautifully orchestrated blocked field goal by Brenden Schooler that staved off Miami before Gonzalez bought them more time.
How much longer can this continue?
The return of starting offensive linemen Mike Onwenu and Cole Strange wasn’t enough. Parker’s season debut, after missing the opener with a knee injury, wasn’t, either. The coaching staff failed, too.
The Pats ditched their run-focused game plan after three drives to play almost exclusively through two tight end personnel for the rest of the game. They had an 80% run tell on under-center plays the Dolphins seized on with a third-and-1 run stuff midway through the third quarter. And at the end of it all, the Patriots averaged 4.1 yards per play.
The Patriots banked on better discipline, superior coaching and execution in critical to situations to carry them against a more talented Dolphins team. They bet wrong.
Defensively, the Patriots dared Miami to play safe Sunday night.
Take the checkdown. Take the short throw. Take the bait. The Dolphins swallowed it whole, and took them for a ride early on.
Miami offense covered 81 yards en route to kicking a field goal on its opening drive, then 78 yards on its next possession. The Dolphins capped that 11-play march with a touchdown run. Miami successfully out-flanked the Patriots, who have prided themselves as a strong edge-setting defense.
But eventually, that strategy paid off. The Dolphins scored just 24 points and handed them a chance to tie the game late.
Despite that, the Patriots are 0-2 for the first time since 2001. What turned that season around was a defining moment in NFL history, a tectonic shift for the franchise and the league at large. The greatest quarterback to ever play came off the bench and took charge for the next 19 years.
Judging by the Patriots’ offensive performance through two weeks, they shouldn’t need something similar to U-turn in 2023.
But they might.