FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — If the New England Patriots want to defend their Super Bowl title, they’ll have to follow a path they’ve yet to navigate successfully.
New England let the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye slip away with a shocking 27-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
The Patriots won their first eight games but went 4-4 in the second half of the season to fall behind the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC.
Now, instead of having an extra week off to rest and prepare, the defending champs will be playing on wild-card weekend for the first time since the 2009 season, when they were blown out at home by Baltimore. The Patriots have never won a Super Bowl when having to play a wild-card game.
“It was a great chance for us to not play next week, and we didn’t take advantage of it,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “We just didn’t play good enough. We all wish we’d have done a better job. Certainly I do.”
With New England needing a win or a Kansas City loss or tie to lock up the bye, almost everything that could go wrong did.
Brady threw his first career pick-6 against Miami to spot the Dolphins an early double-digit lead. The top-ranked Patriots defense looked lost against 37-year-old quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
New England fought back from several deficits, but it wasn’t enough this time.
Brady delivered a 13-yard touchdown pass to James White with 3:53 remaining to make it 24-20. But Fitzpatrick led the Dolphins down the field and threw a four-yard TD strike to Mike Gesicki with 24 seconds left to seal Miami’s 27-24 win.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs beat the Los Angeles Chargers 31-21.
“We didn’t do anything well enough today to deserve to win,” New England coach Bill Belichick said. “So, we’ll be playing next week and we’ll see who that is and still have opportunity in front of us here.”
With the playoffs out of reach, Miami didn’t hesitate to pull out trick plays — including a double pass from Fitzpatrick to wide receiver Albert Wilson and then to running back Patrick Laird for a 20-yard gain in the third quarter.
“Today, we didn’t execute really any situations out there, especially the last drive,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “We always talk about that, no matter how you played throughout the game, we took the field and had a chance to win a football game in a two-minute drive and we didn’t get it done.”
McCourty echoed Belichick’s sentiment that the Patriots are still in a good position to achieve their ultimate goal, starting next week in the wild-card round.
Even if history suggests otherwise.
“We’ve got a game next week, we’ve got to get ready to go,” McCourty said. “Nobody feels sorry for us. We shouldn’t feel sorry for ourselves. Our goal is to play in the playoffs. We’ve got a shot next week at all of that.”