The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Dolphins v. Patriots, Week 15, 2020

Miami Dolphins New England Patriots Week 15 2020
Credit: Charles Trainor, Jr. Miami Herald

The Miami Dolphins/New England Patriots game had several compelling storylines. First, the Miami Dolphins were trying to keep pace with the other AFC teams all jockeying for a wild card playoff spot. Second, the Miami Dolphins would achieve a winning season with a win over the Patriots making this the first winning season since 2016. Third, a Dolphins win would mean that the Patriots would be out of the playoff race for the first time since 2008. Fourth, Tua Tagovailoa would be going up against renowned rookie quarterback killer in Bill Belichick. Let’s go ahead and hit The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from this Week 15 contest.

The Good

Tua Tagovailoa

There are two ways to judge a quarterback. The first way is to simply look at the final stat line and quarterback rating and render a judgment. The second way is to actually watch the game and see how the quarterback performed in crucial situations and helped guide the team to a win in ways that do not always show up in the final stat line.

To be sure, if you are just looking at the final stat line then there was not much that impressive with Tua’s performance against New England. Tua completed 20/26 passes for 145 yards 1 INT, 3 rushes for 9 yards, and 2 TDs. Tua had a 77% completion percentage. Tua had a 73.4 quarterback rating. But, the state line does not tell the true story.

The fact is that Tua went into the game against the Patriots armed with little more than a ham sandwich and a plastic spork at the wide receiver and tight end positions. DeVante Parker, Jakim Grant, and Mike Gesicki were all out with injuries.

On top of that, Tua was going against Bill Belichick who since 2013 has gone 9-0 against rookie quarterbacks. Overall, in his 20 years in New England, Belichick has gone 20-5 against rookie quarterbacks.

Considering that Tua had no weapons at his disposal and was going against renowned rookie quarterback killer in Bill Belichick I think that Tua played rather well. And last time I checked, Tua’s team walked out the winner and that was in a large part of Tua’s performance in the second half of the game.

Tua continues to display poise, intelligence, and leadership. This was evident all through the game against the Patriots. At no point did Tua look overwhelmed or rattled. This was most evident after Tua put together an impressive 15 play drive for 95 yards that took the Dolphins all the way to the Patriot’s 3-yard line. On 3rd and 3, Tua faced pressure and as he was in the grasp of a defender he tossed an ill-advised pass that was picked off in the end zone.

Now, it looked like Tua should have immediately stepped up into the pocket and pulled down the ball, and possibly run into the end zone. For sure, Tua should never have thrown that ball and simply tried to get what he could on the ground. This was a rookie mistake. No doubt.

However, what did Tua do after this rookie mistake? Did he get rattled or get upset? Did he let this backbreaking play at the end of a brilliant drive throw off his confidence? No. Instead, Tua made a mental note of what he did and then learned from his rookie mistake.

This was evident in the fourth quarter when Tua found himself in exactly the same situation that he had in the first quarter. Tua again faced a heavy pass rush. However, what did Tua do? He stepped up in the pocket, pulled the ball down, and then ran into the end zone for a touchdown. That is a smart rookie quarterback who learns from his mistakes. Make no mistake, this was huge and showed how Tua is a special player who learns from his mistakes.

Tua displayed good vision as he surveyed the field well, went through his progressions, and made quick decisions. Tua may not have had many weapons at his disposal, but he did an excellent job distributing the ball evenly and getting everyone involved in the offense. Tua ended up completing passes to seven different players. Tua also continues to show excellent mobility in the pocket and is able to extend plays with his legs. Tua also directed an offense that converted 7 of 12 times on third down and 1 for 1 on fourth down.

Miami Dolphins Run Offense

The Miami Dolphins rushed 42 times for 250 yards and 3 rushing TDs and average 5.95 yards per carry. Matt Breida had 12 rushes for 86 yards and an average of 7 yards per carry. Salvon Ahmed had 23 carries for 122 yards and 1 TD and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. That is one hell of a day for a Dolphins team that has struggled with the running game all season.

Forced Fumbles

The Patriots had a 2nd and 6 on the New England 29 with 9:58 remaining in the 3rd quarter with the Dolphins barely leading 7-6. Cam Newton completed a deep pass for 18 yards, but Xavien Howard forced a fumble that Elandon Roberts recovered.

The Miami defense also had a forced fumble that Howard scooped up and returned for a touchdown that was called back due to the ball barely touching Christian Wilkins as he was stepping out of bounds. The Miami defense also forced a third fumble that New England was able to recover.

Forcing turnovers continues to be a calling card for the Miami Dolphins defense. This has to continue in order for the Dolphins to make a credible push for the playoffs.

Miami Pass Defense

The Miami defense limited Cam Newton to 17/27 passes for 209 yards and 0 TDs. The Miami defense sacked Newton three times for a loss of 23 yards. In the end, the Patriots only had a net of 186 pass yards.

Miami Scoring Defense

The Dolphins defense did not allow a single touchdown. All of the Patriots’ points came on four field goals. The Dolphins limited the Patriots to 2-9 on third-down conversions and 0-1 on fourth down.

The Bad

Patriots Chunk Plays

The Dolphins surrendered four chunk pass plays during the game. All in all, the Miami defense may have bent but they never broke. Having said that, it is never great to see chunk pass plays.

Miami Run Defense

The Patriots rushed 22 times for 117 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Newton ran 9 times for 38 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry. Sony Michel rushed 10 times for 74 yards and averaged a whopping 7.4 yards per carry.

The Patriots gashed the Miami defense with the running attack early and often in the first quarter. Cam Newton juked several Miami Dolphins out of their cleats during the first half of the game.

The score remained close all the way into the middle of the 4th quarter with the Dolphins clinging to a 15-12 lead. I have no idea why the Patriots did not continue to pound the ball against the Miami defense.

The Ugly

Miami First Half Offense

The Dolphins offense was atrocious in the first half. Tua committed a terrible interception in the end zone. The usually automatic Jason Sanders missed a 52 field goal. The Dolphins offense was held to just 140 total yards and 0 points.

There is simply no way the Miami Dolphins can roll out an offense this pathetic in the first half of the game against the Buffalo Bills in the final game of the year and expect to get a win. Chan Gailey needs to get his act together and figure out how he can get the Miami offense to play at a high level for an entire game.

Miami Three and Outs

Miami’s first drive of the game consisted of three plays for 9 yards. Miami’s third drive of the game consisted of three plays for -6 yards. Miami’s sixth drive of the game consisted of three plays for -2 yards. Those three drives consisted of 9 plays for 1 yard. That is just brutal.


The Dolphins were flagged for seven penalties against the Patriots. This is not what we have come to expect from a well-coached and disciplined Flores team.

Trick Play

In the 3rd quarter with 8:00 remaining, the Miami Dolphins were facing a 4th and 7 at the New England 44. Miami had a tiny 7-6 lead. The Dolphins come out to punt. However, Flores had a trick play in mind and Matt Haack took the snap and threw the ball to Kamu Grugier-Hill for 14 yards and a first down. However, the referees called a penalty on Grugier-Hill for failing to report to the refs before the play.

So, what would have been a first down at the New England 30 yard line turned into a 4th and 12 from the New England 49 yard line. This was both boneheaded and horrendous.

This is the second time a stupid penalty like this has nullified a successful trick play. This also happened against the Cincinnati Bengals when the Dolphins ran a modified Mountaineer Shot trick play for a touchdown. That successful trick play was also called back because both Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt failed to report to the refs before the play.

This kind of stupid behavior cannot continue. This is all on the coaches. Coach Flores and his assistants have got to drill this into the players so that future trick plays do not get flushed down the toilet for the same dumb reason.

Howard’s Defensive Touchdown Called Back

The Patriots had the ball for a 3rd and 8 on the Miami 21 yard line. The Dolphins were leading 6-3. Newton scrambled and Brandon Jones forced a fumble that was scooped up by Xavien Howard who ran it back for a touchdown. However, the Instant replay showed that the football just barely grazed Wilkins’ lower leg as Wilkins was stepping out of bounds right before Howard picked up the ball. The Patriots retained possession of the ball and kicked a 36-yard field goal. This was a 10 point swing. So unlucky.


In the end, the Miami Dolphins vanquished the New England Patriots. The despotic tyrant who has ruled the AFC East with an iron fist is dead. The Dolphins continue their phenomenal turnaround in just the second year of their full rebuild. Miami is now guaranteed to have a winning season in Coach Flores’ second year. I do not think that anyone saw this coming!

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