Patriots' Playoff Bye Hopes Spoiled By Loss to Dolphins in Regular-Season Finale

New England drops to the No. 3 seed in the AFC after a loss to Miami and a Chiefs win over the Chargers.
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Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have done about everything together as the greatest coach-quarterback combination in NFL history: Nine Super Bowl appearances and six Lombardi Trophies.

But to make it to the Super Bowl this season, they will have to do it without a first-round bye, something they have never done before. They have been stuck in the wild-card round just three times and were eliminated each time before the Super Bowl. 

They had a streak of 10 consecutive first-round byes snapped with their shocking 27-24 loss to the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium in Sunday's season finale. 

Thanks to some trickery, turnover-free football, and some poor play by New England, the loss combined with the Chiefs victory over the Chargers dropped the Patriots to the No. 3 seed. Kansas City and New England finished 12-4, but the Chiefs won the tie-breaker based on their 23-16 victory over the Patriots on Dec. 8 at Gillette Stadium.

The reigning Super Bowl champions, who are trying to get to their fourth straight Super Bowl, which would tie the 1990-93 Bills for most consecutive appearances,  certainly didn't play their best football in their regular-season finale. Poor execution by Brady and the offense, and some uniquely poor performances by New England's elite defense, caused an upset by a Dolphins team that threw their whole playbook at the Patriots. 

That's not to say Miami didn't bring its A-game Sunday afternoon in getting revenge for the 43-0 beating the Patriots gave them in the second week of the season. 

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed a game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds left in an outing in which he threw for 320 yards and didn't commit a turnover. Miami's defense also did its job with former Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe's pick-six in the second quarter.

Sunday's game showed many of the struggles that New England had been dealing with over the past two months. Julian Edelman was hobbling on and off the field. Brady had to continually stay warm on the sideline to keep his ailing elbow from tightening up. Both of those players struggled, which led to just three catches for 26 yards for Edelman and a 42-year-old QB who was a bit inaccurate throwing the football, completing juste 16-of-29 for 221 yards. The offensive creativity wasn't there, which led to many of their drives sputtering out. 

But as much as the offense struggled, the Patriots' top-ranked defense played even worse. 

Stephon Gilmore was given the job covering DeVante Parker, who had a breakout season. Parker managed to catch eight balls for 137 yards against the All-Pro cornerback. Fitzpatrick picked apart the zone coverage that New England chose to run. The Patriots had no answer for a Dolphins offense that could not run the ball and was one-dimensional the entire game. The pass-rush couldn't get to Fitzpatrick, and the secondary struggled in coverage. 

"We knew that they were going to be a scrappy football team, that was going to come out and battle and challenge us on everything, and that's exactly what they did," Patriots captain and safety Devin McCourty said after the game. "They challenged us, they know us well. We knew that, and we didn't step up to that. We didn't elevate our game and play to that. They out-toughed us, they outplayed us today and they got the win."

Now the Patriots will face the Titans, coached by former New England linebacker Mike Vrabel, in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Somehow, they need to find a way to win three games to make it back to the Super Bowl. If they beat Tennessee, they will have to win on the road in Kansas City and Baltimore to get to Super Bowl LIV.

New England's regular-season finale displayed all the reasons why it needed a bye. The Patriots will now hobble into the playoffs with more questions than answers.