The Patriots' had their playoff fates in their hands. With the Broncos loss on Thursday, all New England had to do was win out and they would be the No. 1 seed in the AFC, which meant homefield advantage throughout the postseason.
But this is the NFL where "just win out" is easy to say or write but infinitely more difficult to pull off in practice. We saw proof of that on Sunday in Miami when the Patriots fell to the Dolphins, 24-20, and in the process, virtually guaranteed the Broncos' the top spot in the conference, and not only that, the Bengals are now in play for the No. 2 seed, which includes a first-round playoff bye.
Unlike early in the season when Tom Brady struggled to find his rhythm, he was sharp most of the afternoon against the Dolphins. He finished 34-of-55 for 364 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT, but he was without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was lost for the season to an ACL injury last week. And left tackle Nate Solder left on Sunday with a head injury that forced guard Logan Mankins to kick outside. All the upheaval on the offensive side of the ball coupled with the previous injuries on defense (Vince Wilfork and Jerod Meyo among them) now have the Pats sitting at 10-4 with games against the Ravens and Bills remaining.
Predictably, afterwards Brady wasn't in a great mood.
"Yeah, we didn't do a good job getting in the red area," he said, via MassLive.com's Nick Underhill. "We didn't do a good job finishing drives. So, you know, turns out coming up on the short end of the stick. Just wasn't a good day, just couldn't make enough plays when we had a chance to."
Brady was then asked about the final drive, when the Patriots had several shots at the end zone before Brady threw a game-ending interception.
"We got plenty of chances all day," he said. "We make some good plays and then make plenty of (expletive) plays."
And that, in a nutshell, explains what happened.