Hill and Waddle help Miami win in Week 8

Patriots-Dolphins takeaways: Hill and Waddle give Miami Week 8 win originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots had several chances to make Sunday’s Week 8 game against the Miami Dolphins competitive, but simply couldn’t with Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill and the NFL’s most explosive offense in a 31-17 loss at Hard Rock Stadium keep up.

To be fair, most teams haven’t been able to keep up with the Dolphins’ offense, which leads the league with 33.8 points per game.

The Patriots hadn’t allowed a 100-yard wide receiver in seven weeks, but that run ended Sunday as Jaylen Waddle (121 yards) and Hill (112 yards) dominated New England’s secondary.

Tagovailoa improved to 6-0 in his career against the Patriots. With the win, the Dolphins are now 6-2 at the top of the AFC East division. The Patriots are in last place at 2-6.

The Patriots’ upcoming schedule gets a little easier, starting with a Week 9 game against the Washington Commanders. But before we take a look at this game, here are four takeaways from the Patriots-Dolphins.

The Patriots offense takes a step back

It was fair to wonder if the Patriots’ offense had finally turned things around last week with a season-high 29 points in a surprising win over the Buffalo Bills. Starting quarterback Mac Jones also played his best game of the season and didn’t turn the ball over.

The real question was whether the Patriots could build on that momentum compared to an average Dolphins defense. Unfortunately for the Patriots, their offense fell behind in Week 8.

Jones completed 19 of 29 pass attempts for just 161 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The loss of the ball really hurt because it destroyed the chance of points just before halftime. Dolphins cornerback Jalen Ramsey deceived Jones and blocked the lazy pass. The Dolphins eventually scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession, so the Patriots went into halftime not trailing 14-10, but trailing 17-7.

The Patriots gained a respectable 4.1 yards per carry, but the rushing attack was unable to produce big plays. Neither Rhamondre Stevenson nor Ezekiel Elliott were able to pass 40 yards on the ground.

Overall, the Patriots’ offense totaled just 218 yards and converted just one of nine third downs. The offensive line showed huge improvement last week against the Bills, but against the Dolphins that unit allowed three sacks and six QB hits.

New England has failed to score 20 or more points in seven of its eight games. It’s really difficult to win consistently with such a poor offensive performance.

Tyreek Hill has real MVP aspirations

A wide receiver has never won the AP NFL MVP Award. The last time a non-quarterback won MVP was former Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in 2012.

It’s time to bring Tyreek Hill into the MVP conversation as a serious candidate. The veteran wideout caught eight passes for 112 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. His most important catch may have been a 9-yard pickup on a third-and-9 with 6:21 left in the fourth quarter. The Patriots had just cut the Dolphins’ lead to 24-17, and Hill’s crucial third-down conversion kept Miami’s drive alive and helped Waddle set up a score that essentially sealed the win.

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Hill has had five games with more than 100 yards this season. He became the first player in history to reach more than 1,000 yards (1,017 to be exact) in the first eight games. He has a real chance to reach the 2,000-yard mark and break the single-season record for receiving yards, which stands at 1,964 and is held by Calvin Johnson (2012).

Before Sunday, the Patriots had not allowed Hill to rush for more than 100 yards in a game since Week 6 of the 2018 season.

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It will be difficult for Hill to receive more MVP votes than top quarterback candidates like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. But if he reaches the 2,000-yard mark and scores 15 or more touchdowns, he absolutely deserves to be a serious candidate. He is the reason the Dolphins have the highest-scoring offense in professional football.

It’s time to play the young wideouts more

JuJu Smith-Schuster, who recently battled a concussion, returned to action for the first time since Week 5. He didn’t receive a single snap in the first half and was only targeted once overall. That goal led to a 3-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, but ultimately didn’t have much significance in the final result. Smith-Schuster, signed as a free agent in the offseason, has only 15 receptions for 89 yards and one touchdown in six games. The veteran wideout has totaled six catches for 28 yards in his last four games. He has been a huge disappointment this season.

There is no reason to make Smith-Schuster active and then barely play him. It’s a complete waste. His spot on the active roster could have been filled by rookie wideout Kayshoun Boutte, whose playing skills at LSU had not yet been utilized in the NFL.

Another veteran wide receiver who has been a major disappointment for the Patriots is DeVante Parker. He caught one pass for 14 yards on two scores on Sunday. He has fallen well short of expectations with 15 catches for 158 yards and zero scores in seven games. Parker also suffered a head injury in the third quarter and was quickly sidelined for the remainder of the game.

The Patriots need to give younger wideouts like Boutte, Demario Douglas and even Tyquan Thornton a lot more snaps. Thornton was a healthy player in Week 8. New England doesn’t have much speed or quickness at wide receiver, but those two traits are the cornerstones of Thornton’s skill set. Why not give it a chance and see if it can make a difference? The Patriots selected Thornton in the second round in 2020, but didn’t give him enough chances to achieve any consistency.

The Patriots are 2-6. The playoffs are long over. It’s time to develop young talent and identify which players have a long-term future with the franchise.

The season-ending injury to rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez was a major blow to the Patriots’ secondary and was one of the reasons the team traded for JC Jackson in a deal with the Los Angeles Chargers earlier this month.

The Patriots need Jackson – who enjoyed great success in this defense before leaving in free agency after the 2021 season – as one of their best defensive backs if they want to contain the abundance of top-notch wideouts on their schedule.

He’s played pretty well in his first three games since the move, but Sunday was a real struggle. Jackson was in coverage for the Dolphins’ first two touchdowns.

The first came in the first quarter when Hill beat both Jackson and rookie safety Marte Mapu for a 42-yard score.

Later in the second quarter, Jackson called a pass interference penalty in the end zone, giving Miami a first down at the 1-yard line. Tagovailoa connected with wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. on the next play as Jackson was beaten again.

The Patriots defense played pretty well most of the game and forced two turnovers. But the Patriots’ margin for error is so small because they lack the offensive power to keep up with high-scoring teams like the Dolphins. If Jackson had played a little better on Sunday, the result might have been very different.

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