Just two short years ago, the Patriots were on top of the NFL world, their sixth Super Bowl championship of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era in tow.
Boy, did things escalate quickly from there. The Patriots haven't won a postseason game since Super Bowl LIII, and they won't get to win one this year, as the delirious push for a playoff berth was mercifully put to rest with a 22-12 loss to the Dolphins in Miami to officially eliminate New England from the postseason.
"Disappointed,'' Belichick said. "But we didn't deserve to win today.''
Moments earlier, he had acknowledged that the best team won by offering a congratulatory hug to his former assistant, Brian Flores.
It's the first time the Patriots won't be participating in the NFL's postseason since 2008, when Brady missed the team's final 15 games with a torn ACL. Mind you, that team still finished 11-5, while these Patriots are now 6-8.
New England's streak of 19 consecutive winning seasons over, and the team must win its final two games to avoid its first losing season since 2000.
"We knew what was at stake,'' receiver Jakobi Meyers said. "We have to take it on the chin and come back.''
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Once again, it was a virtual no-show from the Patriots' offense, complete with not enough timely stops by the defense.
Quarterback Cam Newton completed 17 of 27 passes for 209 yards, many of them in garbage time, as what is likely his first and only season in Foxboro winds down.
"We know what the standard is around here,'' Newton said. "We just came up short. That's doesn't mean were not good enough, because we are. We just didn't show it.''
If nothing else, New England's special teams were ready from the get-go.
As has become par for the course, the Patriots punted on each of their first two possessions. But what a sight it was to see Justin Bethel down Jake Bailey's second punt at the Miami 2-yard line after Matthew Slater kept the ball out of the end zone, pinning the Dolphins deep.
Naturally, Miami's rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa engineered a 15-play, 95-yard drive on which the Dolphins faced only two third down plays. However, Miami would be denied points after defensive lineman Chase Winovich pressured Tagovailoa on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, forcing a wobbling throw that was easily picked off by J.C. Jackson for his eighth interception of the season.
New England turned the pick into three points on a Nick Folk 45-yard field goal, and would add three more on a 36-yard Folk kick before the first half was out.
The Patriots did catch two breaks in maintaining a 6-0 lead at the break. Newton fumbled while attempting to pick up extra yardage, the ball scooped up by Miami's Xavien Howard for what was initially ruled an 86-yard touchdown. Instead, it was determined Howard was in contact with a player who was out of bounds when he recovered the ball, leaving it in New England's possession for a Folk field goal attempt. The Dolphins also missed a 53-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first half.
Receiving the ball to begin the second half, Miami became the first team to find the end zone after it reeled off a nine-play, 72-yard drive capped off by a Salvon Ahmed 1-yard touchdown run, taking a 7-6 lead on a Jason Sanders PAT.
"It seemed like a bunch of stuff went wrong,'' Winovich said.
New England regained the lead, 9-7, on a 45-yard field goal for Folk, before Tagovailoa led another Dolphins touchdown drive, scampering in himself for a 3-yard score. Miami added a two-point conversion to go up 15-9 with 12:55 left in the fourth quarter.
"Miami was just better than we were today,'' Belichick said. "That's the bottom line.''
Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson agreed.
"They competed harder than us," he said. "They just flat-out beat us.''
Folk made a 42-yard field goal to slice the deficit back to three points at 15-12, but the Dolphins would once again find the end zone with another short Tagovailoa touchdown run to go up 22-12 with 3:17 left.
Folk, for what it's worth, has been nothing short of excellent since joining the Patriots midway through the 2019 season. With today's 4-for-4 performance, he's now 39-for-43 on field goal attempts (90.7%) and 26-for-28 on PATs.
That's where things are in New England, searching for silver linings on special teams.
The Patriots have now gone back-to-back seasons without winning a playoff game for the first time since 2008-10, when they went three straight seasons without at least one victory in the postseason.
They'll play out the string against two more AFC East foes, beginning next Monday night at home against the Bills, who are trying to capture their first division crown since 1995.
"We've got to do a better job of coaching, playing, defeating blocks, and certainly got to do a better job of tackling,'' Belichick said. "It's a combination of all those things.''
The Associated Press contributed to this report