The Patriots practiced amid the cold and snow this week for a game Sunday in Miami during which the temperature is expected to reach 79 degrees with 73% humidity.
That will be Dec. 20 in Florida. Also known as July 10 in New England.
There are a dozen days left in this upside-down year of 2020, which shared the moniker of normal eyesight despite possessing neither vision nor clarity. The perfect middle finger of fate. Up is down. Down is up. The Patriots are in third place.
A year ago on the Saturday before Christmas, the Patriots clipped the Buffalo Bills 24-17 to win their 11th straight division crown.
It would be the final “hat-and-T-shirt” game of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Era in New England.
(At least for now. Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge.)
The Patriots will not win their 12th straight AFC East title this time. Third-grade math has taken care of that by virtue of seven losses in 13 games. The “Path” got a bit easier for the Patriots on Thursday night with the Raiders’ loss. New England must now only leap two teams — the Dolphins and Ravens — to reach the postseason.
But nothing happens after Jan. 3 for Cam & The Kids without victory in Miami on Sunday.
Winning late-season games in Miami has been a challenge for this franchise since the days of Babe Parilli. The OG Patriots won just one game at the late, great Orange Bowl over a span of 20 years before toppling the Dolphins in the 1985 AFC title game.
Maybe it’s the heat? Maybe it’s the humility? The South Beach scene? Global warming? Lack of acclimation? Trump’s tweets? Tony Montana? Who knows?
Even the arrival of Brady failed to stem the Patriots’ late-season woes in the 305.
Lost amid the hubbub of those clearing parking spots in the Hub while Brady plays Auric Goldfinger aboard the “Viva A Vida” off the coast of Florida is Brady’s terrible track record playing in Miami. Overall, Brady was 8-10 playing for the Patriots against the Dolphins in Florida. Eight of those losses came after Thanksgiving. That’s not good for a guy who plans to make his new home on “Billionaire’s Row” in Biscayne Bay.
There was no bigger post-Thanksgiving turkey for the Patriots in Miami than the one served in 2018.
On Dec. 9, the Patriots visit to South Florida ended with the “Miracle In Miami” — also known as “What the Hell Was Gronk Doing Out There?” The Dolphins prevailed 34-33 after Ryan Tannehill’s last-second pass eventually ended up in the hands of a streaking Kenyan Drake. The running back sliced through the befuddled Patriots defense before beating Rob Gronkowski to the pylon for a once-in-a-lifetime score.
The Dolphins celebrated like they won their first NFL championship since 1974. The Patriots recovered in time to beat the Rams in the Super Bowl two months later.
On Jan. 3, 2016, the Patriots took a half-day at Miami with home-field throughout the AFC playoffs up for grabs. Brady tapped out with 5 minutes to play in a 20-10 loss. He threw a season-low 21 times for a season-low 134 yards and was held without a TD pass. Imagine what Cam Newton could do with numbers like that? The season ended three weeks later in Denver as Stephen Gostkowski missed his first PAT in eight years during a 20-18 loss in the conference championship game.
On Dec. 10, 2006, Brady was blanked for the first time as a Patriots starting QB at what was then called Dolphin Stadium in an excruciating-to-watch-in-person 21-0 debacle. Jason Taylor tormented Brady, who was sacked four times, fumbled twice and totaled 78 yards passing. The best play of the game for New England turned out to be a touchdown nullified by an illegal forward pass. A surge of nuclear-powered Brady sideline tantrums warmed South Florida that day. Watching in the stands, it was hard to tell what he was saying over my own profane utterances.
There were more late-season Miami meltdowns, but you get the point.
Sunday, another late-season visit to Miami could top the Patriots’ 2020 naughty list.
Dolphins coach Brian Flores has an opportunity to deny his former team continued playoff sustenance while solidifying 8-5 Miami a spot in the postseason. Even the old “Belichick vs Rookie QB” backdrop might not save New England this time.
Tua Tagovailoa could give the Patriots fits given his ability to throw on the run. The Dolphins’ running game otherwise is tepid at best. That’s good considering how the Rams curb-stomped New England nine days ago.
Current ESPN mouthpiece Bart Scott on Thursday called this game “a week off” for the Dolphins defense and referred to the Patriots’ offense as a “scout team.”
The Dolphins nearly beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs last week before losing 33-27.
“You think about this secondary went blow-for-blow against the best, arguably the No. 1 offense in the game. This is going to be like a week off. This is going to be like going against the scout team,” Scott said. “Cam Newton has a 78 QBR, 10 interceptions. I’m not worried about anything that the Patriots offense has to present to the Miami Dolphins defense.”
Scott dropped his infamous “can’t wait” line after a young QB Mark Sanchez and the Jets KO’d the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the 2010 divisional playoffs. Sanchez also beat the Patriots as a rookie in 2009.
Scott believes the Dolphins head coach is even immune to the Dark Side of the Force.
“Flores understands all of the Jedi mind tricks that Bill has. We all understand he’s a Sith Lord, but he’s out of moves,” Scott said. “He has no more moves on the chessboard, and it’s time for Miami to claim their stake, and say, ‘You know what? This is our division now. We have a much better quarterback than you have.’ ”
Actually, it’s Buffalo’s division now.
The Patriots are just living in it.
Bill Speros (@RealOBF) can be reached at email@example.com.
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