Patriots limit but can't eliminate Dolphins' big plays, now face tough road to playoff contention

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Facing the NFL’s top-rated offense, the New England Patriots limited the big plays by the Miami Dolphins on Sunday until a late touchdown ended their hopes of beating the AFC East leaders.

Dolphins star receiver Tyreek Hill had his big moment with a 42-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. Overall, though, Miami’s quick strikes were kept to a minimum until Hill’s co-receiving threat, Jaylen Waddle, doomed the Patriots.

Faced with a third-and-1 at the New England 31 and protecting a seven-point lead with 2:41 left, the Dolphins converted another big play. Tua Tagovailoa found a wide-open Waddle at the 15. With no Patriots defender near him, Waddle easily ran into the end zone to seal Miami’s 31-17 win.

“Miami made some plays and that was the difference in the game,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

New England (2-6) could not follow up its dramatic win over defending AFC East champion Buffalo last week and now needs a surge of victories in its remaining nine games to stay in playoff contention.

“It starts with us in the locker room,” veteran center David Andrews said. “I think any grown man has to sit there and look in the mirror and say what I could do better. If you start pointing fingers, I think that’s kind of a coward’s way of doing things.”

In addition to further dropping in the division standings, the Patriots lost receivers DeVante Parker (head) and Kendrick Bourne (knee) to injuries.

Dolphins defensive back DeShon Elliott’s helmet collided with Parker’s chin during a pass play in the third, but Elliott wasn't penalized. Parker, a former Dolphin, got to his feet after the play but immediately stumbled to the ground.

“Talk to the officials about it. What do you want me to do?” Belichick said when asked about the play.

JuJu Smith-Schuster got additional reps after Parker and Bourne exited. Smith-Schuster, signed as a free agent in the offseason, had his first touchdown as a Patriot when he caught a 3-yard pass from Mac Jones to get New England within 24-17 midway through the fourth quarter.

“Our tempo plays were good and it’s something we can expand on as an offense,” Jones said. “But you don’t want to be in that position. It’s hard for everybody. We just want to have longer drives, have explosive plays and throw the ball downfield when there are opportunities.”

Jones finished 19 of 29 for 161 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw a costly interception late in the first half.

Down 14-7, the Patriots reached the Miami 23 at the two-minute warning before Dolphins cornerback Jalen Ramsey intercepted Jones’ pass and returned it 49 yards.

“He fell off on the one play and made a play,” Jones said. “That’s what he does. He’s a good player. I just made a bad throw.”