Bill Belichick is universally recognized as one of the best coaches — if not THE best coach — in NFL history, and he owns the Super Bowl titles to prove it. That doesn't mean he — or his entire New England Patriots staff — is infallible.
Exhibit A: The Miami Miracle.
With the Patriots ahead by five points, only 7 seconds left, and the host Dolphins backed up at their own 31, New England sent out its Hail Mary defense. That unit includes tight end Rob Gronkowski, a hulking, 6-foot-6 ballhawk who certainly could be useful when it comes to batting down a wing-and-a-prayer long toss toward the end zone.
But would the Dolphins really ask Ryan Tannehill to try to heave ball 70 or so yards through the air? Of course not. Instead, he threw a 14-yard pass to Kenny Stills, who immediately lateraled to the nearby DeVante Parker, who then flipped the ball to Kenyan Drake, who took it the final 52 yards, evading Gronkowski, for the winning TD in quite a "WHAT?!" finale.
Dolphins 34, Patriots 33.
All thanks to a 69-yard touchdown that is the longest play from scrimmage to win a game with no time remaining in the fourth quarter since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
"They changed it up a little bit," Gronkowski said about the Dolphins. "Every time we practice (that defense), it's for the Hail Mary, but (you've) got to be ready for anything."
In this rare instance, Belichick's team was not.
In addition to having Gronkowski out there, and having to see him stumble a bit in his just-too-slow, wrong-angle, clumsy-attempt-to-grab pursuit of Drake, the Patriots did not put the faster, more-capable tackler Devin McCourty, a starting safety, on the field.
"I saw (Drake), and Gronk about 10 yards away," Tannehill said with a smile. "I was like, 'Gronk's on the field! We got this!'"
A win would have clinched the AFC East for New England (9-4), which also looked sloppy at the end of the first half, failing to score despite having the football at Miami's 2 with 14 seconds remaining.
Tony Dungy, who won a Super Bowl as coach of the Indianapolis Colts and now appears on NBC's "Football Night in America," expressed surprise at that waste of a scoring chance, along with the game-ending defensive strategy.
"We just are not used to seeing that from the Patriots," Dungy said.
His NBC colleague Rodney Harrison, once a Patriots defensive back under Belichick, called the way things ended Sunday "inexcusable," adding: "I played there six years, and I've never seen anything like this."
In typical Belichick fashion, he didn't say much afterward, offering little more than: "Need to coach it better, play it better."
Both true. Especially the first part.
In case you missed it, here are other top topics after the NFL season's 14th Sunday:
Seems pretty clear that Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden deserves NFL Executive of the Year honors for becoming what might just be the first dealmaker to turn TWO mediocre clubs into playoff teams with trades in the same season. He helped the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys (8-5) by shipping them Amari Cooper, who provided three TD catches in a 29-23 OT victory over the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. And Gruden also helped the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears (9-4) by sending them Khalil Mack, whose latest strip-sack came in a 15-6 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Patrick Mahomes keeps adding to his stats — up to 43 TD passes and more than 4,300 passing yards — and his library of amazing plays for the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs (11-2). In a 27-24 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens, Mahomes produced two more highlight keepers: a no-look completion to Demarcus Robinson, and a down-by-a-TD, 1½-minutes-left, fourth-and-9, in-his-own-territory heave to Tyreek Hill while scrambling to his right and throwing across his body toward the other side of the field for a 40-yard gain.
ON TO NO. 4
After Mark Sanchez's first NFL start since 2015 was a six-completion, two-interception disaster for the Washington Redskins in a 40-16 loss to the New York Giants — "Nothing worked," as coach Jay Gruden put it — now it'll be Josh Johnson's turn to make his first NFL start since 2011. Johnson will be the fourth QB to start this season for the Redskins, who opened the season 6-3 but now are 6-7 after losing Alex Smith and Colt McCoy to injuries. The only other club with that many starters at the game's most vital position? The Buffalo Bills, who are 4-9 after trying Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman, Matt Barkley and Derek Anderson.