LATE COLLAPSE

In what may turn out to be a microcosm of their season, the Dolphins fell apart in the final minutes Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium and wound up suffering a 27-24 overtime loss to the New England Patriots.

With the loss the Dolphins ended the regular season at 9-7, this after they were 5-1 following their victory at Denver back on Oct. 13.

The Dolphins also finished a brutal 2-6 mark on the road.

Of all the road losses, perhaps none was more disappointing than this one, both because of what was at stake and because the Dolphins led all day.

Miami had a 21-7 lead in the first half, and led 24-13 with just under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

But everything that could go wrong did go wrong after that, starting with a much-too-easy New England touchdown drive that cut the lead to 24-21 after a two-point conversion.

One bad break on that drive was an atrocious pass interference call on Jamar Fletcher that gave the Pats a first-and-goal at the 3 on a play where wide receiver David Patten appeared to push off against Fletcher.

After that score with 2:46 left, the Dolphins special teams lined up with their hands team, but the Patriots kicked off deep, the ball bounced just inside the end zone before bouncing back at the 2, where Travis Minor grabbed it before being tackled at the 4.

After the Dolphins failed to get a first down, Mark Royals hit a weak 23-yard punt into the wind, giving the Patriots a first down at the Miami 34-yard line. From there, Adam Vinatieri tied the game with a 43-yard field goal with 1:09 left.

The Dolphins had two timeouts and could have tried to move downfield for a game-winning field goal, but Randy McMichael was called for holding on the kickoff return and the Dolphins had to start from their 12. After Jay Fiedler was sacked on first down, the Dolphins decided — rightly so — to just run out the clock.

New England won the overtime coin toss, and Olindo Mare, who missed a 47-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter, put the kickoff out of bounds, giving the Patriots the ball at the 40-yard line.

From there, the Pats moved to the Miami 17-yard line, setting the stage for Vinatieri's 35-yard field goal.

With his kick, all the good work the Dolphins produced became forgotten, such as Ricky Williams' 185 yards on the ground as he just about wrapped the rushing title.


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