The New England Patriots officially were eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since 2008 with their 22-12 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, and they lost one of their best players in the process.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, left the game late in the second quarter with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.
"Disappointed," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when asked about missing the playoffs. "But we didn't deserve to win today."
Gilmore planted on the natural grass surface at Miami's Hard Rock Stadium while backpedaling, and his right leg gave out on him. The noncontact injury, which occurred away from the play, led to Gilmore being helped to the locker room. He was not able to put pressure on his right leg.
The Patriots officially ruled Gilmore out for the game in the second half.
As for the game, the Patriots struggled to stop the run (the Dolphins totaled 250 rushing yards) in a performance that ensures they'll miss the postseason for the first time since 2008 -- a year in which Tom Brady missed the season with a torn ACL sustained in the opener.
"We have to coach better, we have to play better, we have to tackle better. A combination of all those things," Belichick said.
The Patriots' 11-year streak of making the playoffs was the longest in NFL history. The Cowboys (1975-1983) and Colts (2002-2010) were tied for second with nine straight years qualifying for the playoffs.
"It's hard to sustain winning ways in this league. Unfortunately all good things come to an end," said captain Matthew Slater, the team's longest tenured player (since 2008). "We're certainly disappointed in that, but I feel blessed to be part of such a great run here."
Dropping to 6-8, they will finish in third place in the AFC East. From 2000 to 2019, they finished worse than second just once -- in 2000, when they were last in Belichick's first season as coach.
The Patriots dropped to 9-12 on the road vs. the Dolphins under Belichick, the only team the Patriots have a losing road record against since 2000 (minimum 5 games). Miami's Tua Tagovailoa became the first rookie quarterback to beat the Patriots since Geno Smith (Jets) in 2013, breaking a streak of nine straight wins for New England in those situations.
Quarterback Cam Newton called it a "frustrating" season for the Patriots.
"But I don't want to dwell on what's obvious. This whole season has kind of been the tale of just coming just a tad bit short. Call it however you want to do. We've still got guys that are new to this system. We've still got guys that are young. We've still got guys that just don't get it. And we've still got guys that are battling their tails off each and every week. So we've just got to keep building on the optimism of what we can become and just move from there," he said.
In addition to the loss, the Patriots had several key players leave with injuries, a group that included Gilmore, starting center David Andrews (calf), starting linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (arm) and starting outside linebacker John Simon (hamstring).
A potential serious injury to Gilmore, 30, could complicate his future in New England as he enters the final year of his contract. Gilmore is scheduled to earn $7 million in base salary, a low figure for a player of his stature and the result of the club advancing him $5 million from 2021 to his 2020 salary back in September.
Since that time, there has been a widespread expectation the Patriots and Gilmore would meet up again at the negotiating table in the offseason.
Gilmore initially signed a five-year, $65 million deal with the Patriots in 2017 after spending the first five years of his career with the Bills.
"I don't have any update," Belichick said, when asked about Gilmore after the game.