9 takeaways from Patriots’ heartbreaking loss to Dolphins in Week 1

Damien Harris and the New England Patriots had the ball at around the 9-yard line and, in turn, a chance to take the lead with just about three minutes left in the game. And then Harris didn’t have the ball.

Cornerback Xavien Howard forced a fumble on Harris’ 2-yard carry in the red zone in the fourth quarter. New England was trailing by one point, with the opportunity for a touchdown or an easy field goal attempt. But Harris’ fumble ended the drive, a disappointing finish to a 100-yard game for the running back. It was the fourth fumble of the game and New England would not get the ball back. They couldn’t mount a game-winning drive behind rookie quarterback Mac Jones, falling short, 17-16.

Here are our takeaways from New England’s disappointing season opener.

Mac Jones got his rookie moment out of the way and worked the quick passing game

Jones' first dropback of the game was, in short, a disaster. It's unclear what happened on the play, but Jones faced immediate pressure and didn't seem to know what to do with the ball. So he looked to tight end Jonnu Smith, who was telling the QB not to throw the ball. Jones threw it anyway and appeared intent on turfing the ball. It's just that Jones was throwing backward, so the play was ruled a fumble. Lucky for Jones, Smith fell on the ball. Once New England shook that off, they found their quick-passing attack, which focused on the ground game. Jones finished the game 29 of 39 for 281 yards and one touchdown. He had his moments, including this dime to James White in the second half. The problem was fairly obvious. New England finished with just 16 points. Jones and company couldn't stay on the field long enough, with the offense turning to the field goal unit too often.

The red zone offense needs work

The Patriots had drives falter at the 24, the 15 and twice on the 9-yard line. The lowest moment came on Harris' fumble, which was the only time they made it to the red zone without getting any points. It was also the moment in the game when points were most crucial. All they needed was a field goal. On the other three drives (with the drive ending on the 24-yard line not technically being in the red zone), they settled for a field goal. It's not the kind of efficiency they wanted after an offseason where they spent big to get two tight ends (Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry) and a receiver (Nelson Aholor) who scored plenty of touchdowns in 2020.

The Patriots defense put together a pitiful opening drive... HOWEVER!

The Dolphins decided to go after defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, the Patriots' nose tackle who signed a two-year, $16-million deal this offseason after playing for -- who else? -- Miami. Godchaux failed to hold his ground along with ... basically the entire defense. That's how Devin McCourty ended up with four tackles on the opening drive. It's because the linebacker and defensive linemen were failing to get the job done for him. Running back Myles Gaskin and receiver Jaylen Waddle were simply too fast for New England's front-seven, which has lacked speed through the 2020 season. It felt like an ominous opening drive, with the Dolphins exploiting the Patriots' weaknesses, which they hadn't corrected, even after a big offseason of spending.

HOWEVER! New England's defense quickly recovered

They were strong for the rest of the first half, only allowing a late field goal as time expired. Otherwise, the Dolphins had two three-play drives and one five-play drive, all of which ended with punts. The Dolphins' second touchdown drive came as a product of superior athleticism, whether it was Devante Parker beating J.C. Jackson for a jump ball for 30 yards or Jaylen Waddle betting Adrian Phillips in a foot race for a touchdown. That's when the Dolphins were at their best: when they used their athleticism to simply let the speed and size go to work against New England's defense. In the second half, the Patriots defense managed an interception at just the right moment. On third-and-7, safety Adrian Phillips rushed the passer and flushed Tagovailoa out of the pocket, where linebacker Matthew Judon delivered a huge hit. Tagovailoa threw up a prayer of a pass, which got tipped into the air to cornerback Jonathan Jones.

Nelson Agholor was surprisingly impressive considering how little he practiced

Agholor was limited in every practice this week with an ankle injury. He was plagued with injuries for most of training camp and preseason, and therefore had limited work with the starting offense. With a receiver, that's generally bad news. The offense is so complicated that pass-catchers often need a heavy volume of reps to learn the plays. Apparently, that wasn't true for Agholor, who finished the game with five e catches for 72 yards and one touchdown. He made a big impact on the offense in his Patriots debut, which I'll admit I didn't see coming, not after Jakobi Meyers spent most of the offseason serving as WR1. Agholor looked the part after signing a two-year, $22 million deal this offseason.

Jakobi Meyers did a nice Julian Edelman impression

When the Patriots needed a first down, they looked to Meyers. His maturity as a receiver is impressive after just one full season in the NFL. He has stepped in for Edelman -- and Meyers even looks like a young Edelman. Meyers doesn't seem to be ready to play outside, like Edelman began to do later in his career. But in the slot, the two receivers have plenty of similarities. Meyers finished the game with six catches for 44 yards. With Jones showing hesitancy to push the ball downfield, Meyers proved to be the rookie QB's safety net.

Rhamondre Stevenson gave up his chance as a complement to Damien Harris -- at least in Week 1

It's not a good sign for Stevenson that his first reception (and second touch) ended with a fumble. The Patriots rode Harris for most of the game, with help from James White on passing downs. New England elected to go with Stevenson over J.J. Taylor, who was inactive in Week 1. Will they make the same decision in Week 2? Stevenson, after all, showed up to training camp out of shape and had to work his way out of the doghouse. It's possible he has to do more of the same after an early fumble.

Josh Uche did Josh Uche things

Uche showed off freaky speed during preseason and training camp. The sub-rusher was quick to beat players off the edge, and he seemed to be on the verge of a very big season as a pass-rusher. Well, he certainly flashed the potential that the media touted all offseason.

The offense simply made far too many mistakes

Maybe the Patriots had a few pleasant surprises (Agholor). And maybe Jones was efficient. But the offense fumbled the ball four times. New England committed eight penalties for 84 yards. Not even Jones' sensational interception could help the Patriots put away the Dolphins. Miami may not have been the better team. But they weren't as sloppy.