Patriots-Dolphins takeaways: Hill, Waddle power Miami to Week 8 win

Patriots-Dolphins takeaways: Hill, Waddle power Miami to Week 8 win originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots had a few chances to make Sunday's Week 8 game against the Miami Dolphins competitive, but they just couldn't keep up with Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill and the NFL's most explosive offense in a 31-17 loss at Hard Rock Stadium.

In fairness, most teams haven't been able to go toe-to-toe with the Dolphins' offense, which leads the league in scoring at 33.8 points per game.

The Patriots hadn't allowed a 100-yard wide receiver through seven weeks, but that run came to an end Sunday as Jaylen Waddle (121 yards) Hill (112 yards) dominated New England's secondary.

Tagovailoa improved to 6-0 in his career against the Patriots. The Dolphins now own a 6-2 record atop the AFC East division with the victory. The Patriots sit in last place at 2-6.

The Patriots' upcoming schedule is about to get a little easier, beginning with a Week 9 matchup against the Washington Commanders. But before we look ahead to that game, here are four takeaways from Patriots-Dolphins.

Patriots offense takes step back

It was fair to wonder if the Patriots offense had finally turned a corner last week with a season-high 29 points scored in an upset win over the Buffalo Bills. Starting quarterback Mac Jones also played his best game of the season and didn't turn the ball over.

The real question was whether the Patriots could build on that momentum versus an average Dolphins defense. Unfortunately for the Patriots, their offense took a step back in Week 8.

Jones completed 19 of 29 pass attempts for just 161 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The turnover really hurt because it eliminated a chance to get points right before halftime. Dolphins cornerback Jalen Ramsey fooled Jones and picked off the lazy pass. The Dolphins ended up scoring a touchdown on the ensuing possession, so instead of going into halftime trailing 14-10, the Patriots found themselves down 17-7.

The Patriots picked up a respectable 4.1 yards per carry, but the rushing attack wasn't able to generate any big plays. Neither Rhamondre Stevenson nor Ezekiel Elliott were able to eclipse 40 yards on the ground.

In total, the Patriots offense tallied just 218 yards and converted on only one of nine third downs. The offensive line showed huge improvement against the Bills last week, but against the Dolphins this unit gave up three sacks and six QB hits.

New England has failed to score 20 or more points in seven of their eight games. It's really tough to win consistently with such a lackluster offensive output.

Tyreek Hill is making legit MVP case

A wide receiver has never won the AP NFL MVP award. The last time a non-quarterback won MVP was former Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in 2012.

It's time to throw Tyreek Hill into the MVP conversation as a serious candidate. The veteran wideout caught eight passes for 112 yards and a touchdown Sunday. His most important catch might've been a 9-yard pickup on a third-and-9 with 6:21 left in the fourth quarter. The Patriots had just trimmed the Dolphins' lead to 24-17, and Hill's clutch third-down conversion kept Miami's drive alive and helped set up a score by Waddle that essentially sealed the victory.

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Hill has five games of 100-plus yards this season. He became the first player in history to go over 1,000 receiving yards (1,017 to be exact) in the first eight games. He has a real chance to hit the 2,000-yard mark and break the single-season record for receiving yards, which is 1,964 held by Calvin Johnson (2012).

Before Sunday, the Patriots had not allowed Hill to tally 100-plus yards in a game since Week 6 of the 2018 campaign.

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It's going to be hard for Hill to earn more MVP votes than the top quarterback candidates like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. But if he hits the 2,000-yard mark and scores 15 or more touchdowns, he absolutely deserves to be a serious candidate. He's the reason why the Dolphins have the highest-scoring offense in pro football.

It's time to play the young wideouts more

JuJu Smith-Schuster, who recently battled a concussion, was active for the first time since Week 5. He didn't receive a single snap in the first half and was targeted only once overall. That target resulted in a 3-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, but it ended up not mattering very much in the final result. Smith-Schuster, who was signed in the offseason as a free agent, has tallied just 15 receptions for 89 yards and one touchdown in six games. The veteran wideout has six catches for 28 yards over his last four games combined. He's been a major disappointment this season.

There's no reason to make Smith-Schuster active and then barely play him. It's a complete waste. His spot on the active roster could have been filled by rookie wideout Kayshoun Boutte, whose playmaking ability at LSU has not been tapped into yet in the NFL.

Another veteran wide receiver who has been a massive disappointment for the Patriots is DeVante Parker. He caught one pass for 14 yards on two targets Sunday. He has fallen woefully short of expectations with 15 catches for 158 yards and zero scores in seven games. Parker also suffered a head injury in the third quarter and was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game.

The Patriots need to give many more snaps to younger wideouts such as Boutte, Demario Douglas and even Tyquan Thornton. Thornton was a healthy scratch in Week 8. New England doesn't have a lot of speed and quickness at wide receiver, but those two attributes are pillars of Thornton's skill set. Why not give him a chance and see if he can make an impact? The Patriots spent a second-round pick on Thornton in 2020 but haven't given him enough of a chance to establish any consistency.

The Patriots are 2-6. The playoffs are long gone. It's time to develop young talent and see which players have a long-term future with the franchise.

Tough day for J.C. Jackson

The season-ending injury to rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez was a huge blow to the Patriots secondary, and it was among the reasons why the team traded for J.C. Jackson in a deal with the Los Angeles Chargers earlier this month.

The Patriots need Jackson -- who enjoyed a lot of success in this defense prior to leaving in free agency after the 2021 season -- to be one of their best defensive backs if they're going to slow down the abundance of top-tier wideouts on their schedule.

He played pretty well in his first three games since the trade, but Sunday was a real struggle. Jackson was in coverage during the Dolphins' first two touchdowns.

The first came in the opening quarter when Hill beat both Jackson and rookie safety Marte Mapu for a 42-yard score.

Later in the second quarter, Jackson committed a pass interference penalty in the end zone that gave Miami a first down on the 1-yard line. Tagovailoa connected with wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. on the next play as Jackson got beat again.

The Patriots defense played pretty well most of the game and forced two turnovers. But the Patriots' margin for error is so thin because they lack the offensive firepower to keep up with high-scoring teams like the Dolphins. If Jackson played a little bet better Sunday, the score might have looked a lot different.