The Miami Dolphins held a 14-7 lead early in the third quarter but could not hold on, dropping a 23-21 road decision to the New England Patriots Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
Miami (8-8), looking for its fifth straight win over New England, registered 21 first downs, seven more than the Patriots, and posted 333 net yards to the Patriots' 249, but could not come up with the victory.
New England (8-8) struck first as quarterback Mac Jones found rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton for a seven-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead.
The advantage was short-lived, however, as Miami responded with a scoring drive of its own, marching 75 yards in 13 plays over 7:20 of action.
Key conversions from running back Jeff Wilson Jr. on fourth-and-one from Miami's own 34-yard line and later on third-and-six kept the drive alive before completions of 19 yards to wide receiver Tyreek Hill and 14 yards to tight end Mike Gesicki put the Dolphins at the New England five-yard line.
On the first play of the second quarter, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, filling in for injured starter Tua Tagovailoa, found Hill behind the line of scrimmage and the speedy receiver did the rest, tiptoeing into the endzone to level the game at 7-7.
After New England's 10-play, 81-yard opening drive, the Miami defense gave up just 50 net yards of offense the rest of the half and went into the locker room tied at seven.
The strong defensive display continued into the second half as the Dolphins' defense forced two consecutive three-and-outs to begin the third quarter.
Starting with great field position from the New England 41-yard line, Bridgewater began Miami's second drive of the half with a 23-yard completion to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. Four plays later, on second-and-goal from the two-yard line, Bridgewater stepped up in the pocket and flipped the ball to running back Raheem Mostert to give Miami a 14-7 lead with 9:17 left in the third quarter.
But despite the momentum seemingly turning in the Dolphins' direction, it was New England that then scored 16 straight points to take control of the game.
Patriots kicker Nick Folk nailed a 49-yard field goal to cut the lead to four, 14-10, and safety Kyle Dugger came up with a 39-yard pick-six to give New England the lead with just under three minutes to play in the third quarter. Folk missed the ensuing extra point, keeping the advantage to just two, 16-14.
The Patriots scored again with 4:37 to play in the game on a one-yard pass from Jones to wide receiver Jakobi Meyers to go up 23-14.
Rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson, who replaced Bridgewater (right finger injury) late in the third quarter, put Miami back within one score on a four-yard touchdown pass to Gesicki with 1:04 remaining but the Dolphins failed to recover the following onside kick.
Thompson finished with 104 passing yards while Bridgewater had 161 yards through the air.
Mostert tallied a team-high eight receptions for 62 yards while Hill and Waddle recorded 55 and 52 receiving yards, respectively.
Jones, who was sacked three times, had 203 passing yards while Thornton finished with 60 receiving yards to lead New England.
Miami returns home to Hard Rock Stadium next weekend for its regular season finale against the New York Jets (7-8) on Sunday, January 8 at 1p.m.