Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is unable to tackle Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard after Howard intercepted a pass by Jones on Sunday in Miami Gardens, Florida. Howard returned it for a score and Miami won, 33-24. Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Jaylen Waddle had a touchdown grab and set the NFL record for receptions in a rookie year, Duke Johnson rushed for 117 yards and the Miami Dolphins finished their season by defeating the playoff-bound New England Patriots 33-24 on Sunday.

Xavien Howard returned an interception for a touchdown and Johnson had a touchdown run for Miami (9-8), which finished with a winning record for the second consecutive season but once again didn’t have a playoff berth to show for it.

Brandon Bolden scored two touchdowns – one rushing, one receiving – for the Patriots (10-7), who are headed to the playoffs as a wild card. But they were swept by the Dolphins for the first time since 2000.

“Played poorly, coached poorly, didn’t do anything very well,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said. “Just too many mistakes. Way too many. We’ll go look at the film, turn the page here, make some corrections and move on to next week. That’s really about it.”

The Patriots have never been to the playoffs as a wild card under Coach Bill Belichick. All 17 of their previous playoff appearances in the Belichick era have come after a division title.

New England’s playoff position wasn’t finalized until the Raiders beat the Chargers with a last-second field goal in overtime Sunday night. New England dropped to the No. 6 seed and will travel to Buffalo for an 8:15 p.m. game Saturday.

New England needed only eight minutes to cut a 27-10 fourth-quarter deficit to 27-24. Mac Jones connected with Bolden for an 18-yard score on a screen pass, and the Patriots made a stop to get the ball back.

Jones started the next possession by finding Jakobi Meyers for a 39-yard gain with 4:40 left to put the Patriots deep in Miami territory. Damien Harris rumbled in from a yard out a couple of minutes later, and just like that, the Patriots were within three.

“I think it says a lot about our character,” Patriots receiver Matthew Slater said. “We’re not going to quit, but you know as well as I do, at this time of year, going out there and competing to the end doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have more points than the other team.”

Miami took over with 2:53 remaining, on its 25, with no timeouts and Tua Tagovailoa having thrown for just 2 yards in the second half.

He wound up sealing matters with his feet, not his arm. Facing third-and-8 from his 42 with just under two minutes to go, Tagovailoa scrambled for 11 yards.

“We just beat a tough team,” said Tagovailoa, who passed for 109 yards. “All week, that’s what we’ve been harping on. We wanted to end this season with a bang and that’s what we went out there and did.”

Jones completed 20 of 30 passes for 261 yards. The Patriots got the ball back with 3 seconds left, needing 98 yards for a score, and Miami’s Sam Eguaoven was credited with recovering a fumble that became a game-ending touchdown as he intercepted a lateral.

“Just proud of this team,” Dolphins Coach Brian Flores said, whose team just missed the playoffs after a 1-7 start. “I’m proud of their fight, their resiliency, their ability to deal and battle adversity. We’ve had ups and downs. It’s a year I’ll certainly remember. But yes, very proud of this team.”

It was 14-0 Miami in a flash. Waddle entered Sunday three catches from breaking Anquan Boldin’s NFL rookie record of 101 grabs set in 2003 – and the Dolphins got him the record in their first four plays. He capped the drive with his sixth touchdown of the year, catching a 7-yard pass from Tagovailoa.

Howard jumped in front of a pass by Jones and returned it 37 yards on the third play of the ensuing New England possession, putting the Dolphins up two scores. It was 17-7 at halftime, and Johnson made it 27-10 when he rumbled into the end zone early in the fourth.


New England lost OL Isaiah Wynn to an ankle injury in the second quarter. He walked up the tunnel leading to the locker room without much difficulty. Running back Rhamondre Stevenson (head) and defensive back Sean Davis (shoulder) also had first-half injury issues for the Patriots, and defensive lineman Christian Barmore was hurt on the Tagovailoa scramble with 1:48 remaining. For the Dolphins, safety Eric Rowe limped off in the third quarter because of a back injury and didn’t return.


Miami became only the second team to win both of its AFC East meetings against New England in the plast 21 years. Buffalo did it in 2020; before that, Miami and the New York Jets both did it in 2000.

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