The stats, at least the stats Bill Belichick says really matter, exhibited the New England Patriots defense stepped up in 2021, just being edged out, at the bitter end, for the fewest points allowed championship.

The Patriots allowed 17.8 points per game, just behind the Bills at 17.0.

And we all know about Belichick’s affinity for points. Basically he says, stats are for losers, and points scored and points allowed in the end count more than quarterback rating, sacks and all the other matrices.

But then 2021 happened.

The Patriots defense, in five of its seven losses, couldn’t get the other team’s offense off the field at the end of a game.

Worst, we were never able to see Mac Jones do that four-quarter-comeback thingie in the final two or three minutes.

Last night in Miami was another one of those lost opportunities/losses.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, especially in 2021.

The strength of this Patriots team is supposed to be the defense and I’m not only talking the brain trust, with Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and co-defensive coordinators Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo participating in the game plans.

Those guys are supposed to be game-planning the other team’s running backs, which usually means controlling the clock and, when up two scores, the game.

While there were injuries to two semi-key players yesterday, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Kyle Dugger, what happened in Miami had nothing to do with the heat, humidity or jinx.

The Patriots allowed 195 yards rushing in Miami and the key guy, Duke Johnson (25 rushes, 117 yards), was picked up on waivers mid-way through the season. He’s been inactive (5 games) more than he has played (4 games).

He was unstoppable in the Miami rain.

That’s it. That’s the problem. That’s bigger than fumble and pick-six.

Mac is ready to try to win a big game. He did his job, guiding two fourth quarter touchdown drives with great, individual efforts on both drives.

Yet, here we are, 10 days into the New Year, and opposing teams running the football, almost at will, especially on first down, is the biggest flaw.

Since Thanksgiving, the Patriots have allowed, in yards, 270 (Tennessee), 99 (Buffalo), 226 (Indianapolis), 114 (Buffalo), 80 (Jacksonville) and the 195 yesterday.

And the Bills “low” numbers really deserve an asterisk because they don’t like running the football, other than quarterback Josh Allen bolting down the field.

Most of the Patriots losses this year have centered around the fact their defense couldn’t get the ball to Mac with two minutes to go in the game.

Yesterday, they gave Mac three seconds to go 97 yards and we know how that ended.

The Patriots are still playing football. Technically, anything is possible with Belichick, a pretty good young quarterback and a team that is no doubt on the rise.

This team’s future is very bright. That’s the good news.

The bad news, with a bevy of history this 2021 season, is they will only go as far as their defense, particularly the group that supposed to slow down running backs, will take them.

As expected, the Patriots didn’t need a win in Miami to fix their seeding. They needed it to see where they are and where they could be headed the next few weeks.

And that place doesn’t look as great, in a very winnable NFL right now, as it looked not too long ago.

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.

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