Coming into this game, the Patriots were 24-2 in the month of December since 2003; those '2' represent games against the Dolphins, both of which were lost by less than three points (2004: 29-28; 2005: 28-26 on the last day of the regular season, which ultimately kept the Patriots out of the playoffs).
But obviously, that's not the sole reason the Patriots found themselves on the receiving end of a one-point loss in front of an apoplectic crowd in Miami this afternoon.
That's the thing: it's not just one thing. Our defensive backs put in another weak effort today; but Tom Brady also threw an interception in the end zone.
Once again the offense failed to convert a fourth down that might've put the game away, but the Patriots' nonexistent pass rush didn't do much to even things up on the other side of the ball.
The offensive line failed in some spectacular and crucial ways today, including a bilateral snafu that saw Brady pounded so hard in the ribs by two onrushing defenders at the same time that he had to leave for a pad adjustment between series.
But the whole team seemed to have disappeared by the end of the game, to the point where my father was wondering aloud about the Patriots' team conditioning this year.
Other macro trends: defensive backs are young and inexperienced (except Adalius Thomas, who's been enigmatic at best this year). The coaching staff, front office, and scouting staff have all experienced massive turnover this year.
The sense is of an empire teetering on the verge of collapse; the barbarian hordes to our south that have made inroads all along are able to chew more deeply now into our turf.
In the end, it's one thing to understand the way things are going wrong -- see the list above -- and quite another to understand why. Is it the personnel turnover both on the sideline and on the field? Is it Brady's recovery from his knee surgeries? Is it the high number of rookies? Is the loss of so many organizational underpinnings exposing Belichick, or is it just more than can be adjusted to in one year? Has Belichick gotten more stubborn and shortsighted as the years have gone on? If so, is this the cause or the result of staff turnover?
The word my father used is 'erosion'. Over time, he argues, leaders grow less effective, if for no other reason than familiarity breeds contempt.
"We're asking ourselves all the questions, too," Brady told his gathering of press after the game today. There are still four games left to play, none of which (thankfully) are against any more undefeated teams, and they may turn it around. They could very well win out, and it's probable they will still make the playoffs. At the very least, their problems remain those of football's first world, a far cry from the miseries of Oakland and Detroit.
But the "perfect storm" of franchise, coaching staff and players that formed this decade's dynasty seems to be on the wane. It will be at least next year before we are thinking in terms of winning streaks and league records and rings, and maybe (probably) longer.
It's something akin to the pitching id I've watched passed between aces on the mound. We recognize it where it has chosen to land for now instead--a young quarterback with his arms raised in triumph in New Orleans, his grin, like a young Tom Brady's hoisting his first trophy in that same city, tinged with disbelief.
Times like this, it seems like its own creature, with its own mind and its own reasons; the zeitgeist touches you when it will.