After snuffing out top receivers all season, a banged-up Patriots defense meets its match in Tyreek Hill


“The corner and the safety bit up, and the rest was history.”

Tyreek Hill #10 of the Miami Dolphins stiff arms Jack Jones #13 of the New England Patriots during the second quarter at Hard Rock Stadium on October 29, 2023 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Tyreek Hill has already surpassed 1,000 receiving yards through eight games. Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images

For years now, Tyreek Hill has struck fear into the hearts of just about every defensive backfield and NFL coaching staff.

Well, except for maybe Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

With a blistering 0-to-60 acceleration that can leave even the most physically gifted cornerbacks sucking wind, Hill might be the closest thing the NFL has to a real-life Madden cheat code.

But Sunday’s showdown between the Patriots and Dolphins might have been the lone matchup that the 29-year-old wideout wasn’t looking forward to on Miami’s 2023 docket.

If there’s one thing that a defense helmed by Belichick has built a reputation for over the years, it’s crafting a gameplan centered around eliminating an opponent’s top offensive weapon.

After totaling a whopping 275 total yards and four total touchdowns against New England in his first two matchups against Belichick in 2017 and 2018, Hill’s fortunes had shifted against the Patriots.

Prior to Sunday, Hill only surpassed 80 yards once in his last five meetings against New England from 2019 to 2023. Earlier this season, Hill only reeled in five catches for 40 yards in the Dolphins’ 24-17 victory at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 17.

But something eventually had to give for New England’s defense.

And after corralling just about every top receiver matched up against them so far in 2023, the Patriots joined the long list of defensive units left with few answers after Hill torched them en route to a 31-17 win.

On an afternoon where injuries and a lack of execution doomed New England’s impotent offense for extended stretches, Tua Tagovailoa and his stout receiving personnel carved up the Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium.

Hill finished with 112 receiving yards off of eight catches and a touchdown, while Jaylen Waddle added seven catches for 121 yards and a score that iced the game in the fourth quarter.

Even when Belichick and his staff tried to double Hill, it left pockets of open field for Waddle to take advantage of — paving the way for the shifty wideout’s 31-yard score in the closing minutes of play. 

“It feels great to be a decoy. Obviously I was kind of mad that Jalen didn’t do the touchdown celebration that we had planned, but for him to get in the end zone and be a part of that, it goes to show that Coach Belichick, he has a lot of respect for you,” Hill noted. “If a coach has that much respect for me, man, I must be doing something right.”

Hill stuffing the stat sheet shouldn’t exactly come as much of a surprise. Through eight games, he’s already up to 61 catches, eight touchdowns and a whopping 1,014 receiving yards.

For reference, Kendrick Bourne is currently holding court as New England’s top receiving target … at 407 yards through the air over eight games.

But all season long, New England’s stingy defense has excelled at preventing elite wide receivers from burning them.

Already this year, the Patriots have faced off against an imposing roster of top wideouts, including Philadelphia’s A.J. Brown, Hill, New York’s Garrett Wilson, Dallas’ CeeDee Lamb, New Orleans’ Chris Olave, Las Vegas’ DeVante Adams, and Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs.

In those first seven matchups, that Murderers’ Row of pass-catchers totaled just four touchdowns against New England, averaging 4.4 receptions and just 43.1 yards per game.

Sunday marked the first time that New England relinquished 100 receiving yards to a WR1 in 2023. And even though an MVP candidate like Hill warrants plenty of credit, it appears that the Patriots’ banged-up roster might also be reaching its breaking point.

Earlier this season, New England thrived when rookie Christian Gonzalez was patrolling the defensive backfield — handing the first-round selection heavy reps against the likes of Brown, Hill, and other top targets.

And even though Belichick and his defensive coaches dialed up help for Gonzalez in order to avoid leaving him on an island against Hill, New England had enough outright talent in place to keep some star players in check.

But with Gonzalez now out for the season with a shoulder injury and Jonathan Jones laboring with a nagging knee issue, the Patriots had to trot out several new coverage options to try and slow down Hill on Sunday, including JC Jackson.

The results were underwhelming, with Hill burning both Jackson and rookie Marte Mapu en route to a 42-yard touchdown in the closing seconds of the first quarter. 

“You know what, our coach, he does a great job of setting plays up, so me and Tua had obviously talked about how their safeties play, and we run so many in cuts that the safeties try to drive our in cuts,” Hill said of his score. “It was just a situation where me and Tua just had a conversation about, hey, these guys are sitting, and once you do your play action fakes, the corner is even driving. Tua did a fantastic job of selling the fake, the corner and the safety bit up, and the rest was history.”

The road doesn’t exactly get any easier for the Patriots as the season goes on, especially with other matchups against Travis Kelce (12/18), Diggs (12/31), and Wilson (Week 18) awaiting them over the final month of the 2023 campaign.