MIAMI - They said it all week and said it again and again yesterday: Last week was last week.
Sure it wasn’t last millennium?
The New England Patriots who routed the Indianapolis Colts Sept. 30 in Foxborough must have stayed there. The ones who fumbled away their first two games of the season showed up seven days later at Pro Player Stadium.
Everything New England did so right against the Colts, and everything it needed to do to beat the defending AFC East champion Dolphins yesterday, was missing, while so many of the breakdowns that led to 19 losses in 27 previous games resurfaced. The result was a 30-10 slapping around.
The Patriots couldn’t run the ball and couldn’t stop the run. They couldn’t pass and couldn’t stop the pass. They forced one turnover. The Dolphins collected three, and their defense was the one that scored.
New England is 1-3 and back where it was two weeks ago and where it’s been so often these past few years: the drawing board.
“We got our butt handed to us,” safety Lawyer Milloy said, repeating a popular refrain throughout the locker room. “We can’t be one-hit wonders. We can’t be good one week, collectively as a team, then come out and do what we did today. That’s not how you become successful.
“It’s unacceptable. They pretty much dictated the game.”
It made for an especially difficult afternoon for novice quarterback Tom Brady. After being asked to do very little and doing that very well against the Colts, Brady played his age in his second pro start and second relief appearance for Drew Bledsoe, completing 12 of 24 passes for a mere 86 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Why the difference? Well, for starters, there was Jason Taylor rushing from his blind side. Then there were Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain on the backs of Troy Brown and David Patten like jersey numbers. And, most important, the Patriots ran for just 80 yards on 23 carries, meaning Brady, for the first time, was asked to carry an offense.
“We didn’t do enough to make him comfortable,” said Brown, who put up tight-end-type numbers with five receptions for 47 yards and muffed a punt that set up an Olindo Mare 19-yard field goal in the second quarter. “We didn’t make enough plays for him. He’s in a tough situation.”
Rather than comment specifically on Brady’s performance, coach Bill Belichick emphasized instead that the entire offensive unit was to blame for the debacle. The Patriots gained 149 yards on 51 plays, an average of 2.9 yards.
“Offensively we broke down in lot of different areas, not just one,” Belichick said. “We need to refocus and regenerate our efforts toward being a more efficient football team - not turning the ball over, not having penalties that cost us field position, not giving the other team opportunities that just make it harder for us to win. We can’t be donors. We can’t do nate stuff to opponents. We’re too generous.”
The game effectively ended when, working deep in Patriots territory with the team trailing, 20-10, and two minutes to go in the third quarter, Tom Brady fumbled the snap from center Damien Woody at the 14. Brady kicked the ball backward, Taylor scooped it up at the 1, and...
“Instead of being down by 10, you’re down by 17,” Woody said. “We’ve got to get better than this. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. We’re not the type of team to be down by 17 and score a lot of points. We’ve got to be the type of team that goes toe-to-toe and fights it out until the end.”
In keeping with the fight analogy, the Dolphins, harpooned by the Rams, 42-10, in St. Louis last week, delivered plenty of body blows to the same defense that held Edgerrin James to 55 yards in Foxborough. Miami ran 44 times - mostly between the tackles - for a robust 209 yards. Lamar Smith, limited to 68 yards on 40 carries in two games against the New England last season, carried 29 times for 144 yards, and shed Patriots like a northerner does winter attire upon arrival in sunny south Florida.
“Lamar was tremendous today,” said Dartmouth alumnus Jay Fiedler, who wasn’t too shabby himself on the ground, running for 37 yards on seven scrambles while not taking a sack. “Every time I handed it off and booted out, I turn around and I see him run off a tackle here and bounce off a guy. It seemed like there was a crease every time he was running it.”
On the flip side, New England’s Smith, Antowain, was a nonfactor aside from his 9-yard touchdown run (set up by Mike Vrabel’s first career interception on the Dolphins’ first play) that gave New England a 7-0 lead and false hopes in the first. Smith, coming off a 94-yard, two-touchdown effort, was limited to 47 yards on 14 carries.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be like we had it last week,” Woody said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of controlling the line of scrimmage, but in the third quarter, we let the game get away from us. It forced us to be one-dimensional, and that played into their hands.”
Lamar Smith answered his nonrelated counterpart’s score by speed-walking around the right side and into the end zone with 3:39 left in the first. Smith’s 7-yard touchdown capped a 14-play, 80-yard march that took 8 minutes and 24 seconds. On the possession, Smith carried eight times for 55 yards, including runs of 16 and 17 yards. The key, though, was Fiedler (11 of 21 for 87 yards) converting a third and 6, a third and 7, and another third and 6.
After the teams traded field goals, Fiedler led the Dolphins 64 yards in the final moments of the half and hit Jed Weaver on a 14-yard touchdown pass with seven seconds left to make it 17-10.
“If you had told me we’d be 1-3 at the start of the season, I’d have said you were crazy,” Brady said. “I thought we would have been far better than that. But the reality is we’re not. We’re a 1-3 team.”