FOXBOROUGH - There was no champagne-spraying celebration in the Patriots locker room following their historic 24-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins yesterday. In fact, the only person who got wet was coach Bill Belichick, who received a Gatorade shower from Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison in the final seconds.
A smiling Belichick acknowledged the crowd with waves to every side of the stadium, shook hands with most of his players for their part in the 19-game winning streak, including postseason, gave out some attaboys, and then, according to Harrison, in the locker room the coach said, “However, we have a great Seattle team coming in.”
End of celebration.
The Dolphins really didn’t defend the honor of the 1972 team, the only one to go undefeated in a season and one of the teams that had won 18 straight, very well. In fact, Miami (0-5) is closer to becoming a winless team than it is to resembling its ‘72 forebears.
This wasn’t one of the 19 straight that will be remembered as an artistic success, and the Patriots haven’t had one of those in their first four games. But they do enough to get the job done, and yesterday was no exception.
Down three receivers because of injuries to Troy Brown (shoulder) and Deion Branch (knee), and the benching of Bethel Johnson, and dealing with injuries, including the one to cornerback Tyrone Poole, the Patriots were playing reserves at key positions. At times one could see Dexter Reid at safety, Randall Gay (who had an interception) at corner, Kevin Kasper at receiver and kick returner, or Rabih Abdullah at tailback.
The Dolphins had their own problems, losing kicker Olindo Mare (right calf) before the opening kickoff, forcing punt returner Wes Welker to handle kickoff, extra point, and field goal duties. Welker, who had minimal kicking experience at Texas Tech, booted a 29-yard field goal and nailed an extra point. And late in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins lost two quarterbacks in three plays.
Starter Jay Fiedler suffered a rib injury on a 12-yard sack by Harrison. Two plays later, A.J. Feeley took a shot to his ribs on an incomplete pass to Chris Chambers on fourth and 7 and probably would not have come back had the Patriots not been able to run out the clock.
The New England defense made three exceptional red zone stands in the fourth quarter.
“We just didn’t want to give up those points,” Harrison said. “It was just a matter of pride. Guys came up with plays, and time and time again that’s the character of this team.”
Cornerback Ty Law said he got himself motivated by all the hype about the Miami defense throughout the week. Law said he didn’t want to leave the game without feeling the Patriots’ defense had outplayed Miami’s.
“I’m playing against another corner [Sam Madison] over there, and I want to come out of it having the better game,” said Law.
That wasn’t hard for Tom Brady to do, as his counterpart, Fiedler, missed throw after throw. Brady didn’t hit many either, completing 7 of 19 for 76 yards, marking the first time since Oct. 7, 2001 he had thrown for fewer than 100 yards. But two of the completions went for touchdowns.
The Dolphins tried to take a page from the Bills’ game plan and blitz Brady repeatedly. They got some good licks on him, especially one by Jason Taylor that bloodied Brady’s chin, but only defensive tackle Dario Romero sacked him.
The game seemed to turn on one play by Miami punter Matt Turk. After the Dolphins cut the Patriots’ lead to 10-7 when Fiedler threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Chambers, on the Dolphins’ next possession Turk took a snap slightly to his left.
Instead of trying to punt, he elected to tuck the ball and run for a first down. On fourth and 7, he fell 4 yards short.
The Patriots took over at the Miami 46 and marched for a score on Brady’s 5-yard toss to David Givens to make it 17-7 at the half.
“I have no idea,” said Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt when asked why Turk ran. “He said the snap was a bit high, which it was, but you need to kick the ball. He’s got to make the decision looking at the whole picture. I don’t think anyone was rushing him. He just instinctively took the ball and ran.”
Turk said he had problems handling the ball, “and I thought it was too late to try and kick it, when actually I probably could have. It was a bad play.”
Wannstedt struggled to explain what has happened to this once-proud franchise.
“We continue to not give ourselves a chance to win,” he said. “We don’t make enough on offense and we are just making too many negative plays. We make a first down and somebody jumps offside. We were giving them a short field to operate. It’s frustrating for everyone.”
The Patriots scored in the first quarter thanks to a nifty interception by Gay with which he ran 10 yards to the Miami 30. Brady found Givens on a 12-yard reception on third and 8 to the Miami 16. A roughing the passer call on a blitzing Will Poole helped the Patriots get a first down at the Miami 14. Corey Dillon ran for 12 yards, then 1, and Brady found tight end Daniel Graham for a 1-yard score.
Adam Vinatieri added a 40-yard field early in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead before the Dolphins came roaring back after a missed Vinatieri field goal from 47 yards gave the Dolphins the ball at their 37. Miami kept the ball on the ground with Brock Forsey running hard before Fiedler found Chambers to make it 10-7.
That was as close as it would get.
The Patriots got it up to 24-7 early in the second half on a six-play, 48-yard drive that ended with Abdullah’s 1-yard run. Dillon’s power run down the sideline for 36 yards on third and 2 aided that drive, but he banged up an ankle on the play. He returned for one play in the fourth quarter.
The Dolphins shot themselves in the foot again with a pass interference call on Morlon Greenwood that gave the Patriots a first down at the Miami 1.
The Dolphins had their chances in the fourth quarter, but they reverted to what they’ve been since Ricky Williams deserted them: a team that can’t score to save its life.