MIAMI - Hell was freezing over. Pigs were flying. And the Dolphins were beating the Patriots.
When A.J. Feeley found 6-foot-2-inch receiver Derrius Thompson for a 21-yard scoring pass over 5-10 Troy Brown with 1:23 remaining in the game on a fourth and 10, it capped an amazing night for the lowly Miami Dolphins, who staged their Super Bowl at Pro Player Stadium last night in a 29-28 victory, handing the Patriots their second loss of the season.
The winning score was set up by Tom Brady’s third of four interceptions, to linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo after Jason Taylor had Brady in his grasp on third down inside the Patriots 20. Brady was trying to get the ball to Daniel Graham, in what surely would have clinched it for the Patriots.
Brady still had 1:17 to lead a comeback, but he was sacked by David Bowens for a 9-yard loss and then free safety Arturo Freeman finished it off with the fourth INT on a pass intended for David Givens at the Patriot 37.
“They got cocky today,” Freeman said. “They felt they were the defending champions and could make plays all over the field. We are the only team, if you check history, that New England has a problem playing against.”
For the first time since Halloween, when they bowed to the Steelers, the Patriots experienced the opposing quarterback taking a knee to end the game. And for the first time this year the Patriots were second-fiddle to the Steelers, who are 13-1 to the Patriots’ 12-2. The Dolphins improved to 3-11.
Brown blamed himself for the Thompson catch, saying, “I didn’t make the play. I’ve got to do everything I can to keep him from catching that.”
The New England locker room was understandably quiet after the game. Brady, who was sacked twice and knocked down numerous times, said, “I found out a long time ago you’re not going to win too many games throwing four interceptions.”
Of the interception, to Ayanbadejo, Brady said, “It was just a bad play. I thought I could get it to Dan. I thought I had time to throw, but my arm got ripped and I just pulled it right to the guy. It’s just not a good play, and if we want to win games we can’t do that. We’ve got to play better and it starts with me.”
Brady’s poor night overshadowed a good game by Corey Dillon, who carried 26 times for 121 yards. Dillon had his eighth 100-yard game and helped eat up 4:57 of a 65-yard drive that gave the Patriots a 28-17 lead with 3:59 remaining in the game.
Dillon set up the score with a 20-yard rumble up the middle to the Dolphins’ 2, from where Brady threw his third touchdown pass of the night, this one to Graham.
But the Dolphins were able to respond in 1:52, going 68 yards on seven plays. The drive was capped by Sammy Morris’s 1-yard plunge after Patriots safety Rodney Harrison had been flagged for interference in the end zone against Chris Chambers. The Dolphins failed to execute the 2-point conversion, and there was 2:07 left on the clock.
The Patriots were unable to run that out and the Dolphins were not to be denied.
“We had an 11-point lead and we blew it,” said Harrison. “They made plays in the end and we made mistakes. We were prepared to play, we just didn’t execute. It’s not the end of the world. We’re obviously disappointed.”
Strange events began to unfold in the second half, that led one to believe the Dolphins, trailing only 14-10 at the half, continued to mean business. Sammy Knight picked off his second Brady pass at the Dolphins’ 10 and returned it 32 yards, which led to the Dolphins taking a 17-14 lead with 6:50 remaining in the third quarter.
The Dolphins got some hard running from Travis Minor while Feeley (22 for 35 for 198 yards and one touchdown) continued to hit key passes against the ailing Patriots secondary, which also lost Randall Gay (wind knocked out of him). Feeley connected with Chambers on a key 9-yard first-down catch to the Patriots 15. Willie McGinest incurred a facemask penalty while bringing down Feeley on the next play, and before you knew it, Minor was launching himself into the end zone from a yard out, giving the Dolphins the lead.
It marked only the third time the Patriots had trailed in the third quarter.
On the Patriots’ next series, the Dolphins’ Morlon Greenwood committed a 15-yard facemask penalty at the end of a 10-yard pass from Brady to Graham, and then Sam Madison was called for unnecessary roughness, which put the Patriots at the Dolphins’ 2 with a first down. Two plays later, Brady, with an enormous amount of time, spotted Dillon moving along the goal line and hit him with a 2-yard pass with 2:07 left in the third quarter, making it 21-17.
The touchdown was Dillon’s second of the night and 12th of the season. His first-quarter scoring run gave him a personal best, and he earned another $500,000 bonus for breaking the 1,350-yard plateau in the first half.
The Patriots had made their customary first-drive march, going 77 yards on nine plays. They used a steady dose of Dillon, starting the game with an 18-yard pop on a pitchout around left end behind tackle Matt Light. Dillon carried 31 yards in all, but the big play was Brady’s lob over the middle to a wide open Kevin Faulk, who had beaten a linebacker and went in untouched from 31 yards out.
One thing Bill Belichick didn’t want to do was give the Dolphins any inspiration. But that happened when Miami punt returner Wes Welker caught Josh Miller’s 44-yarder late in the first quarter and raced down the left sideline for 71 yards after a juke of Miller set him free.
Welker, who had been a mediocre eighth in the AFC with an 8.9-yards-per-return average, was unable to score because Je’Rod Cherry got a piece of Welker’s knee after being blocked around the 10-yard line. Welker stumbled 2 yards shy of paydirt. It took Morris one handoff from Feeley to bust into the end zone with 6:30 remaining in the first quarter, tying the score at 7.
“A return like that is a big momentum swing, especially in the NFL,” Welker said. “Any time you can get a big play like that, it puts the team in good position to score and win a game.”
Dillon, Faulk, and Patrick Pass carried on 10 of the 12 plays in a 50-yard drive late in the second quarter. A 3-yard score by Dillon gave the Patriots a 14-7 lead with 7:01 left in the half.
The Dolphins, who kept showing signs they could solve the Patriots’ defense, made it 14-10 at the half when Olindo Mare hit a 30-yard field goal with 1:52 remaining.
It’s usually the Patriots who score just before each half. Not so this time.
Brady got the ball back with 1:45 remaining, usually plenty of time, but this time he was intercepted while trying to throw it deep as Knight emerged with the ball. The Dolphins got it back at their 21, but could get only two first downs and had to punt.