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Despite loss, Miami sees measured gains

Yeremiah Bell prevented Rob Gronkowski from making this catch, but the TE still had six grabs.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Yeremiah Bell prevented Rob Gronkowski from making this catch, but the TE still had six grabs.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Despite getting considerably outgained, the Dolphins were a half-yard from pulling within a touchdown of the Patriots in the fourth quarter last night.

But a fourth-down pass from the 1-yard line sailed high, and on the next play, Wes Welker delivered a crushing touchdown, taking a Tom Brady pass 99 yards to all but obliterate the Dolphins’ chances at a comeback with 5:44 left.

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Said Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor, “I told [Brady] after the game that he threw the ball well and they made plays but the thing is, we had chances to be in the game and win the game and obviously giving up the 99-yarder right there in a crucial spot, we were forced to keep the ball out of our own end zone. I think offensively we had a couple opportunities that we left out there to score. Defensively we didn’t cover anybody, we didn’t rush worth a darn, didn’t tackle very well, but we still had a chance to be in the game.’’

With a career-best 517 yards passing, Brady’s numbers were staggering even by his standards. But they weren’t as important to the Dolphins defense as the fact that they knew what to expect from the Patriots quarterback and still couldn’t stop him.

“First half it was 14-7 and we knew they can’t move the ball unless they get a big chunk-yardage play and that was something we gave up,’’ Miami cornerback Sean Smith said. “Every time we had them back behind the 50-yard line, we’d give up that big play, so that’s something we definitely have to eliminate.’’

Even though the 99-yard touchdown was largely attributed to Welker’s yards after the catch, Brady found his targets with consistency and relative ease.

“We came out strong but we’ve got to stop Tom Brady,’’ Miami safety Yeremiah Bell said. “It’s one of those things where we knew we had our hands full but we’ve got to do a better job of stopping him.’’

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The overall sense from Miami’s defense was that it failed to support the offense and quarterback Chad Henne, who finished 30 of 49 for 416 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

“They did a good job and they kept us in it for a long time,’’ Taylor said. “We’d make mistakes and they’d come right back and marched down at the beginning of the game. As much as you hate to not play first defensively, it’s great to see them make a seven-minute drive and go punch it in. I thought Chad Henne played very well for all the criticism that guy takes, all the naysayers and the doubters, I think he took a big step in shutting them up a bit.’’

In his first game as a Dolphin, running back Reggie Bush applauded Henne’s efforts.

“I think there’s a lot of critics of what he’s done in the past and I didn’t see that in this training camp,’’ Bush said. “I saw a totally different guy than what everyone was talking about and I thought he did a great job. I thought he was a leader and thought he made plays when he needed to. I thought we didn’t make enough plays on offense when we needed to and when it counted and we’ve got to get better at that. We’ve got to protect him more. We had too many hits on him today.’’

The Dolphins were insistent on downplaying the statistics and instead tried to focus on this being in the first game of the year, with a long way to go before drawing conclusions on the season.

“I mean, I think it shows improvements on what we did in the preseason,’’ Henne said. “Obviously we carried it over on what we did there. We carried it over in practice, executed some good things out there. Doesn’t matter what you do on the field, you’ve just got to keep going. There’s more plays out there to be made and we need to make them and hopefully, that shows a different outcome.’’

Although the defense was exposed and showed it needs a lot of work, Miami was encouraged by its offense.

“I think those guys did a pretty good job, you know they were coming back at ‘em so I was pleased with that,’’ Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. “I was pleased with the way the line protected. I mean, we had to throw it; we were in those kinda modes. Felt those guys did a pretty good job that way. There were some encouraging things.’’

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