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  Dolphins Game Summary: Dolphins vs Patriots
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OVERALL SUMMARY:

With an early-season lead in the AFC East on the line, the Dolphins hosted the Patriots in Miami yesterday and when the hitting was over and Joe Robbie Stadium was quiet, the Dolphins had beaten the SuperBowl Champions 26-13, erasing the embarrassment of last week's play against the Chiefs.

The Dolphins won this game in the trenches, with aggressive line play on both sides of the ball. Both the offensive and defensive lines won most of their battles against the Patriots and that set up the rest of the team's success.

The game started at 1:00 PM, on a mostly sunny day in Miami. The temperature at game time was 87 degrees F, while the humidity was 69% with a light breeze from the east - a typical day in South Florida for October.

For Miami, Patrick Surtain returned to the lineup, while Mark Dixon sat out the game in favor of Marcus Spriggs at starting left tackle. The Patriots were missing starting right guard Joe Andruzzi and moved Damien Woody over from center to take his place, starting former Dolphins' rookie Gray Ruegamer at center. The Patriots were also without their best offensive weapon as WR Troy Brown was scratched before the game.

On defense, DE Anthony Pleasant did not start for the Patriots at right defensive end so backup J.Green took his place.

The Dolphins completely dominated the first half, especially at the line of scrimmage on both the offense and defense. The Dolphins' offensive line protected Jay Fiedler well, picking up the Patriots' various blitzing schemes and providing some running room for Ricky Williams, although not as much as they had in some other games this year.

This allowed the Dolphins to run the ball enough to force the Patriots to respect Miami's ability to run, which set up the play action passes. The Dolphins picked up 63 yards rushing while averaging 3.5 ypc. The running game was not overwhelming, but it was more than good enough.

The Patriots' defense did a fairly good job against the Dolphins' running game, but could not come up with a decent pass rush and that allowed Jay Fiedler time to pick them apart. The Patriots' pass rush is based on the blitz and the Dolphins did a good job picking them up all game long.

The Dolphins had 3 scoring drives (2 TD, 1 FG) in the first half and could have had 4 if Olindo Mare' had not missed a 47 yard field goal on the Dolphins' first possession. Two of the drives were short drives, because of the 2 turnovers the defense forced in the first half.

The Dolphins' defense completely shut down the Patriots in the first half, limiting Antowain Smith to 10 yards on 8 carries and holding Tom Brady to 4 completions on 7 attempts for 42 yards, while sacking him 3 times, picking off one pass and forcing a fumble that the Dolphins' recovered.

The Patriots started the game by attempting to run the football to set up their own play-action. But the Dolphins' defense crushed that gameplan early and often and the Patriots abandoned it in the second half.

At halftime, the Dolphins lead 16-0 and were very much in control of the game. The Patriots were embarrassed by their performance in the first half and came out fired up in the second half.

The Patriots were much more aggressive in the second half on both offense and defense. They forced a Ricky Williams fumble on the Dolphins' first series in the 3rd quarter and then drove down to score their first touchdown on a 34 yard pass to David Patten.

On the very next series, Miami went 3 and out after Jay Fiedler was sacked on first down - the only time he was sacked in the game. At this point, it looked like the Patriots were about get back in the game, but the Dolphins' defense held on the next series and the Dolphins' offense responded with a 74 yard touchdown drive that put Miami ahead 23-6.

When the Patriots got the ball back, they tried to respond to Miami's score, but as the 4th quarter began, Tom Brady threw an ill-advised deep pass that was picked off by Sam Madison. That turnover essentially ended the game, taking the wind out of the Patriots' sails for the last time.

The Patriots did score one more time, but it was against Miami's prevent defense, late in the 4th quarter. The Dolphins also scored when the Patriots' onside kick attempt sailed out of bounds and gave Miami great field position deep in Patriots' territory.

In the 4th quarter, the Dolphins' running game did not deliver a game-breaking punch, the way they did against the Jets, but they did control the ball for over ten minutes, which helped eliminate any opportunity the Patriots had to come back.

When the game was over and the Dolphins had won 26-13, the story of the game was about recovering from adversity. The Dolphins had done it and the Patriots had not. Still, the underlying feeling was that the second meeting between these two teams in December would be a very tough game.

BIG PLAYS:

This section is new. It will mention a couple of big plays that were turning points in the game. However, these plays will not necessarily be scoring plays. Instead, they will be points in the game that turned the tide one way or the other.

  1. In the first quarter, Tom Brady dropped back to pass on 3rd and 9 from the Patriots' 35. The Patriots sent JR Redmond to help Matt Light block Jason Taylor. Redmond bounced off Taylor on the outside and spun him around. However, when Taylor had spun around, he was suddenly inside of Light and had a clear shot at Brady, who was having a hard time finding the open receiver. Result: A sack that set the tone for the rest of the first half for the Dolphins' defense.

  2. With 11:44 to go in the 2nd quarter, Miami had a 3rd and goal at the Patriots' 7, leading 6-0. Jay Fiedler dropped back to pass, looked off the defensive backs by looking deliberately to his right and pump-faking, then turned back to the center of the field and hit Chambers on a deep crossing route across the back of the endzone with a laser-like pass. Result: A Miami touchdown on one of the best pass plays I've ever seen Jay Fiedler make. His look-off and pump-fake were terrific and his pass was perfectly thrown, just over the fingertips of Patriots' defensive back Ty Law to a place where only Chambers could catch it.

  3. At 3:36 gone in the 3rd quarter, Ricky Williams carries the ball on 3rd and 1, but doesn't get a good grip on it and New Englands' Teddy Bruschi knocks it out. Yes, he had both hands on the ball, but one hand was on the top and the other on the side, with no support underneath. Result: fumble recovered by the Patriots and a big momentum shift to New England.

  4. At 6:45 remaining in the 3rd quarter, the defense stops New England after their first touchdown and forces a punt. However, Dedric Ward muffs the catch at the Miami 26 yard line. Fortunately, the Dolphins' backup CB Ray Green jumps on the ball in the middle of a herd of Patriots. Result: Miami keeps the ball instead of turning it over at their own 26. Ray Green correctly said later that it was the most important play he had ever made as a Dolphin.

  5. With 3:27 remaining in the 3rd quarter, the Dolphins are trying to drive the final stake in the Patriots' heart. On 2nd and 10 from the Patriots' 38, Jay Fiedler lofts a floater down the left sideline and James McKnight slows down to catch it at the Patriots' 3 after a 35 yard gain. Result: Miami gets a first and goal at the Patriots' 3, putting them in position to make the clinching score.

I know there were other plays that were important, but these were the ones I consider to be the most important moments of the game.

GOOD STUFF:

The Dolphins' offense stuck to their game plan this week, running Ricky even when he wasn't gaining a lot of yards. As a result of this determination, the Dolphins held the ball for 39:59 of the game, keeping the ball out of the Patriots' hands and their defense on the field.

This was especially important in the 4th quarter, as the running game kept the chains moving and ate up 10:28 of the final period, preventing the Patriots from even having a chance to mount a comeback.

The Dolphins' offense was also very good at converting on third down. They converted over half (53%) of their third down chances, keeping the chains moving and controlling the football.

With the exception of the one fumble, the Dolphins' offense did not turn the ball over. Jay Fiedler, in particular, did an outstanding job not forcing the ball and taking only what was available to him.

All of this work started on the offensive line, which only allowed one sack, despite being faced with Belichick's constant and ever-changing blitz schemes.

On defense, the pass rush came up with 3 sacks and 1 forced fumble. This pressured Brady into several mistakes and limited his effectiveness.

The run defense was completely dominating, stuffing Antowain Smith for 14 yards on 9 carries. The linebackers and defensive linemen did an excellent job controlling the gaps and filling the holes.

The pass coverage was also, for the most part, excellent. The return of Patrick Surtain helped in that regard as he and Sam Madison forced Brady to stand in the pocket for a long time to find his alternate receivers.

THINGS TO WORK ON:

The special teams had a few problems yesterday. First, Olindo Mare' missed another makable (albeit long) field goal.

But more disturbing was the blocked extra point. Hopefully, that does not signal a weakness in the Dolphins' blocking schemes.

Also, the fumble by Dedric Ward almost caused what could have been a huge turnover for the Patriots. Fortunately, Ray Green saved the Dolphins and this problem may be mitigated when Robert Baker gets back on the field, but it needs to be addressed.

As for Ricky's fumbles, I'm not sure if there's anything that can be done about that or if we just have to learn to live with it. I do think that the way he held the ball on his fumble needs to be addressed, but I'm not a coach, so....

INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES:

While not his most statistically impressive, Jay Fiedler had his best game of the year yesterday. He was 17 of 27 for 190 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. That is a quarterback rating of 108.6. He did not force any throws, kept his head in tight situations and made good decisions. His two touchdown passes were both about as good as it gets, because both Chris Chambers and Randy McMichael were well covered and he placed the ball where no one else could catch it.

Also, his scramble for the first Dolphins' touchdown was not only an outstanding physical effort, but an excellent piece of decision making. He ended the day with 3 runs for 18 yards. I don't think you could ask for a much better game than Jay had on Sunday.

Ricky Williams had a very tough game, averaging only 2.9 yards per carry while toting the ball 36 times for 105 yards. However, he converted on 3rd down, punished the Patriots' tacklers and set up the play-action pass. His fumble was a problem, but his dogged persistence helped keep the offense moving. His mere presence was enough to set up the rest of the Dolphins' gameplan.

Robert Edwards provided a competent third down replacement for Ricky, running 4 times for 13 yards and catching 1 pass for 10 yards. He had a crucial 3rd down conversion in the 4th quarter to allow the Dolphins to retain possession.

Rob Konrad had 1 carry for 1 yard and caught 2 passes for 14 yards. More importantly, he provided good lead blocking and helped pick up the blitz and limit its effectiveness.

Chris Chambers lead all the receivers with 6 catches for 62 yards and 1 impressive touchdown. His hands were like glue and he did a good job working against the Patriots' defensive backs.

Oronde Gadsden caught 2 passes for 27 yards, both for first downs. Neither were as spectacular as some of his other catches this year, but both were important first downs.

Randy McMichael caught 3 passes for 26 yards, including the touchdown catch that put the game away. He continues to make crucial catches at important times.

James McKnight had only one catch and he almost dropped that pass. Still, it was the 35 yard reception that set up Miami's final touchdown and he had gotten wide open on the left side of the field.

Dedric Ward caught 1 pass for 14 yards and handled the punt return duties, fielding 3 punts for 39 yards of returns. However, he muffed one punt return that could have been crucial mistake.

As a group, the offensive line did a very good job, protecting Jay Fiedler by picking up the bliz and making some room for Ricky to run. They were very aggressive coming off the ball. Individually, Jamie Nails did a good job neutralizing the Patriots' best defensive lineman, Richard Seymour.

On defense, Zach Thomas lead all defenders with 9 tackles but didn't provide any special plays this week.

Jason Taylor had the best day of any Dolphins' defender, registering 6 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble that was recovered by Ogunleye. He was constantly in the Patriots' backfield, harassing Tom Brady and stuffing the Patriots' rushing attempts.

Brock Marion also had 6 tackles, getting involved in both run and pass defense.

Arturo Freeman rebounded from his poor performance in Kansas City by registering 5 tackles and covering the Patriots' tight ends well. His best tackle was stuffing an attempted reverse for a 1 yard loss.

David Bowens got extensive playing time as a "nickel" pass rusher, collecting 1 sack and 4 tackles, before he strained his knee.

Patrick Surtain returned to action after two weeks off and did a good job covering Patriots' receivers. He collected one interception off a deflection from Sam Madison and knocked down another pass, while getting 3 tackles.

Larry Chester is next on the list with 3 tackles. He also got a good push up the middle and kept the offensive line off of Zach Thomas.

Derrick Rodgers had 2 tackles, including a 2 yard stuff of Antowain Smith. He did a good job plugging the running lanes. Shawn Wooden had 1 solo tackle and 1 special teams tackle, while helping out in coverage.

Jermaine Haley had only 1 solo tackle, but it was a particularly impressive one where he nailed Antowain Smith for a 4 yard loss.

Sam Madison had one assist on a tackle and missed another tackle that allowed a touchdown. However, he had 1 interception and was responsible for another, as he batted a ball up in the air that was picked off by Patrick Surtain. All in all, he had 2 passes defensed.

Adewale Ogunleye had only one assist on a tackle, but provided consistent pressure from his left defensive end position and recovered Tom Brady's fumble in the first quarter.

Morlon Greenwood had one assist on a tackle, but did a good job plugging the running lanes. He also had a special teams tackle.

Tim Bowens had one assist and helped collapse the Patriots' pocket and provide pressure on Brady.

Rob Burnett had 1 assist, rushing from the inside on passing downs.

Jamar Fletcher is, once again, the target of fan criticism, perhaps because they can find nothing else to complain about and he was burned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter by David Patten. He did have one pass defensed and overall, seemed to have a reasonably good game.

Jed Weaver, Scott McGarrahan and Scott Galyon all contributed special teams tackles and Travis Minor handled the kickoff return duties, averaging a respectable 24.5 yards on 2 returns.

Mark Royals had an average day punting, averaging 38 yards per punt and putting one into the endzone.

Olindo Mare' made 2 field goals (40 and 33 yards) and missed a 47 yarder. He had one extra point attempt blocked, but that was not his fault. Most of his kickoffs were into the endzone.

INJURIES:

David Bowens strained a knee and will probably miss a game or two, but should return after the bye week. There is a possibility he could return before then.

Shawn Wooden strained his hamstring and will probably miss practice this week, but could return against Denver.

COMMENTS:

This was a very satisfying win for the Dolphins, not only because it was the SuperBowl champions, but because of the way it was accomplished.

I like to say that winning begins in the trenches and not just because it sounds like I know what I'm talking about. The 1972 Dolphins' offensive and defensive lines were the best in the league at that time and those two units, more than any other groups of players on that team, propelled the team through the undefeated year.

Yesterday, it was the offensive and defensive lines that established the tone of the game early. They were aggressive and smart and established control of the game from the beginning.

The offensive line, in particular, was impressive in stopping the Patriots' blitz package, which has given other teams fits over the last year. But not yesterday.

That's not too bad for a group that was supposed to be the weakness of the team starting the year.

The defensive line - especially Jason Taylor - also played the way we'd like to see them play all year long. They controlled the line of scrimmage, pressured the Patriots' quarterback and stifled the run.

So while this win was definitely a team win, most of the credit goes to the offensive and defensive lines...

... and to Jay Fiedler.

Fiedler played the kind of game that he'll need to keep playing in order to guide Miami past a quick exit at the end of the year. He was poised, used his head and didn't take too many chances. He scrambled at the right times and his short throws were accurate, with just the right amount of force.

If Jay can play consistently for the rest of the season like he did yesterday, the Dolphins will have a very good year.

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