October 10, 2004
Dolphins vs. Patriots
At Gillette Stadium, Patriots WIN, 24-10
By Scott A. Benson

Listen to me. It痴 NOT nineteen straight.

Its sixteen straight. The official NFL record for consecutive wins as listed in the league’s 2004 Record and Fact Book does not include postseason play. Period. Logical or not, that痴 what it is. So can we please stop hearing about some made-up �includes postseason play� record that doesn稚 even exist? All right?

You値l have to pardon me. I think I have Streak Fatigue.

Anyway, it strikes me that things like all-time best winning streaks are best stored in a cool, dry place. Twelve (ok, fifteen) of these wins came last year, which means they don稚 do a thing to help the Patriots this year. And for the moment, this year happens to be the only thing that matters. Better we should discuss this streak years from now, when we might need a few fond memories to sustain us.

Or we may need those memories sooner than we think. Frankly, that痴 about all I took away from today痴 24-10 Patriots win over the Miami Dolphins.

It痴 not entirely surprising that the Patriots struggled offensively against the Dolphins, given recent history between the teams, and the litany of injuries that has suddenly plagued Tom Brady and company. One time, when they were in a three-wide set, I could have sworn two receivers were beating marching drums while a third carried a tattered American flag over his bandaged head.

More to the point, for the second week in a row the once-proud Patriots defense let a badly struggling offense move the ball effectively against what is supposed to be the team痴 strength. Were it not for the sheer ineptitude of the Dolphins offensive unit today (well, every day), the outcome of this game would most assuredly have been different.

I壇 like to fall back on my usual �well, the Patriots make the plays when they count, which is what makes them champions, blah, blah, blah� caterwauling here, but to tell you the truth, I知 not feeling it today. I壇 hate to ever take anything like that for granted.

The ultimate goal isn稚 a nebulous reputation. It isn稚 history-making winning streaks. The ultimate goal is playing well in the 2004 season. And perfect records be damned, the Patriots, particularly their defense, are not doing that at the moment.

By the way, the 1933-34 Chicago Bears won 17 consecutive regular season games. So there痴 your record. Now forget I ever mentioned it.

I don稚 want to talk about this anymore, unless you get an automatic berth in the playoffs because you set some kind of league record during the regular season. Otherwise, stifle yourself, Edith.

Patriots on Offense

I think I知 going to give the Pats offense a flyer on today痴 proceedings.

They began the day without receivers Deion Branch, Troy Brown and Bethel Johnson. They lost Corey Dillon for the fourth quarter. For a while there, they were down to Kevin Kasper (big day for Kev痴 webmaster, huh?) and Rabih Abdullah. You壇 have thought it was August.

Plus, the Dolphins have a good defense. Allegedly. I suppose it痴 hard to argue this based on the numbers � Tom Brady had 79 yards passing. All day.

But let me ask you � if they have such a good defense, how is it Brady found two wide-open receivers for first-half touchdowns, both inside the red zone? Isn稚 the red zone supposed to be the hardest place to throw the ball? Neither Daniel Graham (1st quarter) or David Givens (late 2nd) were near anyone who could have prevented them from catching the ball. Thankfully.

So even though he struggled with a Flutie-like 7 for 19, with more than a few poorly-thrown balls (he began the day with a horrendous interception that gave Miami the ball at the Pats 35), Brady managed to beat the Dolphins just enough to win. He led the team on three different touchdown drives after Miami turnovers. Still, it痴 troubling to think of him trying to carry a chronically banged-up offense for many more weeks.

Dillon had one of the biggest plays of the day early in the 3rd quarter, blowing up the always overrated Zack Thomas around left end and then tight roping his way down the sideline for 38 yards. Immediately after, Dillon limped off with what looked to be a lower leg injury. He would return later for only one play. But his 3rd quarter run had set up a short Abdullah plunge and a more comfortable 24-7 lead.

The offensive line seemed to struggle with the Miami痴 pass rush, though they only allowed one sack. They were asked to lead Dillon on several sweeps to the outside, with only modest results. I壇 love to hear why the Pats decided this was the best way to run on the Dolphins today, especially considering that a few between-the-tackles runs looked promising. Maybe somebody will ask Bill Belichick at tomorrow痴 press conference, if there痴 time after the Red Sox questions, that is.

Last thought: Kevin Faulk returned after missing three games and added a nice little screen to the Patriots touchdown drive late in the first half.

Patriots on Defense

You池e right; the Dolphins only scored 10 points. You池e right; the defense forced two Miami turnovers, setting up two touchdowns with great field position for the offense. You池e right; though the Dolphin offense controlled things for nearly all of the game痴 final quarter, they came away with no points.

I still say there痴 something fishy (oops) about the Patriots defense. They池e either running or thinking a step too slow. I知 not sure which one I壇 prefer. I guess neither.

Like the Bills before them, the Dolphins came into the game having recently set a 叢ersonal best� for offensive futility. And like Buffalo, Miami suddenly found some offensive life in their previously rubbery legs.

Beginning at about halfway through the 3rd quarter, trailing by 17, the Dolphins were able to drive 51 yards to the New England 11, 59 yards to the Patriots 21, 58 yards to the Patriots 16, and finally 39 more yards to the Patriots 7.

That is a one hell of a lot of yards to give up in a quarter and a half to a lousy offensive team, one that would self-dissolve on all but one of those drives. That痴 a lot of chances to get back in the game. I wonder what a stronger opponent, like say Seattle, or the Jets (ahem), will do if given those same opportunities.

Jay Fiedler, God bless him, had a typical Jay Fiedler game. A couple of decent throws, a nice scramble or two, then two (at minimum) nutcrushing mistakes followed closely by a game-ending injury. That guy is one of the most consistent players in the NFL.

Fielder did throw for more than 250 yards, nearly half of them to Marty Booker, who owned the 4th quarter. Let痴 face it, the Patriots secondary has just been sloppy, and I知 not sure playing without Tyrone Poole (knee � Asante Samuel started in his place) is a good enough excuse.

On the bright side, undrafted rookie corner Randall Gay had his first pick, and was impressive in batting away another pass. He ran stride for stride with the receiver on each play. 4th rounder Dexter Reid covered up Fielder痴 second turnover, a fumble near midfield caused by Rodney Harrison.

Harrison also had 11 tackles, leading the team. Ty Law had 9. If all these secondary guys had such good games, how did we give up all those yards?

As for the front seven, they managed the run well (only 67 yards despite some unfortunate yet brief moments at the hands of Brock Forsey) and delivered consistent pressures on Fiedler and then A.J. Feeley. One of the most notable was by comebacking LB Rosevelt Colvin, who accelerated through Feeley on a late pass attempt and knocked him from the game only minutes after Fiedler had been sidelined. Vince Wilfork had an impressive game, with 7 tackles including a sack.

Patriots on Special Teams

As far as our guys, eh, more of the same. Faulk brought some stability to the punt return outfit, which has missed steady Troy Brown. Yet like Kasper on kickoffs, he was unable to get much in the way of a return happening. In coverage, they still seemed slow to pursue to the ball, and they still struggled with tackling on the first wave. This remains as one of the team痴 weakest areas.

The real story here was the Miami special teams. First, the Dolphins lose Olindo Mare in the pre-game, and a reserve wide receiver and kick returner named Wes Welker ends up nailing a field goal and extra point, plus 150 yards in returns. You don稚 see that every day.

They should have had him punt. With three minutes left in the 2nd quarter, and with his team trailing by three, Matt Turk lined up to punt at Miami痴 43. Looks like a good chance to pin the Pats deep in their own territory.

The snap was slightly wide, but manageable, until Turk completely freaks out and starts running for the first down. Let痴 just say that he痴 no Brian Moorman. Patrick Pass pushed Turk out of bounds at the Miami 46, well short of the first down. He never had a prayer.

Six plays and 46 yards later, Brady hits Givens on a five yard slant and the Patriots extend their lead to 17-7.

Seeing Turk explain his plight to Dave Wannstedt was one of those hilariously inexplicable and unfortunate moments that make life worth living.

Patriots on the Sidelines

I know what I said earlier, but this is one place where we can afford one minute of reflection about what痴 been accomplished.

Let痴 just put it this way � in Boston, there痴 Red Auerbach, and now there痴 Bill Belichick. What has transpired in four years, and particularly the last 13 months, has been nothing short of astounding, and it won稚 ever be forgotten.

Patriots Next Week

Know this: if the Patriots are driving for the winning touchdown late in next week痴 home game with the Seahawks, they致e got the right coach on the opposing sidelines.

The Patriots better play 100% better on defense next week, or else.