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Dolphins, Pats face off in crucial AFC East clash
(Sports Network) - The AFC East championship is still up for grabs with just
one game to play. Miami will try to stake its claim to the title this Sunday
when it hits the road to take on division foe New England at Gillette Stadium.
Miami missed its first chance at securing the division title on Saturday
thanks to a 20-17 loss at Minnesota. The Dolphins still control their own
destiny, though, as a win in this contest will secure them East supremacy. A
victory would also keep Miami in the running for a bye and allow it an outside
shot at home field advantage throughout the postseason. However, a loss could
put the Dolphins in a Wild Card game or possibly out of the postseason.
"Life is simple now," defensive end Jason Taylor said. "For the next seven
days, all we have to think about is win. Just go win. Or . . . I don't want to
even think about the alternative."
The Dolphins are well-known for their December collapses, as they have lost
two games in the month seven straight years.
"It's deserved. We've earned that reputation," Dolphins left tackle Mark Dixon
said. ". . . A lot of us are married to that reputation that we're above
average, but not great."
New England will try to capitalize on the Dolphins' possible collapse while
trying to stop one of its own. The defending Super Bowl champions are in
danger of missing the postseason following their back-to-back losses to
Tennessee and the New York Jets. Head coach Bill Belichick's club still could
secure the East title with a win here and a Jets loss. The Patriots can also
win the Wild Card if they beat Miami, the Jets beat the Packers, Denver loses
to Arizona, San Diego loses to Seattle and Cleveland losses to Atlanta.
SERIES HISTORY: The Dolphins won the first meeting between these clubs, 26-13,
on October 6 at Pro Player Stadium to increase their lead in the all-time
series to 45-29. Miami QB Jay Fiedler completed 17-of-27 passes for 190 yards
and two touchdowns in the first meeting. The Dolphins have won six of the last
seven meetings in the series.
Dolphins head coach Dave Wannstedt is 4-3 versus the Patriots, while Belichick
is just 1-6 against the Dolphins.
DOLPHINS OFFENSE VS. PATRIOTS DEFENSE
The Miami offense struggled mightily against the weak Minnesota defense on
Saturday, mustering just 13 first downs and only 236 yards. RB Ricky Williams
managed 4.5 yards per carry, but only received 15 attempts in the loss. The
lack of production ended his streak at five consecutive 100-plus yard rushing
Miami's offense couldn't stay on the field due to a lack of third down
conversions (1-of-5). The Dolphins managed just 39 plays to 66 for the Vikings
in the loss.
"The third-down conversions [1 for 5] were just awful," said Fiedler. "We were
unable to stay on the field and get to all the plays we usually run. When you
get limited opportunities, you need to make the most of them."
Williams could do very little for his team, as he spent more time on the
sidelines than on the field due to the lack of time of possession (24:06).
"It's hard to be frustrated when we are doing it to ourselves," said Williams.
The Dolphins must control the tempo in this game with Williams, considering
the Patriots are 27th in the league against the run (129.5 ypg). New England
played well against the Jets' running attack last week, limiting it to just
108 total yards.
LBs Ted Johnson, Mike Vrabel and Roman Phifer must step up and close the
running gaps for Williams this week. Phifer led the way for the Pats' defense
against the Jets with 11 tackles, while Johnson recorded 10 stops. Look for
the Patriots to slide safety Lawyer Milloy into the box to help the front
seven stop Williams.
Fiedler did a decent job through the air against Minnesota, completing 15-
of-21 passes for 177 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. A lot of his
passing yards came on a 59-yard touchdown pass to Chris Chambers in the first
Despite the team's struggles, Wannstedt thinks that his team can recover this
"The key right now is going to be how quick we can get ready physically and
mentally for New England," Wannstedt said. "As crazy as this whole season has
been around the league, when I was standing here 16 weeks ago, the No. 1 thing
we talked about was being in position to win the division. We have that.
"We win this week, we win the division. That's where our focus is, and that's
how we approach it."
Miami's top WRs Chambers, James McKnight and Cris Carter should see a lot of
single coverage with the Patriots focusing on stopping Williams. Chambers
finished with two catches for 68 yards and a score last week, while McKnight
hauled in five balls for 47 yards.
New England CBs Ty Law and Leonard Myers must perform better this week. The
Patriots secondary surrendered 285 yards through the air to QB Chad Pennington
and the Jets. Overall, the Patriots are in the middle of the pack in the
league in pass defense (205.1 ypg).
Look for Fiedler to try to pick on the inexperienced Myers in this contest.
Myers has just recently replaced veteran Terrell Buckley in the starting
lineup. Original starter Otis Smith is out for the season with a shoulder
PATRIOTS OFFENSE VS. DOLPHINS DEFENSE
New England's offense couldn't get much going against the Jets' defense,
managing only 216 total yards. Patriots' QB Tom Brady completed just 19-of-37
passes for 133 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Brady is struggling
to find some consistency in the offense in recent weeks.
"Yes, I mean you hope, you know, at the end of the year with as much work as
you put in, you really play the best you can play. And you know, for one
reason or another we are just, you know, we are not finding that right way
right now," said Brady.
"And it seems sometimes like the harder you try, the harder it gets. And you
know, the Jets played pretty good. But you know, I think it comes back to the
way we executed and just didn't make enough plays to win Sunday."
The Patriots threw a lot of short passes against the Jets, averaging just 3.1
yards per pass. WR David Patten caught five balls for 38 yards, while RB Kevin
Faulk added four receptions for 38 yards.
New England has slipped to 12th in the league in pass offense (224.1 ypg) due
to its struggles in recent weeks. Brady must be sharp with his throws against
the excellent Miami secondary.
The Dolphins' corner duo of Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain is one of the best
in the league. Both corners are capable of locking up wideouts in single
coverage, freeing up the safeties to roam and make plays. Safety Brock Marion
tallied a team-high nine tackles last week thanks to his freedom.
Don't expect Brady to be able to relax in the pocket in this contest, as the
Dolphins have two terrific pass rushing defensive ends in Taylor and Adewale
Agunleye. Taylor has tied the team-record for sacks with 18.5 this season,
including 1.5 last week. Agunleye has added 10 sacks from the other side.
The Dolphins lead the league in sacks with 46, while the Patriots have
surrendered only 30 on the year. A key matchup to watch will be Patriots LT
Matt Light versus Taylor. New England will likely keep FB Marc Edwards in the
backfield to help on Taylor.
The Patriots must establish some type of running game with Antowain Smith to
keep the Dolphins off balance in this tilt. Smith registered just 46 yards on
only 14 attempts versus the Jets. The anemic New England running game is
mustering just 92.8 yards per affair.
Miami should be able to shut Smith down with DT Tim Bowens and LB Zach Thomas
doing the dirty work. Bowens is excellent at locking up offensive lineman so
that Thomas is freed up to make stops. Thomas is tied for the league lead in
tackles with Buffalo's London Fletcher (140).
Both of these teams are coming off tough losses and still have playoff dreams,
which should provide plenty of motivation for this tilt. Miami will likely
ride the shoulders of Williams to this victory in less-than-desirable weather.
12/26 13:09:27 ET
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