DAVIE, Fla. (AP) -The Miami Dolphins have started winning because they've stopped beating themselves.
Penalties, turnovers, dropped passes, missed tackles and blown coverages are down. Morale is up. And Miami is on the rise in the AFC, thanks to consecutive upset victories over New England and San Diego.
``It feels good,'' linebacker Matt Roth said Monday. ``We feel like we belong. We're just going to try to keep it rolling.''
Still erasing the memory of last year's 1-15 catastrophe, the Dolphins (2-2) remain underdogs. That will be the case even Sunday at winless Houston (0-4), with the Texans 3-point favorites.
But the Dolphins' first back-to-back victories since November 2006 - against the teams who met in the AFC championship game in January - make it clear the rebuilding project is on course under Bill Parcells and new coach Tony Sparano.
``I hope the players feel more confident and are starting to figure out there's a method to our madness,'' Sparano said. ``That's a good thing.''
ano and his staff have curbed the self-destructive tendencies of last season. The Dolphins' two turnovers - one lost fumble and one interception - is the lowest total in the AFC. Miami ranks third in the NFL with only 16 penalties, and last year's epidemic of dropped passes has been cured.
A revamped defense is becoming more sound, too. Breakdowns in the secondary were a problem in losses to the New York Jets and Arizona, but in the two wins the Dolphins' defense dominated, allowing only 216 and 202 yards.
``Don't beat yourself. It makes a huge difference,'' defensive end Vonnie Holliday said. ``It's only two games, but that's why we have had the success we've had early on.''
Conditioning is also at the foundation of the transformation. Playing in Miami's subtropical heat, the Dolphins were the fresher team at the end of Sunday's 17-10 win over the Chargers, keeping the ball for the final 5:55.
A rigorous offseason training regimen may be helping the Dolphins avoid injuries. The only player they've lost for the season was rookie guard Donald Thomas, and they had no one listed on the injury report before the New England or San Diego games.
reer average, with a single interception in 112 attempts.
In the past two games, Pennington is 39-for-49 (80 percent) with no turnovers and one sack.
``I remember playing against Chad when he was with the Jets, and how poised he was,'' Holliday said. ``He didn't make mistakes, and he brought that here. From the time he walked into the locker room, you immediately saw a change.
``He's one of those guys who just doesn't make a whole lot of mistakes, even in practice. He's meticulous. He's smart.''
Pennington's smart enough to temper any giddiness by a young team with little experience at winning.
``All this means is we're 2-2,'' he said. ``We've won two ballgames. Hip hip hooray. Now we have to move on to the next one.''
Forgive Miami fans if they don't heed Pennington's caution. After a six-year postseason drought, South Florida is susceptible to playoff fever. And the path to contention is inviting: only three of Miami's final 12 opponents had a winning record last year.
The new regime brought with it from the Dallas Cowboys a slogan for such situations.
``As I say to the guys, `Don't eat the cheese,''' Sparano said. ``It's a Parcells deal. When we were in Dallas, we used to hang mousetraps up all over the place.
We've got to keep a level head, stay hungry, stay humble. That's what we're talking about.''

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