|Resurgent Miami faces Pats in AFC East showdown|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 20 November 2008 14:40|
Linebacker Matt Roth says his biggest games with the Dolphins came in 2005, when they started 3-7 before mustering a late, meaningless surge. Teammate Vonnie Holliday says the stakes were highest - or lowest - last year, when Miami went into December winless.
``We were trying not be the worst team in the history of the NFL,'' Holliday says.
For the Dolphins, Sunday will be something new: a hype-worthy game.
Miami faces New England, and with both teams 6-4 and a game behind the AFC East-leading New York Jets, the impact on the division race will be significant. The Jets play Sunday at undefeated Tennessee, giving the Miami-New England winner a good chance to seize a share of first place.
. But from the Dolphins' perspective, the matchup qualifies as a showdown few saw coming.
A year ago, New England was 10-0 and Miami was 0-10. Now the new Dolphins regime led by former Patriots coach Bill Parcells has a chance to overtake a team that has won the past five division titles.
``Nobody picked us to win this many games, and people thought New England would be 9-1 or 10-0,'' says Miami linebacker Joey Porter, the NFL sack leader. ``So you've got two teams where you thought one would be better than they are, and you thought one would be sorrier than they are. Good for us.''
Tom Brady's injury reduced the disparity between division rivals, but even the Dolphins are surprised by the pace of their revival, which accelerated thanks to a four-game winning streak.
They're trying to become the first team to reach the postseason a year after going 1-15.
``If you would have told me at the end of last season that we would be playing the Patriots late in the season fighting for a playoff berth, I wouldn't have believed you,'' receiver Greg Camarillo says.
The first sign of a resurgence came in the third week of the season, with the Dolphins still looking for their first win under new coach Tony Sparano.
``You start 0-2, and you know that you took over a 1-15 team,'' Sparano says. ``All of a sudden you are looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, 'Am I doing the right things?' At that point, I found myself talking to myself an awful lot.''
The Dolphins flew to Boston, unveiled the Wildcat formation with direct snaps to running back Ronnie Brown and stunned the Patriots, 38-13. That ended New England's NFL record regular-season winning streak at 21 games.
``They manhandled us,'' Patriots defensive end Jarvis Green says. ``We didn't look good at all that game.''
The Patriots haven't been swept by a division rival since 2000, but to avenge the loss in September, they'll need to solve the Wildcat. In Miami's six plays from the formation at New England, Brown ran for three touchdowns and threw for one.
``We were certainly the guinea pig for it, and we learned a hard lesson,'' Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel says.
Miami has used the Wildcat in every game since, running it 7.4 times per game and averaging 7.1 yards per snap with eight touchdowns. The Dolphins prepared four plays from the formation for their first game against New England, and have since run at least a dozen others, even including a flea-flicker.
For Miami, responding to how opponents defend the Wildcat has become a kind of chess game.
``Teams are giving us different looks,'' Brown says, ``with the defensive line in different alignments and blitzes off the edges, trying to do stuff to stop it. We're giving them different looks, and they're doing the same thing.''
Patriots coach Bill Belichick says Miami's Wildcat is difficult to defend because the formation includes three talented running backs - Brown, Ricky Williams and third-stringer Patrick Cobbs, who has touchdown receptions of 80 and 53 yards this season.
``Probably the toughest thing is tackling the guy who's got the ball,'' Belichick says. ``They all run well. They break tackles, they make people miss in the open field, they're fast, they're quick, they've got good balance. I think all three of those guys are very tough to tackle.''
The Dolphins believe they've improved since September, but they say the Patriots are better, too. The earlier meeting between the teams was only the second start since high school for New England quarterback Matt Cassel after Brady was sidelined by a season-ending knee injury.
In his most recent start, against the Jets, Cassel became the first NFL quarterback to throw for 400 yards and run for 60 in the same game.
``He's really proving himself being his own guy,'' Miami nose tackle Jason Ferguson says. ``He's Cassel now, he's not the replacement of Brady. He's got his own name.''
New England lost, that means he has more big-game experience than most of the Dolphins.