AFC East Matchup
In their first game in seven years without Tom Brady starting under center, the New England Patriots certainly didn't look like the team that set an NFL record for points while going 16-0 last year.
Instead, they looked more like the team that won three Super Bowls earlier this decade.
The new-look Patriots will try to run the longest regular-season winning streak in NFL history to 22 on Sunday, when they host the winless Miami Dolphins.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Patriots -13 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 61% of bets for this game have been placed on Patriots -13 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
After Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury eight minutes into New England's opener against Kansas City on Sept. 7, the league wondered how the Patriots (2-0) would react without the reigning NFL MVP, who threw a record 50 touchdown passes in an undefeated 2007 regular season.
Coach Bill Belichick's team responded last week with a workmanlike effort in a 19-10 victory at the New York Jets.
While quarterback Matt Cassel avoided risks and mistakes in his first start since high school, New England's defense allowed 10 points for the second straight game, stiffening at important moments to hold down Brett Favre and the Jets.
Cassel went 16-of-23 for 165 yards without a touchdown or an interception, sticking mostly to shorter passes and handoffs to the Patriots' four-pronged rushing attack.
"At the end of the day, you've got to have more points than the other team and that's what we did, so I'm satisfied," Cassel said. "I didn't have too many butterflies going out. I've been in the system for four years, so I'm confident I know I can run it."
Without Brady, the Patriots appear unlikely to rack up passing yards and blowouts as they did in 2007. However, even with Brady at quarterback, that wasn't the team's style in 2003-04, when they went 14-2 and won Super Bowls in back-to-back seasons despite averaging fewer than 220 passing yards per game.
They were even less prolific in 2001, when Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe and led the team to its first championship. Brady went 11-3 as a starter that season even though the team averaged 190 passing yards, instead minimizing errors and relying on strong defense.
"After all these years of playing against the Patriots, I wondered why they are so good," running back LaMont Jordan said. "Being a Patriot, I realize what it is; the total team effort. Just get your job done, and it comes from the head coach."
Jordan ran for 62 yards on 11 carries against the Jets, stepping up as a fourth option at running back. Laurence Maroney led the team with 835 yards rushing last year, while Patriots mainstay Kevin Faulk and former Dolphins back Sammy Morris have also played parts.
Despite the Patriots' success since Belichick took over in 2000, they're just 9-7 against the Dolphins over that span - their worst record against any AFC East opponent.
Miami (0-2) has fallen upon hard times, though, and under new coach Tony Sparano and new front office executive Bill Parcells, 2008 has not begun smoothly for the Dolphins.
Parcells was New England's head coach from 1993-96, and took the Patriots to the Super Bowl after the 1996 season. Belichick served on his staff for three different teams, winning a pair of Super Bowls with the New York Giants.
It may take a while for Parcells to bring similar success to South Florida. After starting 0-13 last year en route to a 1-15 season, Miami hasn't looked much better in 2008. The Dolphins gained only 236 total yards while allowing 445 in a 31-10 loss at Arizona on Sunday.
"You're always going to hit some adversity," Sparano said, "and we've hit some adversity right now."
In just his second game with Miami, quarterback Chad Pennington was lifted after going 10-of-20 for 112 yards, but Sparano said the veteran will remain the starter even though rookie Chad Henne directed the Dolphins' lone touchdown drive.
On the ground, running back Ricky Williams has only 52 rushing yards on 21 carries through two games. Ronnie Brown hasn't been any better, carrying 17 times for 48 yards.
Perhaps facing the Patriots will help Williams. In his last game against New England, he rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown in Miami's 28-26 win in Foxborough on Jan. 1, 2006.
Cassel saw the bulk of the action in that game, which took place in Week 17 with the Patriots resting Brady in preparation for the playoffs. Cassel went 11-of-20 for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
That was Miami's last road win against an AFC opponent. The Dolphins have also lost 11 straight on the road overall since beating Detroit 27-10 on Thanksgiving Day 2006.
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