Read it and weep, Goliath: New England 31, Miami 14.
"Pinch me," Patriots Coach Raymond Berry told a reporter afterward, "to see if it's real."
The penetrating truth is that the Patriots (14-5) won the American Football Conference title in the rain at the Orange Bowl today to become the first wild-card team in the modern era to reach the Super Bowl by winning three games on the road.
They have conquered all circumstances and climates. Down went the Jets in a 30-degree freeze in New Jersey. Down went the Raiders in 70-degree comfort out west. Down went the Dolphins in the rain today. All three victims went the same way: from turnover to turnover to just plain over.
So before you bet the house on a Chicago victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XX in New Orleans on Jan. 26, you'd better think twice.
"We'll be the underdog in the Super Bowl. Jimmy the Greek will say we have no chance, the same old thing. I hope he picks Chicago," Patriots running back Craig James said.
For the Dolphins (13-5), this misadventure seemed too similar to their 38-16 Super Bowl XIX loss to the 49ers: Their run defense dissolved, their turnovers mounted and quarterback Dan Marino was a harried wreck, saying later, "Maybe we should have done something different."
Here's how remarkable the Patriots have been: Only two other wild-card teams have reached the Super Bowl. The Dallas Cowboys made it to Super Bowl X (they lost to Pittsburgh) but required only two postseason victories to reach that game. The wild-card Oakland Raiders reached Super Bowl XV (they beat Philadelphia), but got there after winning the first of three playoff games at home.
Today, New England ended an 18-game losing streak at the Orange Bowl by forcing six more turnovers, converting them into 24 points. That means the Patriots have forced 16 turnovers in three postseason games (versus four of their own), and they have converted them into 61 points.
Also, Patriots quarterback Tony Eason threw three short touchdown passes today and completed 10 of 12 attempts for 71 yards, which was all they needed.
The Patriots had studied the manner in which Cleveland netted 251 rushing yards in a loss to Miami last week, and they reacted by rotating their running backs today to keep them fresh enough to thump the Dolphins by rushing 59 times for 255 yards, 105 by James.
"The only thing that went wrong for Cleveland was that their running backs got tired," said running back Tony Collins. "I feel like I played about only one half today. I'm not even tired."
Think about how the Patriots' special teams created a Dolphin-breaking turnover on the third-quarter kickoff and you'll understand why they call themselves The Special Effects. Abracadabra: Now the game is close, now it's not.
"We've been coached to strip the ball. We've been fortunate in the playoffs. Call it luck or some phenomenon," said Patriots reserve receiver Greg Hawthorne.
Hawthorne is the special-teamer who recovered Lorenzo Hampton's fumble on the opening kickoff of the third quarter at the Miami 25. That was the game's breakaway play, one that allowed the Patriots' 10-point halftime lead to become 17 real quick.
Over in the other corner of the Patriots' locker room, offensive tackle Brian Holloway said, "If you want to see phenomenal, just take a look at our defense. If you want to see magic or aggression, just look at it."
The Patriots hustled to a 17-7 halftime edge and led by 24-7 after three quarters. When Marino tried to rally his team in the second half, the Patriots defense wouldn't allow it. Too often, rookie defensive end Garin Veris or all-pro linebacker Andre Tippett was in Marino's face.
For the second time in three games this season, Marino failed to complete half of his passes against the Patriots. Ask any NFL defensive coordinator and he'll say this is quite an accomplishment.
Today, Marino's numbers read: 20 for 48 for 248 yards with a pair of touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. He was sacked only once, but was hurried into incompletions numerous times. Marino also lost a fumbled snap at his own 36, which New England converted into a second-quarter touchdown, Eason to tight end Derrick Ramsey for a one-yard score.
"It started on the first play we ran," said Miami Coach Don Shula about running back Tony Nathan's lost fumble at the Miami 20, which the Patriots cashed into three points, "and we kicked the ball around on kickoff returns (too)."
"It seemed like they scored almost every time we turned it over," Marino said.
Shula told his team at halftime "we played about as bad as we can play and still had a chance to get back in the ball game."
Then Hampton came out and fumbled the third-quarter kickoff, with Mosi Tatupu, the Patriots' special teams' hit man, providing the sting.
The Dolphins had instructed their kick returners all week to watch out for Tatupu, but . . . Said Hampton, "I didn't even see the guy coming."
And Shula said, "You emphasize it (no fumbles), but that's about all you can do."
After Hampton's fumble, the Patriots showed that they are Berry, Berry good. Rather than attempt a 19-yard field goal for a 20-7 lead, Berry called for a play fake on fourth and goal from the two.
"We'd practiced it for a month. Thought it was time to try it," Berry said, and the Dolphins played the sucker. Linebacker Robin Sendlein bit for the fake, and Eason hit wide-open running back Robert Weathers for a touchdown, and the lead was 24-7 with 11:58 left in the third quarter.
You might remember that Miami rallied for an 18-point deficit for a 24-21 win over the Browns here last Saturday.
Today, Miami tried again. It helped when New England punt returner Roland James (playing in place of injured Irving Fryar) lost a fumble that Miami recovered at the New England 10 on the third play of the fourth quarter.
On the next play, Marino lasered a scoring pass to Nathan for a touchdown. Suddenly, Miami was within 10 points, 24-14, with 14:33 yet to play. Was it possible for Marino to do it again?
The rain was falling harder now. The Patriots offense failed and went out in three plays with 12:47 left.
But Miami running back Joe Carter lost a fumble two plays later. New England's venerable Julius Adams, the 37-year-old defensive tackle, recovered at the Miami 45.
It seemed like two blinks later that Tatupu ran wide left for a one-yard score for the 31-14 lead. Only 7:34 remained. Game and 18-game jinks over.
Never mind that Shula hadn't lost a conference title game in five previous attempts with Miami. You saw the Dolphins at their most exposed in the second quarter, when Johnson, the tight end, was wide open and dropped a sure 16-yard touchdown pass. Then Fuad Reveiz missed a 31-yard field goal in the second quarter, then slapped opposing linebacker Don Blackmon in the face mask when Blackmon whispered what Reveiz viewed to be a taunt.
You now see the Patriots at their best. They have lost only twice in 13 games -- to the Jets and Dolphins. Both of those have been paid back, now. They lost to Chicago, 20-7, on Sept. 15.
"I'd like to get that one back, too," Collins said.