Patriots 24, Dolphins 10
Don Shula called the New England Patriots the best team in football earlier this week, refraining from commenting about the Miami Dolphins, the team he coached for 33 years. He was right about the Patriots, who set an NFL consecutive-games record with their 19th straight victory on Sunday, beating the Dolphins, 24-10, in an error-filled game by both teams at Gillette Stadium.
As the Dolphins fell to 0-5 for the first time since 1966, a crowd of 68,756 watched the Super Bowl champions make football history. Until this game, the 4-0 Patriots had shared the record of 18 straight victories (including postseason) with four other franchises. A 20-17 loss to the Washington Redskins on Sept. 28, 2003, was their last loss.
Although Patriots Coach Bill Belichick had low-keyed it all week, there was a celebration. Safety Rodney Harrison and defensive end Richard Seymour doused Belichick with a bucket of ice water when the game ended.
"It was congratulations to him because he rarely celebrates anything and to lead a team to 19 victories in a row is something to be proud of," said Harrison, who played for a 1-15 San Diego Chargers team. "He's the captain of the ship and we just wanted to let him know we appreciate him and he's doing a great job."
The Patriots struggled all afternoon against a Miami defense that is the team's only reasonably bright spot, ranked third overall in the NFL. But the Patriots opened an early 10-0 lead, then made all the proper plays in the second half -- including two crucial fourth-quarter defensive stands deep in their territory that prevented Miami touchdowns.
New England likely will find out how good it really is in the next two weeks, playing home games here against Seattle (3-1) and the New York Jets (4-0). If the streak continues past those games, the Patriots would tie the NFL record of 17 straight regular season victories set by the Chicago Bears from 1933-34 next week and break it against the Jets.
"I did tell the team that no other team in pro football has done what they did," Belichick said of the record. "That being said, we're going to try to get a little more than that. . . . I don't think it was that big a thing. We didn't dwell on it or think about it. . . . We didn't spend a lot of time and energy on it."
Already the second-most penalized team in the league, the Patriots likely won't improve much in the weekly statistics with seven flags for 55 yards. Quarterback Tom Brady completed only 7 of 19 attempts for 76 yards, and running back Corey Dillon left the game early in the third quarter nursing a foot injury. Dillon and Belichick both insisted afterward that he would be ready to play against Seattle.
But woebegone Miami was far worse, with 12 flags for 86 yards in losses on a day when the Patriots converted a Jay Fiedler interception and a fumble into touchdowns, and knocked the veteran quarterback out of the game with sore ribs in the final minutes.
His replacement, A.J. Feeley, also took a wicked shot on a blitz with 1 minute 52 seconds remaining, and also had rib and back problems afterward.
The Dolphins' season-long inability to score got another jolt even before the opening kickoff when veteran kicker Olindo Mare aggravated a week-old calf injury practicing long field goals in warmups. He had to be taken off the field in the back of a motorized cart.
Mare's replacement was Wes Welker, a rookie kickoff and punt returner from Texas Tech who had attempted only one extra point in college, and had it blocked. The left-footed kicker managed to get an extra point after the Dolphins ended a run of 32 straight possessions without a touchdown in the first half with Fiedler's 10-yard scoring pass to Chris Chambers. Welker added a 29-yard field goal late in the third quarter to trim the lead to 24-10, the closest the Dolphins could get in the second half.
The kicking game became a factor early in the fourth quarter when the Dolphins faced fourth and 11 at the New England 21, trailing by 14 points. Coach Dave Wannstedt eschewed what would have been a 38-yard field goal attempt and went for a touchdown. Fiedler's pass to former Redskins wide receiver Derrius Thompson hit him on the hands in the end zone, but Patriots free safety Eugene Wilson had a hand in his face and Thompson dropped the pass.
The Dolphins had a chance to get within a touchdown again with four minutes left, and this time Fielder's pass went through the hands of tight end Randy McMichael on fourth and goal at the Patriots 15.
The Patriots took over with 3:55 remaining, and killed one last drive that ended when Feeley, under a severe rush, threw an incompletion on fourth and goal at the Patriots 7 with 1:52 left.
"We continue to not give ourselves a chance to win," Wannstedt said. "We're just making too many negative plays. We get a first down and somebody jumps offside. We're giving them a short field to operate on, and it's frustrating for anyone."
Against the Patriots, that has become a familiar refrain.