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News » Fish tanked


Fish tanked


Fish tankedSure, the Patriots had piled up almost 100 points in their last two blowout wins over the woeful Titans and Bucs, but yesterday's AFC East showdown against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium was a truer test of where New England is at the midway point of the season.

It wasn't an A+ performance - "I thought our execution could have been better," quarterback Tom Brady said - but the Patriots' 27-17 victory was critical and a great way to start their toughest stretch of the season.

"It was a typical AFC East battle," Pats coach Bill Belichick said, "and it's a big division win for us, a huge win for us."

With the undefeated Colts on tap next week, the Patriots improved to 6-2, 2-1 in the division. It was the first division loss of the year for Miami (3-5, 3-1), the defending AFC East champion.

"We had a lot to lose and a lot to gain," Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said. "This win definitely helps us out."

Under Belichick, the Patriots are 8-2 after the bye week.

Brady's 71-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss late in the third quarter was the play of the game. Brady was 25 of 37 for 332 yards, his third straight 300-yard game, and Moss had 11 catches for 147 yards. His one-handed grab set up a Laurence Maroney TD run in the first quarter.

The offense sputtered at times, however, forcing the Patriots - with chances to blow the game open - to settle for three field goals.

"We can't just keep kicking field goals out there," Brady said, "as much as Stephen Gostkowski would like us to kick field goals. That's not really what I'm too excited about."

Miami unveiled its Wildcat offense during last year's visit here and caught the usually well-prepared Patriots off guard, scoring four touchdowns out of the formation in a 38-13 win.

The Wildcat wasn't just some fad for the 'Phins. It's still part of their offense this year and they've averaged about 11 plays a game out of the alignment since Week 2. Yesterday, they ran 10 plays out of their traditional Wildcat setup, with running back Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams taking the direct snap from center, and threw in a variation with rookie quarterback Pat White, a spread option QB in college, lining up behind center for eight other plays.

The Wildcat helped the Dolphins on their two touchdown drives, but for the most part, the Patriots defense did a decent job against it, holding Miami to nine yards.

"Last year, we were panicking," safety Brandon Meriweather said. "We didn't stay focused. We were all over the place. This year, we played calm."

Miami went to the Wildcat five times during its 16-play drive to start the second half, and Brown completed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Joey Haynos that gave the Dolphins a 17-16 lead.

Later in the quarter, the Patriots sniffed out a double-reverse from Brown to Williams to quarterback Chad Henne, who was lined up wide on the play, for an 11-yard loss. Linebacker Adalius Thomas was credited with a sack.

"Luckily, that was a play we worked on in practice this week," Belichick said. "I think the guys saw it and reacted to it pretty quickly."

Belichick said the team devoted about one quarter of its practice time this week to the Wildcat.

White, a second-round pick out of West Virginia, had just four carries for 2 yards in Miami's first seven games. On his first touch yesterday, he ripped off a 33-yard gain to get the Dolphins into Patriots territory.

"He changes the mentality of the defense because he can gash us if he wants to," said Banta-Cain, who misread White's long-gain play. "It was a situation where we got hurt by it one time, but that was the only big run he had."

On the same drive, White ran an option right and pitched to Williams, who ran it in for a 15-yard touchdown.

"The first couple times they ran (the option), we weren't quite sure," Belichick said. "We were a little indecisive. Once we saw it and got it straightened out, I think we played more aggressively and confidently and we defended it a lot better."

White finished with 45 yards on six carries and threw an incomplete pass.

"I wouldn't say it gets easier (defending the Wildcat)," Banta-Cain said, "but I would say you're more alert because, especially if they have success with it, they can run it out of so many different looks. You just try to not overthink it and take what they give you."


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Added: November 10, 2009

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Dan Koppen Name: Dan Koppen
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