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Dolphins defense responds

Miami shuts down New England's potent offense in a 26-13 win, putting last week's concerns to rest.

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 7, 2002

Miami shuts down New England's potent offense in a 26-13 win, putting last week's concerns to rest.

MIAMI -- If the Patriots want to blame someone for their loss to the Dolphins here Sunday, they can partly blame the Chiefs.

Miami was "embarrassed" defensively in a 48-30 loss at Kansas City a week ago and was determined to make up for it against the high-scoring Patriots, throttling them 26-13 at Pro Player Stadium.

After being ripped for 450 yards by the Chiefs, the Dolphins completely grounded a unit that ranked second in the league in total yards (427.8 per game) and first in passing yards (325.3).

Miami allowed 245 total yards, nearly 200 below the Patriots' average, and gave up just 208 through the air. And most of those came in the second half when Miami went to a softer defense. New England had 26 yards before halftime, 10 passing.

"We were embarrassed by what happened last week (against Kansas City), when you get that many yards thrown on you and you don't come up with any sacks," Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said. "That's the great thing about when you have adversity and you have guys with character, they find a way to understand that. And they are smart guys and they've got a lot of pride, and they did something about it."

Did they ever.

The Dolphins defense turned what was supposed to be a weighty, early-season clash between the AFC East's top two teams into a snoozer and left Miami, which faces Denver next, in sole possession of first place at 4-1. The Dolphins led 16-0 at halftime and took away a lot of suspense and intrigue for the 73,369 on hand on a sizzling South Florida afternoon.

The Dolphins were all over Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had been so efficient (100.9 rating, fourth in the AFC) this season. Miami never let him get into a flow, sacking him three times and forcing him to throw behind and over his receivers. He was picked off twice and fumbled once.

"They kept a lot of pressure on us with their front seven," Brady said. "They stopped our run pretty good (37 yards), forced us into third and long after third and long, and after a while that plays into the defense's hands."

Two of Miami's first-half touchdowns were set up by its defense: Brady's fumble, forced by defensive end Jason Taylor at the Patriots 39-yard line, and a pass tipped by Sam Madison that Patrick Surtain picked off at the New England 29.

Miami converted the fumble into a touchdown when quarterback Jay Fiedler scrambled in from 8 yards on third and goal late in the first quarter. Surtain's interception on New England's possession after the fumble led to a 7-yard touchdown from Fiedler to Chris Chambers and a 13-0 lead (the extra point after the first TD was no good).

Miami settled for a field goal before the Chambers touchdown, but a penalty on Patriots linebacker Ted Bruschi gave Miami a first down and Chambers scored three plays later.

Only once did Miami have to drive more than 40 yards for a score. After Ricky Williams' fumble gave the Patriots new life and set up a 34-yard touchdown pass that cut Miami's lead to 16-6 in the third, the Dolphins didn't wilt.

Just before the end of the quarter, Miami put together a 74-yard drive that culminated with Fiedler hitting rookie tight end Randy McMichael for a 1-yard score and a 23-6 lead.

"That was a shaky moment and could have been a turning point," Wannstedt of Williams' fumble and the Patriots' subsequent touchdown. "Our offense and defense responded, and I think we grow as a team from something like that."

The loss was the Patriots' second straight, raising some questions about the direction of the defending Super Bowl champions (3-2), who face Green Bay next. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said his team is fine, but was beaten by a "better team" Sunday.

"You have to give (the Dolphins) credit," Belichick said.

And perhaps the Chiefs, too.

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