By: Bob George/BosSports.net
October 18, 2003

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Patriots/Dolphins
Close-Up
Where: Pro Player Park
Miami, Florida
When: Sunday 10/19/03
1:00 PM EDT
Television: CBS
WBZ Channel 4 in Boston
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 702 (enhanced), 711, 930
2003 Team Records: Patriots 4-2
Dolphins 4-1
Latest Line: Dolphins by 5
This isn't as bad as 19 years in a row, it just seems that way.

The Patriots haven't won in Pro Player Park, or Joe Robbie Stadium, or Orange Bowl Jr., whatever you like to call this stadium, since a 14-12 Monday night win in the 1997 season finale to clinch the AFC East title for the Patriots. But that game was in December. When the Patriots come south in September and October, things aren't so nice for the Patriots (Patriot Nation may wish the same lack of hospitality in October on the Yankees, who come here next week to play the Marlins in the World Series).

Since 1971, the Dolphins are 13-0 against the Patriots at Miami in the months of September and October. Not only do the Dolphins win, they usually win big. During this stretch of games, the Dolphins have outscored the Patriots 353-167. In each of the last two years, the Dolphins have humiliated the Patriots in the heat and humidity, winning by a 30-10 count in 2001 and 26-13 last year.

Dolphin haters can strike back with the fact that each of the last two Miami wins were offset by huge Patriot wins in Foxborough, one of which helped win a division title and the other one should have done the same if not for Brett Favre playing like Brett Butler (the comedienne, not the baseball player). Still, the Patriots will have these last two years on their minds as they approach their latest attempt to win in the wretched humidity of Miami in the early months.

After dropping the season opener at home to Houston, 21-20 in front of 73, 010 aghast and disgusted fans here at Chez Crockett and Tubbs, Miami has ripped off four straight wins to assume the early division lead. Their most impressive win was the 17-7 Sunday night pasting they laid on the then-undefeated Buffalo Bills, sending notice to their future opponents that the vaunted Dolphin defense was alive and well.

Basically, the problem the Patriots have had in past visits to the Sunshine State in recent years has been the oppressive weather they have had to deal with. Given the fact that the Dolphin defense is predicated upon speed, the Patriots simply don't have the legs to stay with Miami for four quarters. Guys like Jason Taylor and Adewale Ogunleye at defensive end, Zack Thomas at middle linebacker and the cornerback duo of Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison are more speed than the Patriots can deal with. The only way they do at all is when the game is in bitter New England cold weather.

Now this year, you add Charger lifer Junior Seau to the Dolphin mix, and you really have something which can take the Dolphins a long way. Given a new lease on life and a new team which can take him to his first Super Bowl in nine years, Seau has given Miami added depth on a defense which was already great to begin with.

Seau is currently nursing a bad hamstring, and is listed on the Friday injury report as questionable, along with defensive tackle Tim Bowens (hand). If neither of these men are able to go on Sunday, the Patriots will be able to attack the area within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, either by the run or short pass, which is basically their bread and butter. If this does turn out to be a matchup advantage for the Patriots, it has to work for all four quarters and not just while the guys are fresh from the starting gate.

If the Patriots are to win Sunday, aside from the stamina issue, they will need to sustain the faint pulse of a running game they have enjoyed over the past two weeks. Against Tennessee, Antowain Smith (listed as probable on the injury report) and Mike Cloud combined for 153 yards rushing. Last week against the Giants, Kevin Faulk registered 87 yards on 14 carries (a 6.2 average). That's three different running backs with at least 73 yards rushing over this span. It may not be the second coming of Sam Cunningham, Andy Johnson and Don Calhoun, but it is something to consider as a plan of attack.

And if one of these three rushers emerges with at least a good game, it will enable Tom Brady to find his short stuff a little easier. With Surtain and Madison taking away the long stuff, Brady needs to look for those screen tosses and quick slants which he runs so well. Without Seau out there, look for Christian Fauria to possibly have a great day catching lots of non-touchdown passes, not that we're ruling out scoring tosses, mind you.

Then on defense, the Patriots must take a lesson learned from last December and assign Roman Phifer to shadow Ricky Williams. One component part of their second half comeback, other than lousy coaching by Dave Wannstedt and Norv Turner, was having Phifer cover Williams instead of Mike Vrabel. Williams had 120 yards rushing in the first half, but only 65 in the second half. It wasn't a stuff job, but it was enough to help the Patriots get back into the game.

One thing the Patriots might be able to do is to get good pressure on Jay Fiedler. Fullback Rob Konrad is listed as doubtful (knee), and the Dolphins are rebuilding their offensive line. This will help in trying to defend fleet footed receivers like Chris Chambers and James McKnight. Williams is currently second on the team in pass receptions, while tight end Randy McMichael is third. When Fiedler is pressured, he is prone to make mistakes and throw interceptions. Expect Fiedler to see lots of blitz packages on Sunday.

The long and short of this whole game, given all this analysis, hinges on the weather. The current forecast for Sunday calls for partly cloudy skies, a high temperature of 86 degrees, and the relative humidity at 75%. There is a 10% chance for rain. The humidity once again will be the factor, and how well the Patriots handle it in order for them to have any chance to win this game.

The past patterns show that the Patriots simply wilt in the heat and humidity, and cannot stay with the Dolphins for sixty minutes. 86 degrees is not a bad high temperature anywhere. But the 75% humidity poses a problem. The Miami Herald says that the humidity on Sunday will be less than Friday or Saturday. What the Patriots may get is a weather day which is not as oppressive as past years, but one where it will still be a heavy Gatorade day.

The Patriots broke the 1967-1985 losing streak in Miami in the best of all ways, with a win in the 1985 AFC Championship Game. The following year, in their last game at the old Orange Bowl, they won the AFC East on a Monday night. Maybe this year they will find it within themselves to win a pre-November game in this baseball-crazed city.

If the Patriots lose, look at it this way. After Sunday, all this heat and humidity are now the Yankees' problems.


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