By: Bob George/BosSports.net
October 19, 2003

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MIAMI -- Metaphysics at work? Or are the Patriots this special a team?

Don't say the word "special teams" around Dave Wannstedt this week. After the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins traded mistakes for fifty-eight minutes, Olindo Mare suffered perhaps two of the biggest mistakes in his entire career. The end result turned into disaster for the Dolphins, and may propel the Patriots into the Promised Land.

Mare, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, had a 35-yard field goal blocked with two minutes left in regulation, then shanked a 35-yarder in overtime to keep things tied and the Patriots in the game. About six minutes later, Tom Brady was able to find Troy Brown on a deep go route for 82 yards and a touchdown, as the Patriots survived a brutal battle with the Dolphins in their crib, 19-13.

The win put the Patriots in sole possession of first place in the AFC East. The win was the first by the Patriots in Miami prior to the month of November in franchise history. The win was pulled off despite two more defensive stars not dressing for the game (Ty Law, Willie McGinest). The win was…

Special. A miracle. And one heck of a panacea for New England fans who are still not yet over Thursday night.

What made this win so special was what the Patriots had to overcome in the process. The Patriots suffered many maladies throughout the game which should have sent them down to defeat, but instead it was Mare's two mistakes which proved decisive. It turned out to be still another hallmark performance for the dilapidated defense, but their performance is actually a sidebar.

The first two offensive drives for the Patriots ended in lost fumbles, which resulted in ten Miami points. On third and three at their own 14, Brady lunged forward on a keeper and appeared to have a first down. But Brady never had control of the snap, and Jay Williams fell on the loose ball. Five plays later, Jay Fiedler threw a laser to Chris Chambers on a slant route from six yards out and it was 7-3 Miami.

The Patriots got the ball back, but lost it two plays later. Kevin Faulk rumbled off left tackle for six yards to the Patriot 36. But Brock Marion stood Faulk up, then stripped the ball. Larry Chester fell on the loose ball at the Patriot 40. Seven plays later, Mare hit a 23-yarder and Miami led 10-3.

The Patriots once again took over after the field goal, and drove 64 yards to the Miami 2. On second and goal from the two, Brady found Christian Fauria in the end zone on a nifty slant route. But the touchdown was nullified, as Tom Ashworth was called for pass interference because of a pick block on Randy McMichael. The Patriots had to settle for a 30-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri, and it was 10-6 Miami at the half.

One of the major goals of the game was to stop Ricky Williams. On this count, the Patriots succeeded, and in fine fashion. He had 51 yards rushing in the first half, but only 43 yards thereafter, including overtime. His rushing average went from 4.6 per carry at the half to only 3.5 for the game. But the Patriots were nearly done in by their inability to cover tight end McMichael, as Roman Phifer, despite playing the best he could, simply could not win this matchup. McMichael finished with eight catches for 102 yards, all but one catch coming in the second half.

Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel made a late adjustment and switched primary coverage of McMichael from Phifer to Rodney Harrison. Harrison did give up a 16-yard catch in the fourth quarter and an 18-yarder in overtime, but the switch forced Fiedler to go to other options, such as Williams and Chambers.

One of those options, Williams, pulled off an incredible run which should have been the linchpin for a Dolphin win. On third and nine from the Patriot 31, Williams ran off right tackle, was seemingly down at the 27, but instead was ruled down at the 21. Replay showed that everything that was Ricky Williams was down at the 27 -- except his knee. The play stood, but the Dolphins got only a blocked field goal out of it.

Richard Seymour got credit for the blocked field goal late in regulation. Brown recovered the loose ball at the Patriot 35, with 1:52 left and no timeouts. Seemingly in good position to drive into field goal range and wanting to eat as much clock as possible in the process, the Patriots instead blew their chance to score thanks to poor play calling by Charlie Weis, a throwback to the end of the Washington game.

Brady hit Deion Branch for 20 yards over the middle, but then Weis called for a draw to Faulk which went for two yards. With the clock ticking and the Patriots not seeming to care, Weis then called for a play which often fails miserably when a slow team uses it against a quick defense. Faulk took a toss left and was nailed for a seven-yard loss by former Patriot Terrell Buckley. Brady then hit Branch for four yards, but time ran out in regulation.

The overtime coin toss was next. The Patriots called tails, and referee Gerry Austin flipped the coin. He said that it came up heads, but the Patriots howled in protest. They claimed that Austin misread the coin flip, and that they had won the toss. Miami took the opening kickoff, while the Patriots had to quickly regroup and play more defense in the Miami heat.

The Dolphins got still another break in the game early in overtime. On second and ten at their own 26, Fiedler found Derrius Thompson down the left sideline for 31 yards to the Patriot 43. Replays showed that Thompson, covered tightly by nickel back Chris Akins, stepped out of bounds before making the grab, and stepped out of bounds just after making the grab. Wisely, the Dolphins ran a play quickly to prevent a Patriot replay challenge, and Williams scooted up the middle for ten yards. But the Mare miss from 35 yards negated what again should have been another linchpin for a Miami win.

Miami had run out of breaks. They stopped the Patriots on their first overtime drive, got the ball back at their 30, and drove 15 yards before Fiedler launched a right sideline bomb that was picked off at the Patriot 18 by Poole. This was not perceived as a mistake; it acted just like a punt since it was third and 12 at the time.

Brady took the first snap, dropped back two steps, looked right, then turned around and fired deep into Miami territory. Brown outran Marion and grabbed the ball, then broke a Sammy Knight tackle and ran to the house for the ball game.

And the Patriots have a huge win in a place where they usually don't win anyway, and never win when the weather is hot and humid.

Guess the football Gods have it in for the baseball Gods. Two misses by Mare in point-blank range sure helps make up for leaving Pedro Martinez in too long.

It was a miracle. The Patriots will take it.


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