By: Bob George/BosSports.net
October 08, 2006

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FOXBOROUGH -- How long will the NFL continue to ignore Wes Welker?

He's one of those players you playfully refer to as a "pest". He's number three on the Miami Dolphin wideout depth chart, locked in solidly behind Chris Chambers and Marty Booker. Chambers comes here regularly, so the Patriots know what to do with him. They're less familiar with Booker, the former Chicago Bear. Welker? He returns punts. He's like a Tim Dwight, you might say.

To that we say this: If Welker can make Joey Harrington look like Bob Griese or Dan Marino, the league needs to wake up and pay more attention to this guy. Welker riddled the Patriot defense for nine catches and 77 yards. He always seemed to get open, even after the Patriots stopped giving him ten-yard cushions. With Booker going down early on with an injury, Welker was asked to step up and pick up the receiving slack. That he did, and he helped give Miami a solid chance to steal a win here at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

But Miami isn't 1-4 for nothing. Despite being able to move the football pretty well against a Patriot defense amazingly unable to pressure the quarterback at all, Harrington still managed to play like the quarterback flop he had always been in Detroit. His teammates also chipped in with ten penalties for 81 yards, and in the end the Patriots had just enough to get by with a 20-10 win.

Harrington, pressed into starting duty just a few hours before game time because of Daunte Culpepper's shoulder injury, did complete 26 of 41 passes for 232 yards. At times, he looked like he was in a good rhythm, and was never really pressured by the Patriot pass rush. Remember, the Dolphin offensive line had given up 21 sacks in the four games leading up to this game. Harrington would be sacked only once in the contest, and even that one sack carried with it a caveat: the eleven yards lost was negated by the sacker himself, Jarvis Green, being called for a personal foul for grabbing Harrington's facemask as he made the tackle.

Harrington's other pass weapon was tight end Randy McMichael. McMichael had six catches for 84 yards, his longest a 23-yard catch on the one Miami touchdown drive in which he injured his ribs when he was brought down by Ellis Hobbs. McMichael averaged 14 yards per catch, which also helped Miami in driving the ball.

The Dolphins outgained the Patriots in total yards, 283-213. Holding the Patriots to only 79 team yards rushing was a feather in the Dolphin cap. Laurence Maroney was held to only 38 yards on 18 carries and two yards a carry.

So, what went wrong for the Dolphins?

Harrington was picked off twice, both times by Asante Samuel. Both picks led to Patriot touchdowns, a ten-yard pass from Tom Brady to Troy Brown in the second quarter, and a one-yard toss to Heath Evans in the fourth. The first one was on Harrington, as he didn't see Samuel in the area nearby Welker. His second pick was on Welker, as the pass glanced off his fingers and into the air. But that was 14 precious points the Dolphins gave up right there.

Thanks largely to those interceptions, Harrington's passer rating was only 58.2.

On their first offensive series of the game, Ronnie Brown coughed up the ball when Rodney Harrison clobbered him at the Dolphin 37. Tedy Bruschi recovered the fumble, which stuck after Nick Saban unsuccessfully challenged the fumble. Seven plays later, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 35-yard field goal to make it 3-0 Patriots. The Patriots scored 17 of their 20 points off turnovers on Sunday.

Penalties were a thorn in the Dolphin side all game long, but two in particular were really damaging to the Dolphins. Their second offensive drive of the game was stalled thanks to a holding call on Justin Peele, and Olindo Mare had a 40-yard field goal attempt blocked by Mike Wright. After the second interception of Harrington, Will Allen was guilty of interfering with Doug Gabriel in the end zone which led to the one-yard touchdown toss to Evans. Saban howled in protest at that call, but Allen clearly had his back to the ball when he got in Gabriel's face in the end zone.

Another factor that hurt the Dolphins was that they were unable to run the ball any better than the Patriots were. Brown continued to show his fan base that he is definitely no Ricky Williams with 39 yards on 17 carries. Their best run play was an 18-yard left reverse by Chambers.

The biggest problem the Dolphins have had this year is putting points on the board. On Sunday they were held to only ten points, when in fact they had enough offensive firepower to score more. All game long, the Patriots had a hard time dealing with Welker and McMichael, but the Dolphins could not turn that into points. This is a team that right now is not built to win games, but in fact is a few players away from being the contender everyone thought they were at the beginning of the season.

This also turned into still another contest where the Patriots simply won because they are better at winning football games than most any other team in the league. Brady again looked off kilter at times yet finished with a passer rating of 91.2 thanks largely to his two touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Brown was his best offensive weapon, making five catches for 58 yards and a score. Corey Dillon only got ten rushes but did total 45 yards and a 4.5 average.

And despite being soft in coverage, the defense, especially the secondary, made the plays when they had to. Often times the Patriots will play a "bend but don't break" style. On the one drive the Dolphins did score a touchdown, Harrington completed five of six passes for 17 yards, 10 yards, 11 yards, 23 yards and 25 yards. Three of those catches were by Welker. But other than this, the Dolphins got very little else. The Patriots played a soft zone early on, but stiffened up later on and held Harrington to only 9 of 19 passing for 56 yards in the second half.

The Patriots have next week off before heading to Buffalo, a team battered in Chicago, 40-7 on Sunday. The Patriots sit at 4-1, in full command of the division. In the end, that's all that matters, of course. Winning ugly is still winning, and that's all the Patriots will think of when this game sinks in.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins got another loss, a win that might have gotten away, and now a quarterback controversy. No complaining in New England allowed.


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