Honk if you know a former Patriot coach who might coach the Patriots to a 10-9 loss this weekend.
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But they have a defense that could hold the Patriot offense to field goals only, just like they did in the snow last December. Combine that with a freak touchdown by the Dolphin defense, and you've got your 10-9 loss. Won't happen? Don't bet the farm against it.
The Patriots will have every edge in this game. They are at home, they have a defense which will give the dilapidated Dolphin defense less of a chance to score than the Yankees had against Johan Santana in Game 1 of their playoff series, and they have a chance to set an NFL record of 19 straight wins including the postseason. Bill Belichick has already convinced his players that the Dolphins are 4-0 instead of 0-4. The players will take care of the rest.
It's highly unlikely that the Patriots will come up short in this game. The Dolphins have played generally lousy in 2004, and seem well on their way to maybe the worst season in their 38-year history. If this game were in the heat and humidity of Miami, the Dolphins might have a decent chance to upset the Patriots. But with the home crowd cheering (and no Red Sox game going on elsewhere to divert everyone's attention), the Patriots ought to come out on top on Sunday.
The Dolphins may be 0-4, but it isn't because of their defense. In four games the Dolphin defense has not surrendered more than 17 points in any game. The problem is that the offense has put only 32 total points on the board in the four games combined. The defense does pose a legitimate concern for the Patriots on Sunday, and Belichick and Charlie Weis will be all over it come game time.
Even without pass rusher Adewale Ogunleye, traded off to Chicago for wideout Marty Booker on August 23rd, the Dolphins can put tremendous pressure on any quarterback Jason Taylor will once again give Matt Light a tough test at defensive end as he always does. David Bowens takes the place of Ogunleye at the other end position. Former Ram Jeff Zgonina will replace the injured Tim Bowens (back) at tackle.
Zach Thomas will help neutralize whatever Corey Dillon might do to affect the Patriot offense. Junior Seau can still be a factor, but at age 35, he is past his prime and no longer the force he once was. The cornerback duo of Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison will blanket the Patriot wide receivers. If the Patriots decide to go with multiple wide receiver sets, they might be able to make some hay against safeties Sammy Knight and Antuan Edwards, if Tom Brady has time to throw.
What the Patriots might do early on is see if they can establish Dillon. Gashing the inside threesome of Zgonina, Bryan Robinson and Thomas may be a tough chore. But one matchup the Patriots might want to explore a bit is Stephen Neal against Zgonina. Neal has been winning a lot of praise lately for his emergence as a decent guard, and has supplanted Russ Hochstein at right guard (with Joe Andruzzi moving to the left side). His wrestling acumen has been helping him a lot lately, but his raw technique is still a work in progress. Still, the Patriots might try and run off right tackle for a bit and see what they can generate.
Whether this works or not, the Patriots can also try to attack the safeties through the air. If this be the case, it will have to be done with David Givens, David Patten and maybe even P.K. Sam at the point of attack. The banged up Patriot receiver corps finds three on the injury list, with Deion Branch (knee) listed as doubtful, and both Troy Brown (knee) and Bethel Johnson (undisclosed) questionable. The Patriots are known to be vague with their injury reports, so if one or both of the latter two men are ready to play, the Patriots will have plenty to work with in attacking the Dolphin secondary.
Whatever the case, this game could be somewhat akin to last year's 12-0 Patriot win, even minus fans throwing snow in the air. The Dolphins have plenty of material to shut the Patriot offense down, and the Dolphins could be shut out again in Foxborough. In last year's frosty tilt, the only touchdown came on an interception return by Bruschi, and Jarvis Green added a sack of Jay Fiedler in the end zone for a safety. The Patriots did next to nothing on offense all night long, but in that case they didn't need to.
This begs the question: Will the Patriots rely on their defense to put points on the board like last year? Fiedler is slated to start at quarterback for the Dolphins, and their quarterback situation is a total mess. The Patriots made him look silly last December, and could very well do the same. To make matters worse for Fiedler, his receiving corps is also compromised badly, in that David Boston has been on injured reserve since training camp, and Chris Chambers is listed as questionable (knee). Without primo receivers to throw to, the Patriot defense could make life so miserable for Fiedler that lots of potential interceptions could arise.
What Patriot Nation will likely be hoping for is that Weis has something in his bag of tricks that can help his offense overcome a tough defense that believes their team should actually be 3-1. Weis can use lots of gimmicks, from running a no-huddle offense to end arounds to fake reverses and so on. If Johnson is healthy, his speed on end runs and reverses could be a factor against a very fast defense.
Given the historical context of this game, and the long win streak at hand, the Dolphins will play extra hard in honor of the hallowed 1972 perfectos. No doubt the Dolphins will either get calls or visits from members of that 17-0 team, exhorting the current school of Fish to uphold and maintain their honor and glory. It should be restated that the "real" consecutive game streak is 17, regular season games only, and that record is still a few weeks off. The Patriots have currently won 15 regular season games in a row. They can tie that record against the Seahawks at home in two weeks, then break the record the following week at home against the Jets.
Whatever the case, Miami will not play like an 0-4 team.
The Patriots should play like a 3-0 team, and that should be enough. And unless the "on any given Sunday" rule applies, the Patriots should manage to keep the streak going for at least one more week.
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