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Patriots defense steps up in 23-16 win

The Patriots escaped Miami, a place that always seems to make them and their fans sweat, with a 23-16 nailbiter.



]()After being rolled over by the Indianapolis Colts last Monday night, the New England defense was determined to make a stand against the Dolphins. That's exaclty what they did, limiting the tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to 77 yards on the ground and despite having its trouble with Gus Frerotte through the air, managed to make the stops when they needed to.

Heath Evans was the big story on offense. He replaced Corey Dillon on the second play of the game and finished with 84 yards rushing and another 18 yards on three catches.

Tom Brady finished with 275 passing but struggled at times with two interceptions. He also threw two touchdowns, both to Benjamin Watson.

The first quarter of this game was dominated by the punters with both teams getting two cracks at it. Josh Miller continued his solid year, pinning Miami at the 3 and 10-yard lines with his two kicks.

On offense, running back Heath Evans was the pleasant surprise for the Patriots during the first 15 miunutes. After coming in for Dillon on the second play of the game, Evans managed 48 yards on 5 carries for a whopping 9.6 yards per attempt.

The Patriots defense began to show its secondary cracks in the second quarter when Guss Frerotte started heating up with a 12-yard pass to Chris Chambers and then a 35-yarder to Marty Booker on the next play. That made the line of scrimmage the Patriots 12 but Mike Stone dumped Ricky Williams for a 1-yard loss, Richard Seymour batted down the next pass and Tedy Bruschi made a diving play on a ball headed for the end zone and broke up the pass. Olindo Mare came on and amazingly missed the 31-yard field goal attempt to leave the game scoreless.

The New England defense was right back at it as Brady and the offense went three and out on their next possession. Frerotte picked up where he left off, hitting Booker for 24 yards. Then it was Williams running for 13 and later Ronnie Brown for 16 down to the Patriots 3-yard line. From there, Frerotte threw up a little rainbow that Chambers caught over Asante Samuel for the score with 4:22 remaining in the first half.

With the ball back, Brady flat-out missed a wide open Deion Branch, who was streaking downfield, on a third and 6 play and Miller punted for the fifth straight time in the game. Miami took over and began to march again with Frerotte hitting Chambers for 17 yards as he was chased out of the pocket. After Brown ran for 10 yards, Rosevelt Colvin let McMichael get behind him and the Miami tight end made the catch along the right sideline while falling down. As he got up to run, Colvin caught up and caused the fumble with Ellis Hobbs recovering.



]()With 1:48 left in the half, New England took over and Evans continued his fine day with a 14-yard run around left end (8 runs for 65 yards in the first half). Brady naturally started making crunch time completions, 15 yards to Troy Brown and one 18-yarder to Fauria over the middle that Fauria made a great play adjusting to in the air.

Finally, Brady found Branch on the right sideline for 13 yards to the Miami 17 as the seconds ticked down. Vinatieri came on for a 35-yard field goal which he made to make the score 7-3, Miami.

After the Patriots defense opened the second half with a nice three and out stand, New England moved close to midfield with a 9-yard run by Evans. On first and 10 from the 48, Brady looked deep to Brown but Traveres Tillman timed his leap perfectly and picked off the throw. Fortunately for the Patriots, the Dolphins could go no further than the New England 46 and was forced to punt after Samuel simply leveled Williams on a 5-yard run on third down.

The Patriots went no huddle and Brady immediately hit Branch for 30 yards to midfield. After Branch was flagged for a false start, the drive stalled and New England had to punt.

A big break went New England's way later in the third quarter. After the defense stopped Miami again, Brady started at his own 34 and went deep to Andre Davis. Travis Daniels was flagged for interference 49 yards downfield in a close call. The replay, however, clearly showed Daniels grabbing Davis' arm and pulling it down.

Despite being first and 10 at the Miami 17, all the Patriots could muster was a 32-yard field goal to make the score 7-6 with around five and half minutes left in the third quarter.

Another three and out for Miami and New England was back in business at its 47. Brady chipped his way downfield with short passing and Evans' runs until the he got to the Miami 32. There he hit Branch for 17 yards to the 15. After a Mike Cloud run for a loss to the 16, Brady found Benjamin Watson wide open in the end zone for the score.

New England went for the two-point conversion, up 12-7, but the pass to Brown hit the ground before he could gain possession.

On the scoring drive, Dan Koppen left the game for the locker room with an arm injury. Russ Hochstein replaced him at center.



]()As play moved into the fourth quarter the Patriots defense continued to frustrate the Dolphins. On third and 6 during their next possession, Willie McGinest took a run at Frerotte and tipped the pass. Ellis Hobbs caught the wobbler and headed upfield. He was hit and the ball came loose. After a lengthy scrum, Hobbs managed to recover as well and New England took over at the Miami 23. But Brady's third and 9 pass intended for Watson was broken up by Lance Schulters in the end zone and Vinatieri hit his second field goal of the day, a 33-yarder.

The Dolphins offense, sensing the urgency, went to the air on the subsequent drive. Frerotte hit Chambers for 15 yards on the first play. From the 40, he dumped a screen pass to Williams who took it for 19 yards to the New England 41. A pass interference call on Tedy Bruschi moved the ball to the 30 where Frerotte found Wes Welker for 14 yards. That was about as far as Miami would get. Mare was good on a 36-yard attempt to close the gap to 15-10.

Brady made a critical mistake on the Patriots next series. From his own 43 on third down, he left enough on a pass to Watson for Yeremiah Bell to step in front for the interception. That gave the Dolphins the ball back on their 44.

On second down, Frerotte went to Booker and Hobbs fell down in pursuit allowing Booker get to the 22 before Stone made the tackle. After a 7-yard completion to Chambers, Frerotte looked his way again and this time Chambers was wide open in the end zone.

Now up 16-15, Miami ran Brown up the middle for the two-point conversion but he was stopped short.

With 2:59 remaining, New England needed yet another last-minute comeback.

Starting at his 24, Brady wasted no time by going deep to Tim Dwight. Dwight and Reggie Howard both got to the ball at the same time but Dwight got the handle first and took the catch to the Dolphins 17 -- a 59-yard gain. On the next play it was Watson in the end zone for the score.

Up by 5 at 21-16, the Patriots ran Evans up the middle and he bulled his way in for the two-point conversion to give his team a 7-point lead.

The ease of the scoring drive left 2:16 for Miami to go for the tie.

A holding penalty pushed Miami back from its starting point of the 25. On first and 20, Frerotte went to Welker. Randall Gay missed the coverage, Eugene Wilson missed the tackle and Welker went 47 yards. Suddenly, Miami was first and 10 at the Patriots 38.

Another big gain for 23 yards went to Brown. Now on the Patriots 15, Frerotte hooked up with McMichael for 10 yards to the 5. With plenty of time and two timeouts for Miami, things looked bad for the Patriots.

Fittingly, the defense rose up and forced two incompletes. On third down, Frerotte threw to Brown behind the line of scrimmage where Hank Poteat dropped him for a 5-yard loss. On fourth, Frerotte looked to Chambers in the end zone. The throw was low and incomplete and New England escaped Miami with the win.

Notes: A number of changes marked the Patriots line-up on both sides of the ball. On offense, Heath Evans replaced an injured Corey Dillon and knocked off a 21-yard run on the second play of the game. Bethel Johnson was at wide receiver in place of David Givens while Brandon Gorin started at right tackle for the injured Tom Ashworth. With Daniel Graham out, Christian Fauria saw added time and recorded his first catch of the season, a 5-yarder for a first down, in the first quarter.

On defense, Richard Seymour returned to action and his tackle spot. Ellis Hobbs began the game at cornerback with Mike Stone at safety. Troy Brown made his first appearance on defense during the Dolphins third play of the game, a third and 8 conversion for 15 yards to McMichael.

Patriots inactives: Kevin Faulk, Patrick Pass; Tom Ashworth; Matt Light; Daniel Graham; David Givens; Marquise Hill, Matt Cassel (3rd QB).

Dolphins inactives: Norman LeJeune; Nick Rogers; Joe Berger; Manuel Wright; Josh Shaw; Anthony Alabi; Cliff Russell; Cleo Lemon (3rd QB).

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