Despite the Dolphins' defense best efforts, it could not keep the Patriots from recording its 19th straight win -- an NFL record -- and 4-0 mark on the 2004 season.
Tom Brady had one of his least productive games in memory, going 7 of 19 passing for a mere 76 yards. But his two touchdown passes, to Daniel Graham and David Givens, was enough as the decimated Miami offense could do no better than 10 points.
That's not to say the Patriots defense had the Dolphins neatly in control. Marty Booker had 7 catches for 123 yards while Jay Fiedler threw for 251 yards. Throw in a couple key penalties on the Patriots and Miami had ample opportunities to make this one a lot closer than the 14-point margin would indicate.
"I told our team after the game that I was really proud of what they did," Head coach Bill Belichick said. "As usual, it was an extraordinarily tough game with Miami. And we were stopped twice inside of ten there in the fourth quarter. That is kind of typical with the way it goes with them. We kind of did what we had to do. Miami is a good team. They played very hard. You have to give Dave Wannstedt and his players a lot of credit. They gave us all we wanted. It is good to come out on top."
Brady threw an interception to Patrick Surtain to end the Patriots first series of the game but because the defense immediately held Miami to a three and out, the turnover had no ill-effect on the Patriots.
Randall Gay had his first pro interception a little later in the first quarter on a third and 17 play for the Dolphins. His 10-yard return of the Fiedler pass put the ball first and 10 on the Dolphins 30. Fiedler had already been sacked by Richard Seymour on first down for a 7-yard loss and had his second pass of the series tipped at the line by Vince Wilfork.
This time the turnover did hurt the offending team as the Patriots took seven plays to score a 1-yard touchdown on a Brady to Dan Graham pass. A roughing call on Will Poole who hit Brady low was a key play in the drive along with Corey Dillon's 12-yard run up the middle that put the ball first and goal at the 2-yard line.
The first quarter ended with New England looking pad its lead. Despite Brady being sacked on first and 10 at his own 49, he rebounded two plays later with a 28-yard pass to David Patten on third and 13. The second quarter opened with New England second and 9 at the Dolphins 25 but the offense could get no further than the 22 against a Dolphins defense which came to play. Adam Vinatieri was good on his 40-yard field goal attempt to give his team a 10-point lead.
Vinatieri's second attempt of the day resulted in his first miss of the season. It was a 47-yard kick with a little over nine minutes left in the first half that he pushed just wide of the right upright.
Signs of life from the Miami offense were evident on its drive that followed the Vinatieri miss. After a 19-yard completion to Randy McMichael to start the series, Miami ran little-known Brock Forsey five straight times, the biggest being a 15-yard, third and two pick-up. Miami scored on a 10-yard pass to Chris Chambers and pulled within three at 10-7.
New England regained its 10-point lead on a Brady to Givens 5-yard pass with 36 seconds left in the half. On the drive, Kevin Faulk caught his first pass of the season, returning from injury and time off for personal reasons. His 14-yard reception brought the ball down to the Miami 6. After a Dillon 1-yard run, Brady found Givens. The scoring drive was set up by a bad snap to Dolphins punter Matt Turk who was then forced to run on a fourth and seven play. He was knocked out of bounds at his 46 giving New England excellent field position to start the drive.
If Miami was to have any chance in this game, they would need to continue playing stout defense while not making any mistakes when it had the ball. The exact opposite happened when needing 6 yards for a first down, Fiedler was flushed out of the pocket and ran. He actually had the yards needed when Rodney Harrison popped him in the chest and forced the fumble. Dexter Reid recovered and New England had the ball at the Dolphins 48.
The first real Dolphins breakdown against the run followed as Dillon banged a third and two carry around left end for a huge 36-yard gain. On third and three from the Miami 3, Morlon Greenwood was flagged for interference on Graham. Now with a first and goal from the 1, Rabih Abdullah took it in for the score and a 24-7 Patriots lead.
"We didn't play as well as we would have liked today," Brady said. " We turned the ball over on our first possession, got stopped a few times on third and short. Just you know, we didn't execute overall on offense. Fortunately, the defense played well and limited them to 10 points. And I am just glad we had 24."
Miami made up three points on a 29-yard Wes Welker field goal. Welker was in replacing Olindo Mare who apparently hurt his calf during warm-ups.
Dillon did not return to the field on the Patriots next series and the Patriots went three and out giving the ball right back to the Dolphins. They, in turn, began another long drive that had a chance for success after Fiedler hit McMichael for 34 yards on a play which McMichael did much of the work on his own with some hard running after the catch. Once down inside the 20, the Patriots defense held and New England took over on downs at its own 21.
Miami had the Patriots three and out again but a critical offsides call on Zach Thomas on fourth and three with the Patriots lined up to punt extended the possession. Still, Miami managed to keep New England from doing much more with the break and with just over six minutes left to play, the Patriots punted.
Miami kept coming but just couldn't make the big play when most needed. On its next drive, big gains to Marty Booker for 26 (a fourth and one play) and 13 had the ball on the Patriots 10. Fiedler then threw three straight passes that were off the mark. On fourth down, Miami was flagged for a delay of game and then on fourth and 15, Fiedler again threw incomplete on a pass intended for McMichael broken up by Rodney Harrison.
"Defensively, they did a really good job and made a lot of big plays down there, rushing the passer, covering, goal line play," Belichick said. "Romeo [Crennel] mixed in the calls really well to keep them off balance. I hated to see us let them get down there so quickly, but they made a stand when they had to and it is always big for us."
With Dillon still out of the game for an undisclosed reason, the Patriots were unable to play ball control offense to run time off the clock and Miami had the ball with just under three minutes left to play.
Fiedler immediately went long to Booker down the left sideline and connected on the 1-yard line, a gain of 45 yards with Asante Samuel in coverage.Fiedler tried to take it in himself on first down but was stuffed. On second down he dropped back to pass and was sacked by Harrison for a loss of 12 yards. On the play, Fiedler was hurt and replaced by A.J. Feeley.That brought the game to the two minute warning.
A 6-yard completion to Chambers created a fourth and 7 situation for Feeley. Just as he passed Rosevelt Colvin absolutely leveled him and ball fluttered harmlessly to the ground.
Now with under two minutes to play and Miami with no timeouts, the Patriots could finally run the clock out on Brady's knee.
"I did tell the team that I felt they should be proud of what they accomplished and that no other team in pro football has done that," Belichick said. "But that being said, that is not our only goal, to win four games. So, we are going to try to do a little more than that. Anyway, it is good. Good to get a division win at home, good to be back home. I thought the crowd was into it and that was good. And I thought we played a little bit better than last week so that was good too."
Patriots.com reporter Frank Tadych contributed to this report.