Even though the 3-1 Patriots are a strong favorite against the 1-3 Dolphins, nobody on the team is underestimating them.
"Whoever plays better on Sunday, that's who will win the game," said coach Belichick on Wednesday. "Records mean nothing. Go back to two years ago. We were 12-1 going down there and they were 2-11. Everybody in [the press room] already had the story written and we got beat 29-28. Don't tell me about records. Don't tell me about streaks. Don't tell me about last week. None of that means anything. It doesn't mean one thing in a football game. The only thing that matters is which team goes out there and plays better on Sunday."
Tom Brady also knows better than to underestimate Miami. They've given him trouble in the past. He's posted a quarterback rating of 74.2 in games against the division rival Dolphins, a significant drop from his 88.1 career average.
"They keep you on your toes," said Brady of Miami's defense. "You can look back at the film that you want: the four regular season games, the four preseason games, what they did against us last year. We've seen all of that. But it's kind of one of those games where you show up and they probably won't run any of that stuff. It's not that they won't run any of it, but the consistency of it will be very different. They're a lot like we are in that they do everything."
Brady expanded on the idea that Miami likes to mix things up, saying "In any offensive game plan we have we're always trying to see what they do and try to make certain calls against coverages we get, but in reality, it's probably more of a game where it's going to be a kind of wait and see."
Part of their defensive unpredictibility has to do with the fact that Miami can bounce between a 3-4 defense and a 4-3 without changing their personnel, according to center Dan Koppen.
"They have the versatility on their defense to be able to [switch] with the players that they have, and that's more power to them," said Koppen. "They got big, physical guys, they've got finesse guys and they've got athletic guys. They're a really good defense."
Part of that versatility has to do with Jason Taylor, who can play standing up as a linebacker or in a three-point stance.
"Anytime he's lined up on the edge and he's coming, he's a threat," said tackle Matt Light. "Obviously, that guy's very talented. He uses a lot of leverage and his size and his strengths to his advantage. We've seen him line up inside too, so any time he's on the line of scrimmage we've definitely got to take it into account."
Taylor has 95.5 career sacks on over 50 quarterbacks. He's sacked Tom Brady more than any other QB in the league (7.5).
The Dolphins offense is equally versatile, despite the fact that quarterback Daunte Culpepper has gotten off to a slow start since making the move from Minnesota.
"He looks like Daunte to me," said linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. "I played against him four years. I know what he can do behind the center and also taking the ball and trying to take off with it. It's a tough challenge, good quarterback and we've got to make sure we're ready to go."
"I think they're probably just as explosive as they've been," said Belichick. "They're very talented. Their skill players, all of them, can do a lot of damage with the ball. [Culpepper] has a great arm. He can get it down the field. It really forces you to defend the whole field. I'd say they run the same offense (as they did before acquiring Culpepper), but their offense fluctuates quite a bit from game to game. They're a game planning team that really tries to attack the opponent's weaknesses."
Linebacker Junior Seau played for the Dolphins during the last three seasons, only starting 28 of the 48 games Miami played over that span. He isn't seeking vengeance.
"It's another game that we need to maintain first place and kind of pull away from the rest of the crew, so it's gonna be a fun game.
"It's always nice to see friends. They're good friends and I have a lot of respect for a lot of the leaders in that locker room. That's a great organization. They gave me a great opportunity that I'll never forget," said Seau.
Seau knows the Dolphins well, and just like everyone else in the Patriots locker room, he isn't concerned with records coming into the game. "You gotta throw away the record book," he said. "This is a game which we both need and it's a game in which we want to go out there and perform well in. It's got to be a good week for us, because obviously we have a bye week after that. God knows we wouldn't want a gray cloud over our heads going into the bye week."
Seau said the coaching styles of Bill Belichick and Nick Saban are similar, but didn't indicate that he thought complex play-calling would be the difference when they square off.
"It's not going to be a chess game," said Seau. "There's no chess boards. It's gonna be checkers. We're gonna go out there and attack each other. They know what we do and we know what they do, and we'll see who has the most points at the end of the game."
Saban was Belichick's defensive coordinator when he was the head coach of the Browns. They've known each other since 1980, when Saban was a secondary coach at Ohio State and Belichick was scouting Buckeye players for the Giants as their defensive coordinator.
Belichick voiced respect for Saban all week, saying, "You can never count (out) Nick Saban. You can never count the Miami Dolphins out of anything. Even when you're 10 points up in the fourth quarter, four minutes to go or whatever it was."
Iwuoma feeling at home-a
Listed as a cornerback, newly signed Chidi Iwuoma has been a key special teams player since entering the league in 2001.
"I've just always been able to be a part of good units, good cover team unit," said Iwuoma. "That's kind of been my claim to fame so far, so I'm just looking to keep it going."
He began his career with the Lions, then spent four seasons with the Steelers, where he was named a special teams captain.
"[Being a captain] was a pretty good thing for a couple years. The team thought I had done a good enough job to hold that title, so it was real special to me."
Iwuoma said it was tough to go from being a captain to watching the season begin without being signed. "Especially last year, coming off the Super Bowl and everything like that, you kind of expect certain things. For them not to happen, it's a disappointment, but you move on and look for other opportunities."
He seemed enthusiastic about playing for the Patriots, describing his view of the team from the Steelers locker room as, "Kind of a reflection of the Steelers, you know hard workers, good [special] teams, good offense, good defense and a lot of respect for the Patriots as an organization."
Iwuoma said his conversations with Belichick about his role have been short so far.
"I'm here to do whatever they need me to do," he said.
Iwuoma's biggest role in the NFL has been in the gunner position on punt team. Gunners line up wide, aiming to be the first players to reach the punt returner. Often double-covered, they are the players most likely to tackle the returner or force him to fair-catch.
"When you're out there with those two guys trying to rough you up, you've just got to have the drive and enthusiasm to get down there and make it happen," Iwuoma said of the position.
He voiced quiet respect for Patriots special teams standouts Don Davis and Larry Izzo, saying he knew coming in that they were, "Definitely hard workers. Guys you had to watch out for. You knew they're gonna be there 100 percent, working hard. Definitely guys that were key guys to the unit. I have a lot of respect for those guys."
Notes: The Patriots wore shorts, helmets and shoulder pads at practice today, which was held in the stadium for a change. Matt Cassel wore the black practice jersey, designating him as the practice player of the week before the Bengals game. Antwain Spann wore a red non-contact jersey. Ellis Hobbs was not on the field again. … Vince Wilfork has a UPS hat in his locker, perhaps in a show of support for teammate Rosevelt Colvin. Colvin and his wife own UPS stores in the Indianapolis area. … Junior Seau wore a University of Southern California hat while he spoke with the press. Seau attended college at USC.