Take a step back to Week 5. The Patriots had one hurdle to clear before getting a much longed-for bye week. That hurdle was the 1-3 Dolphins led by a "rehabilitated" Daunte Culpepper. Culpepper had already been sacked 21 times, however, and never actually took a snap against the Patriots.
Instead it was Joey Harrington who got the start. He'd come in from Detroit to back up Culpepper, and started his first game in teal and orange against the Patriots.
Now fast-forward to this week, Week 14. Three-quarters of the season are over, and Harrington has led Miami to a record of 4-4 since taking the controls from Culpepper, who had another surgery on that bum knee last week.
Harrington's first win as a Dolphin came against the then-undefeated Bears, in Chicago no less.
"We knew we were not a 1-6 team talent-wise," said Harrington on Wednesday in a conference call with the New England media. "We knew we were a much better football team than that. And so when we went to Chicago and beat, at that point the best team in the NFL, on the road. If nothing else, it was a confidence booster. It showed everybody in our locker room that we can play with anybody and that we do have the ability to finish out games."
According to Harrington, confidence wasn't just something the Dolphins needed. He'd lost his mojo after four years of toughing it out in Detroit.
"When I was in Detroit, I felt like I had the weight of the world on me," said the former Heisman Trophy finalist. "I felt like I had to turn around the Lions on my own and I had to do it myself. So there were a lot of things that I forced and there were a lot of things that made football not fun.
"And so when I got here to Miami, it was fresh start. I knew I wasn't coming in with the pressure of being a starting quarterback. I knew that I could earn the players' respect before I got out onto the field, and when I did get an opportunity or if I got an opportunity, I was just going to cut it loose and have fun and I was going to throw balls that I used to throw in college and I was going to throw the ball down the field. I did that for a couple games. And it helped with my confidence.
"But there were some balls that got tipped around when I tried to fit them into tight places, and [opposing teams] came up [with] some turnovers. So I think what I've tried to do is keep that same aggressiveness and keep that feeling of just cutting it loose, but just reigning it in a little bit. Doing things that would put our team in the position to be successful. So: keeping that confidence, having fun, playing loose, but doing the smart thing in the right situations."
Two of those turnovers that forced Harrington to play smarter football came at the hands of Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel, who's also had three interceptions in the last two games. Samuel's seven picks this season lead the NFL right now, but Harrington said he's not going to let a fear of Samuel affect his decision-making.
"He's played tremendous the last couple weeks," said Harrington of Samuel. "He baited me into a throw in our first game and made a terrific play on that first interception he had on us last time, and he's a heck of a player. But it doesn't factor in [to our game plan.] I rarely think of the players that are out there. If you start worrying about throwing at somebody or throwing away from somebody - but especially about throwing away from somebody - then you're going to get yourself into trouble."
Another contributor to Harrington's improved confidence was Miami's last win in Detroit.
"It felt pretty good to play the way I did in front of those fans and in that stadium really," said Harrington stopping short of uttering any anti-Lions remarks. "Because it was just nice to have that feeling at Ford Field."
No doubt it did feel good to win at Ford Field, which is something Harrington only did 13 times during his four-year tenure with the Lions.
"I mean I got beat up in Detroit for four years," Harrington admitted. "And I got beat up from all different areas. I felt like I was constantly having to defend myself. And when you get into that position, you start to doubt yourself. And that's what started to happen.
"I'm working my way back, I think is the best way to put it. I guess there are still things that I'm trying to shake off from Detroit. It wasn't a very good experience. It wasn't a very positive experience, and it has left a lasting impression on me. However, there are things that I've taken from that that have helped me grow as a player and I need to continue to use those and continue to become the player that I knew I could be."
A win over the Patriots this weekend would be huge for Harrington's already bolstered confidence. Not only would it keep the door to the playoffs open for the Dolphins and raise Harrington's record with Miami above .500, but it would also mean besting one of the game's most confident players.
"Somebody asked me today why Tom Brady has the success that he does and I said, 'Absolutely, no doubt in my mind it's because of confidence.' And he has every reason to be one of if not the most confident guy in the league, because he's had success. I mean he's done it. He's done it over and over," said Harrington.
Mickens makin' his return
The Patriots signed veteran defensive back Ray Mickens on Monday while simultaneously announcing that safety Eugene Wilson had been placed on injured reserve. Wilson had been plagued by a hamstring injury all season, and it kept him out of eight of the last nine games.
Mickens is in his 11th NFL season and has previously played for the New York Jets (1996-04) and Cleveland Browns (2005). The 5-foot-8-inch, 180-pound defensive back has played in 142 career games with 36 starts and has recorded 398 tackles (311 solo), including 6.0 sacks, 11 interceptions, 92 passes defensed, four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and 30 special teams tackles. Last season, with the Cleveland Browns, Mickens played in all 16 games and finished third on the team with 13 passes defensed.
Mickens re-signed with the Jets this offseason, but was released during the final roster cut-downs at the beginning of September.
"I think things went well," said the 33-year-old Mickens of his preseason with New York. "You have situations where you got a lot of numbers there. You've got some young guys that you're hoping will work out and as a veteran you understand that. It's really not about your performance; it's about a young guy having that potential. And any time you have a young guy with potential, that's what happens."
The well-tenured Mickens said he's kept in shape while not playing, and didn't really consider retiring from the NFL this season.
"I never said, 'That's it.' I never said that. I always continued to work out. That's just my mental process – an everyday thing. I always knew that I [could] possibly get a call, so you just have to be ready for it," he explained.
He said he worked out with the Patriots back in September and also visited Atlanta and Cleveland. Mickens is excited to be in New England, especially since that means reuniting with his old coach, Head Coach Bill Belichick. Belichick spent three seasons with the Jets before becoming the Patriots head coach in the 2000 season.
What did he learn from Belichick?
"I mean just the whole mental part of the game," said Mickens. "He was the coordinator and the [defensive backs] coach – that was the first time I've ever had that happen. He was very good. Any time you had a question he'd be able to answer it right there. And I just started there. I grew up there. I was real young when I first came to New York and I kind of learned from him how to be a professional.
"I'm just happy to be back with him. He taught me a lot back in New York. I'm just coming back to help out and contribute to the team."
Mickens said he's been working a lot in nickel packages in recent years, a formation reserved for passing situations in which the defense brings an extra defensive back in for coverage. That role has recently been filled by veteran wide receiver Troy Brown. So the addition of Mickens could mean that Brown will be focusing more on playing offense as the regular season comes to a close.
"He's an experienced corner," said Belichick on Wednesday. "He's played in our system before. He's a real smart kid. Has played inside. Has played outside. Like I said, he has some experience in doing what we do. We felt like at this time he would give us a little depth in the secondary."
The Patriots held practice inside the Dana Farber Field House today, which has the same artificial FieldTurf as Gillette Stadium. The players wore shorts/sweats, shells and helmets, including Laurence Maroney who was injured in the Lions game and has been listed as "Questionable" with a "back" injury on this week's injury report. The only player not seen during the portion of practice available to the press was Rodney Harrison, who is still listed as "Out" this week. Safety Rashad Baker wore a black jersey, indicating that he was last week's Practice Player of the Week. … Starting Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown has been listed as "Out" for this game. He'll be backed up by Sammy Morris. … As his conference call with the media wrapped up Miami quarterback Joey Harrington had a question for New England. "Anything happen on the Manny [Ramirez] trade?" Harrington asked. He revealed that he and former Red Sox player Kevin Millar are close friends, and said he's a bit of a Sox fan since he has family in Charlestown