As much as heat and home field advantage get credit for the Dolphins domination over the Patriots in Miami, the talented players roaming the turf at Pro Player Stadium deserve an equal share of praise. From traditional faces of this AFC East rivalry such as Jason Taylor, Jay Fiedler and Zach Thomas to more recent roster additions like Junior Seau and Ricky Williams, the Dolphins are annually one of the most talented teams in the AFC and all of football. And 2003 is no exception.
"Watching the Dolphins, this team has really been impressive," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "They have won their last four and I think they have won them all pretty impressively. They are doing a lot of things well."
Miami enters Sunday's meeting with the Patriots with a 4-1 record, including a four game winning streak after a season-opening loss to the Houston Texans, and as usual much of that success starts on the defensive side of the ball.
"They are leading the league in defense, they haven't given up many points," Belichick said. "They are very good in the red area on both sides of the ball. They are a real solid team overall. They have a lot of big play guys on defense. They have a whole bunch of interceptions; they put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. They are leading the league against the run so there is a good reason why they haven't given up very many points. They've played very well in the red area and had several interceptions in the end zone. They have kept people off the board and that is the bottom line."
And despite his low sack number, just 1.5 in five games, Taylor is still every much the disruptive player that has given Matt Light and the Patriots so many problems in recent years.
"I didn't realize that but that surprises me," Belichick said of Taylor's limited sacks in 2003. "I would have put it a lot higher than that. He has put a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks. He has batted a lot of balls, forcing the quarterback up and I guess other guys are getting the final hit. He is in there a lot. I think it is very misleading. He has got to be as good as any pass rusher that certainly we have seen but as good as anybody in the league. I can't imagine another defensive lineman putting more pressure on the quarterback than he has in the five games that I have seen."
On the other side of the ball the Dolphins are a typical Miami unit that is doing basically whatever it takes to win games, producing enough points to win without necessarily blowing out opponents.
"Offensively, I think it is a typical Miami attack," Belichick said "It all starts with Ricky [Williams] and they have some big play receivers to go with that [Randy] McMichael and [Chris] Chambers. Jay [Fiedler] is a real efficient quarterback so they have been very impressive the past month. They are playing well."
Through five games Williams has 461 yards on 134 carries with four scores, for just a 3.4 yards per carry average. They aren't the big numbers that Williams put up on a regular basis a year ago on his way to the NFL rushing title, including 185 against the Patriots in the season finale at Gillette Stadium, but the speedy, bruising back still has the ability to break out at any time. Slowing Williams and keeping him from the type of huge day that he is capable of is certainly one of the major keys to any New England hopes of breaking the five-game losing streak, improving on a 6-29 record all-time in Miami and earning the teams first win ever in South Florida in the months of September and October.
So if you are a New England sports fan, and believe in those types of things, the curse continued for the Red Sox on Thursday night. But that doesn't mean the South Florida curse will victimize the Patriots for the sixth straight time. Whether you believe in the curses or not, just as the Yankees put forth a formidable roster of opposition every time they face the Red Sox, so too do the talent-rich Miami Dolphins to face off against a resilient but still beat up Patriots squad this Sunday in Miami.
Game numbers and notes
The Patriots are 10-3 in their last 13 meetings against AFC East foes dating back to 2001 and have the best record within the division since 2001 with an 11-5 mark. … The Patriots are a perfect .500 against divisional opponents since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger with a 132-132 record. … The Dolphins and Patriots face each other this week with one game or less separating the two teams in the standings for the fifth straight time in the series. … This week will mark the 73rd regular season meeting between the teams with the Dolphins holding a 44-28 advantage in the series, and a 29-7 mark in games played in Miami. … Belichick is 2-6 versus Miami as a head coach, including a 2-4 mark with New England. … Dave Wannstedt is 4-4 against the Patriots and 4-2 with the Dolphins. … Offensively the Patriots enter the game ranked 21st in the NFL at 300.5 yards a game, while Miami ranks 20th at 301.8 per game. Both teams average 21.0 points per game. On the defensive side New England ranks 22nd giving up 327.3 yards per game, with Miami ranked 16th at 316.0 yards. The Dolphins give up just 11.6 points a game, with the Patriots allowing 18.8. … The Patriots are second in the AFC and fifth in the NFL with a plus-six turnover ratio and are tied for second in the NFL with 15 takeaways. The Dolphins are plus-three in the turnover department through five games. … Miami is in the midst of its first four-game winning streak since the 2000 season. … New England has not allowed an opponent to score a first quarter touchdown for five straight weeks. … In just two games running back Michael Cloud has registered a team-best three rushing touchdowns, a career-high for the former Chiefs backup and Boston College star. … Matt Chatham's fumble return for a touchdown last week was the fourth defensive score for the Patriots this season. The number matches the team's output from a year ago and leads the NFL. … With last week's 129 yards on 31 carries the Patriots have rushed for more than 100 yards in five of six games in 2003, equaling the number of times the team accomplished the feat all of last season. … The Patriots are 4-0 with a positive turnover ratio this season and 0-2 in games with a negative turnover ratio. The team is 16-2 since 2001 in games with a positive turnover ratio. … In case you missed it, rookie free agent wide receiver Dan Stricker was released from injured reserve earlier this week. … Despite the three-headed force that has been the Patriots running back spot of late, Kevin Faulk continues to lead in the team with 263 yards on 58 carries. … Troy Brown is the team's leading receiver with 19 receptions for 201 yards. … The Patriots have won 15 consecutive games when leading at halftime and 20 straight when leading after three quarters. … During the Dolphins current four game winning streak the defense has allowed 10 or fewer points in all four games and has produced a total of 12 turnovers.