In Sunday's Patriots-Dolphins matchup, turnovers played a big role for the second week in a row.
Asante Samuel came up big with two interceptions in the game, and linebacker Tedy Bruschi recovered a fumble. All of the Patriots turnovers resulted in points. The Dolphins recovered one fumble, which came on a punt return dropped by Kevin Faulk. They fell flat after recovering the ball and were forced to punt it away.
"[The points resulting from turnovers were] huge," said safetyRodney Harrison. "I mean that's what we expect. They expect us to get the ball. We expect them to score. Our offense fought the entire day. It's tough going against that defense. We always struggle against that defense. They always come up with big plays. They're strong. They're big. They're physical. And for us to get that victory is huge."
The first Pats turnover came in the first series of the game when Harrison stripped Phins running back Ronnie Brown of the ball. Bruschi recovered it. The Pats offense took the field and moved into field-goal range. Rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski put it through the uprights to get the Pats out to a three-point lead.
Quarterback Tom Brady spoke about the turnovers after the game. "You feel like you can gain so much momentum when you do that," Brady said. "It really puts them in a hole and we were fortunate to do it a couple of times."
Dolphins quarterbackDaunte Culpepper has been sacked 21 times this season, after returning from a serious knee injury. He sat this one out with a sore shoulder. Joey Harrington filled in.
"Harrington just came in and did a great job, actually, of running the offense and controlling the offense, but we were able to make more plays than them today," said Harrison. "We knew he's a pretty good quarterback. He was probably a little more elusive than, say Culpepper, because of the knee."
The last two turnovers in the game came from Samuel, who spoke about both in the locker room.
The first one came in the second quarter on an out-route pass from Harrington to receiver Wes Welker.
"It was in a flat coverage for us. I got my jam, read my keys, then went for the ball – went up and got it," said Samuel with a smile.
"The second one was just a reaction-type thing, with the ball behind me," Samuel said. "I kind of tipped it up with one hand and brought it back to me and caught it."
His second interception happened in the fourth quarter. The ball was again intended for Welker, but the pass ended up behind Welker, who got a hand on it before Samuel grabbed it up. "Thank God I made the play," said Samuel in reflection.
Both teams did all they could to shut down the opposition's running games, and both were pretty effective. The touted Dolphins front seven held the Patriots to 79 yards on the ground, with Corey Dillon leading the way this week. He recorded 45 yards on the ground and averaged 4.5 yards-per carry. Three of the five Patriots that recorded rushes weren't able to gain positive yardage.
Linebacker Junior Seau, who played on Miami's defense during the last three seasons, said the Dolphins have something that makes them effective against the run: pride. "They have pride in playing the game," Seau said. "There's a lot of pride out there."
Seau and the Patriots defense stuffed running back Ronnie Brown as well, allowing only 62 rushing yards from the Phins.
The game featured air-assaults from both sides, with each team's Jack-of-all-trades coming up big.
Perhaps the leagues most underrated wideout, Wes Welker led the Phins with nine receptions for 77 yards. The Pats double-covered Welker for much of the second half, according to Ellis Hobbs. Welker also returned all the punts and kickoffs for Miami.
Receiver Troy Brown had a big game, leading the team with five receptions and 58 yards. He's now six receptions away from becoming the Patriots all-time leading receiver, but he said he's focusing on each game as it comes.
Brown, known for his versatility, contributes as a cornerback occasionally, though he didn't play any defense this week. After the game, he summed up the defensive play in the last two games, saying, "We didn't create any turnovers in the first three games. We got some big ones last week and some big ones this week. So far we've been able to score off all of them. That's always a plus and that was the difference in the game today."
Cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who had wrist surgery on Sept. 27, spent much of the game covering Welker.
"[Welker]'s a tough guy, you know," said Hobbs, who admitted nursing the wrist a bit. "Coming into the game, we knew he was the receiver – the go-to guy right now. He's their second-leading receiver. Going into the game, they told me, 'You're going to have him all game.' So I knew it was going to be a hard-fought game between me and him."
Hobbs said he tried not to concentrate on his broken wrist during the game.
"I tried not to think about it," he explained. "I told my trainers and my coaches, I said, 'Don't ask me about it if I don't tell you anything. I don't want to think about it. I don't want to know about it. I want to go out there and play the game.' I just tried to ease my way back in, but I said, 'If it breaks, it breaks. If it doesn't, play ball."
Rodney Harrison was glad to get the win, but isn't content. He said, "We're getting better, but we're still giving up some plays down the field – broken coverages and guys losing their responsibilities. I mean we have a lot to improve on but we did a pretty good job today of keeping the ball in front of us, not giving up that huge play down the field and making some plays all over the field."
Harrison said turnovers were lacking before and admitted annoyance. "Of course it is (annoying), because as a defense, you want to be known as a ball-hawking defense, a very aggressive, fast defense, and then you don't create turnovers. But the thing is, guys have been around the block many times on this team. We knew. We just said, 'You know, we're just going to continue to stay patient.' Try to create turnovers and all of the sudden you get exposed for 80-yard bombs. We were patient and we were fortunate to be able to come up with some big plays today."
Seau attributed the win to improved execution by the defense. "We're just executing better. Going out there and executing our game plan and doing the things that we need to do," he said. "It's coming together and whenever that happens, obviously you're going to be in the winning column.
"We did what we had to do. We stuck to our game plan, which was shutting down the run and forcing them to pass. It worked out for us.
"Whenever you can get a win with a divisional opponent, it's a big game," said Seau. "We were able to do that today, and hopefully we'll be able to continue that. We do have a bye week, so obviously that's going to help all our injuries and what-have you. It's going to be a tough year, so we're looking forward to it."
The Patriots have a bye next week, before heading to Buffalo to take on the 2-3 Bills. Everyone in the locker room seemed relieved to get the recovery time, but mostly they were just happy to enter the bye with a win.
"It's a big week for us to rest and it's also a big thing to be 3-0 in the division," said defensive lineman Jarvis Green. "I think it would be a lot different if we were 4-1 without any division wins yet."
Wright block at the right time
Defensive lineman Mike Wright blocked a 40-yard field goal attempt by Miami kicker Olindo Mare in the first quarter to preserve a 3-0 Patriots lead. The blocked field goal was the first by the Patriots in the regular season in nearly three years, dating back to when Richard Seymour blocked a field goal attempt by Mare at Miami on Oct. 19, 2003. That block in 2003 also marked the last time that Mare had a field goal blocked.
That a boy, Troy
Troy Brown caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady in the second quarter to give the Patriots a 13-0 lead. The touchdown was Brown's second touchdown reception this season, his 29th career scoring reception and his 32nd overall touchdown (including three career punts returned for touchdowns). His 29 career touchdown receptions rank sixth on the Patriots all-time list of scoring catches. With his 29th career scoring grab, Brown passed Russ Francis (28) to claim sole possession of sixth place on the list.
Quote of note:
"Matt and I fight like teenage girls," said Tom Brady, speaking of backup QB Matt Cassel. "We are always slapping each other around and wrestling and slap boxing and [messing] around with each other in the weight room. And so I decided to take that to the next level. And we were messing around in the quarterback room one day and he walked in with a milkshake, and I kind of put my foot by the door, and I kicked the door and the milkshake splashed up and went all over him. So he sat down, and I was laughing. So I said give me the towel, because I wanted to clean up the wall. So I threw the towel at his face, and it had shake all over it. He had a little shake in his mouth and he spit it all over me."