Miami's heat source
Taylor still can make his opponents sweat
FOXBOROUGH -- At the top of the long list of problems the Patriots have had in South Florida the past two seasons is a long (6 feet 6 inches) and relatively lean (260 pounds) defensive end, the sound of whose very name used to make Matt Light uncomfortable.
Light, the Patriots' left tackle, was asked in July to name his toughest opponent. "I hate saying his name," Light responded. "Jason Taylor is honestly the toughest guy. When I'm gearing up for a game and I know Miami is coming up, I'm in there doing everything I can do to play this guy tough because he brings everything to the table."
There may not be a more difficult place to play than Pro Player Stadium, especially in September or October. The Patriots have never won in 13 trips to Miami this time of year, and in three seasons under Bill Belichick seem to have played progressively worse, losing, 10-3, 30-10, and 26-13. Drop in a beast like Taylor (league-high 18 1/2 sacks last year) in such a vicious snake pit, and your quarterback will be lucky to come out in one piece.
In the past three games against the Patriots at Pro Player Stadium, Taylor has totaled 16 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries, and 1 pass defensed.
But Dolphins don't swim well in ice.
Miami has lost its last two games in Foxborough, and not coincidentally, Taylor wasn't as much of a factor. In his last three visits here, he's had a combined 8 tackles, 1 interception (in 2000), 4 passes defensed, and no sacks. Repeat: no sacks.
"He's a different player down there than he is up here," Light said. "He has a lot of people cheering and I can't hear [expletive, in other words, the snap count]. It's tough to play in an atmosphere like that when you're facing a guy like Jason Taylor with speed like that. He can be halfway up the field before you move."
Last year, the Patriots couldn't move the ball in the first half (26 yards), and Taylor had plenty to do with it. He ended New England's first two possessions with sacks, the second time forcing a Tom Brady fumble that Adewale Ogunleye recovered at the Patriots' 39, setting up Miami's first touchdown.
Two years ago in Miami, Brady fumbled a snap in the third quarter and the ball was kicked backward toward New England's goal line. Taylor scooped it up at the 1 and walked into the end zone to make it 27-10, Fish. Belichick remembers that sequence like it was yesterday. (Maybe because he just looked at the film the other day.)
"You fumble a snap from center and Jason Taylor walks back in the end zone and scoops it up and lays the ball over the crossbar, it's bad football," Belichick said.
"Jason Taylor said he'll take a 5-yard offsides penalty for a few sacks a game," Brady said. "He's their playmaker. It starts with him. When he makes a play, man, you got 65,000 people going nuts."
Light didn't drive himself mad in the offseason anticipating his next meeting with Taylor. Instead, he drove himself to improve. He worked on his strength and quickness -- Taylor's biggest attributes. Light watched more film, studied harder, and worked on getting off the ball faster.
It's the faster players -- the Jets' John Abraham is another -- who tend to give Light the most problems. One thing he isn't, though, is intimidated. He's taken the necessary steps toward eliminating Taylor's advantage. Now he's eager to take another leap forward by containing him.
Taylor has 1 1/2 sacks this season, tied for 44th in the AFC, and Light embraces the challenge of keeping him there.
"I really don't have a choice," Light said. "I always embrace it. It's there. Nothing else to do with it, you know?"
Though Taylor is off his pace from a year ago, opponents still are having difficulty dealing with him, so much that Belichick was surprised to learn that Taylor had so few sacks this season.
"I'd have put it a lot higher than that," Belichick said. "He's put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, batting a lot of balls, forcing the quarterback up, and maybe the other guys are getting the final hit. He's in there a lot. I think it's very misleading. He's as good as any pass rusher, certainly, that we've seen, 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 I've seen."
It's primarily Light's responsibility to make certain Taylor doesn't do so in a sixth.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.