MIAMI GARDENS - The Patriots exacted payback yesterday and their resounding revenge couldn't have come at a better time, as it kept them in contention for the playoffs.
Agitated by the Miami Dolphins' trash talk and the 38-13 thrashing the South Floridians dished out in Week 3, New England avenged itself with a 48-28 victory over Miami at Dolphin Stadium. The vengeful victory allowed the Patriots (7-4) to keep pace in the playoff race.
The Patriots jumped ahead of Miami (6-5) in the AFC East and remain a game behind the division-leading New York Jets, who ended the Tennessee Titans' bid for an undefeated season yesterday.
"I don't know how the whole team felt, but I thought for myself it was a must-win if we wanted to get into the playoffs because a loss was going to put us [back] in the division with only five games to go," said left guard Logan Mankins. "Miami is a good team. They're going to win a bunch more games this year, and New York is on a roll. So, I thought it was a very important game."
The Patriots came out with a spread attack and put the ball - and the game - in the hands of Matt Cassel, who did his best Dan Marino impression in the House that Marino Built.
Cassel recorded his second straight 400-yard passing game (30 of 43 for 415 yards and three touchdowns with one interception), becoming the fifth player in league history to have back-to-back 400-yard passing games. He now has one more 400-yard foray than one Tom Brady.
Randy Moss enjoyed his biggest game of season, hauling in eight passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns, the last of which put the Patriots on top for good (38-28) with 8:52 remaining.
The prolific Patriots scored on all five possessions in the second half and eight of their 11 overall, punting just once. They racked up 530 yards of total offense and 30 first downs. If it weren't for the two turnovers (Cassel INT, Sammy Morris fumble) Miami came up with in the first half that led to touchdowns, Cassel and his receivers would have been playing catch all afternoon.
"I don't think they could have stopped us today," said Mankins. "We stopped ourself. On the drives that they didn't get a turnover, we had penalties."
It appeared the Patriots, who led, 17-14, at the half thanks to a 25-yard catch-and-run by Moss, would need every last point in the see-saw second half.
Chad Pennington was on his game and kept Miami in the game, going 24 of 41 for 341 yards and three touchdowns, while running for another, a 7-yarder in the first half following a Morris fumble that put Miami ahead, 14-10. That allowed Miami to makeup for the impotency of the Wildcat, which the Patriots turned into the Mildcat, as Miami used it nine times, rushing eight times for 25 yards and drawing a holding penalty the other time.
Pennington, who opened the half by connecting on a 46-yard completion to Ted Ginn, hit fullback Casey Cramer with a 2-yard TD toss to give Miami a 21-17 lead on the first possession of the second half.
Not to be outdone - or outdueled - Cassel answered right back going 6 of 8 for 74 yards on a Patriots drive that ended with Moss hauling in an 8-yard score on a fade route to give New England a 24-21 lead.
Richard Seymour took the driving Dolphins out of field goal range with a huge sack, forcing a punt. Four plays later Kevin Faulk scampered in from 21 yards out to give the Patriots a 10-point lead (31-21) on the final play of the third quarter. The key play on the drive was a career-long 64-yard catch by former Dolphin Wes Welker, who finished the day with eight catches for 120 yards.
But Pennington and Miami went to their hurry-up attack and hurried-up into the end zone, taking just five plays to trim the lead to 31-28, as Pennington found a diving Ricky Williams from 13 yards out.
Then Miami got "Moss-ed" one last time, as Moss went up over Miami cornerback Andre' Goodman and snatched his third touchdown of the day out of the South Florida sky, a 29-yarder that gave the Patriots a 10-point lead with 8:52 to go, and made a perturbed Moss's point to Miami coach Tony Sparano, who decided to try to single-cover Moss most of the day rather than sliding a safety over the top.
"I don't know why Coach [Sparano] disrespected me like that," said Moss, who with the three TD receptions passed his former mentor in Minnesota, Cris Carter, for third place on the NFL's all-time list with 132.
"I am who I am, and I love to do what I do. Anytime I feel disrespected I want to go out there and make it happen. I think they disrespected me today by playing the single coverage and letting me do what I love to do, which is getting in the end zone."
The end then came for Miami, which entered the game with the fewest turnovers in the NFL (8), when Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather intercepted Pennington at the Miami 37 on the ensuing drive, setting up a 30-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
"That was huge for the defense to win one," said Meriweather. "That kind of took the air out of them."
By that point the Dolphins had lost the game and their cool, as both Patriots tackle Matt Light and Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder were ejected when their tussle during the field goal became a full-blown fight with punches thrown.
The Patriots were obviously determined to even the score with mouthy Miami in more ways than one. But they did it in the only way coach Bill Belichick cares about.
"They're a good team. It's good to even it up with Miami this year," said Belichick. "They got us pretty good up there, so we can feel good about evening the score down here. We're happy to win, and ready to move on next week to Pittsburgh."