On Football

Patriots need win - for a number of reasons

By Albert R. Breer
October 4, 2010

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Since the Jets have started 3-0 in the division, and since the three-way fight atop the AFC East figures to be a seasonlong one, there’s a lot for the Patriots to lose in steamy South Florida tonight.

But there is just as much to gain.

The Patriots have a ton left to prove after three weeks, and the Miami Dolphins provide the kind of challenges that will give New England the chance to prove plenty. And it starts with something that has little to do with the ascending state of the Miami roster.

Playing down here has never been easy for the Bill Belichick-era Patriots. Even when the Dolphins were dreadful.

“It’s always tough to play down there,” Belichick said. “They do a good job. They give you a lot to get ready for. They’re very well-coached. They’re a very disciplined team. [They have the] fewest penalties in the league.

“I think that kind of sums up the way they play: they play hard, they play tough, and they make you earn everything. We’re going to have to do a good job down there in all three phases of the game for 60 minutes and that’s what it’s going to take.’’

If the Patriots can do what it takes, they’ll go into their bye with a healthy, needed shot of confidence. If they can’t, they’ll be facing a six-game stretch that includes games against Baltimore, San Diego, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis with a 2-2 record.

So yes, there’s a lot on the line here. Good and bad.

A win would mean plenty.

First, it would say the team can beat a quality opponent on the road. There’s been a good deal of buzz about the Patriots’ 1-7 record in the other team’s stadium over the last two years.

But the truth is that it’s deeper than that. The last time the Patriots beat a team with a winning record on the road was right here in South Florida all the way back in November 2008, when a Matt Cassel-led club blew a close game open in the fourth quarter and beat Miami, 48-28.

Second, since this one figures to be close, the Patriots will likely also needed to shed their second-half issues to grind out a win against a Miami team that, as Belichick said, is very sound and avoids mistakes, a recipe for keeping almost any game tight.

Tom Brady’s second-half quarterback rating in the eight aforementioned games is 50.8, and that number drops to 29.3 in the fourth quarter of those contests. The Patriots led at the half of six of the seven aforementioned losses, and held a 21-10 advantage in the third quarter of last year’s 22-21 loss in Miami.

Third, there are some individual matchups in this one which, if they go New England’s way, could wind up being confidence builders.

Miami defensive coordinator Mike Nolan held the same position with Denver last year, when the Broncos shut the Patriots out in the second half, so getting over on him in a late and close situation would be big for the offense. Another Denver import, Brandon Marshall, also gave the Patriots fits last year, and being able to put together a competent effort in covering him would be a boon for a struggling young secondary.

And shutting down the vaunted Miami run game could bring a boost to the traditionally strong Patriots run defense, which has struggled the last two weeks.

Fourth, a victory would help the Patriots on the back end of their schedule. The loser of this game will be 1-2 in the division, and that will make the second half of that team’s AFC East slate that much bigger.

In this regard, the game’s even more important for the Dolphins: A defeat would give Miami home losses to the Jets and Patriots, and hand that team little leeway with a December trip to New Jersey and a January trip to Foxborough ahead. Should the Patriots win, they’ll have the more comfortable situation of hosting the Jets and Dolphins down the stretch.

So to sum all that up, a win won’t come easy in South Florida. Not against a team that looks to be the AFC East’s most well-rounded club.

But a victory would go a long way. And break another bad trend.

“I don’t think we’ve played particularly well there,” said quarterback Tom Brady, who has lost four of his last five visits to Miami, and has 2-6 career record at Sun Life Stadium. “Certainly in the early part of my career, we got beat quite a bit down there. There was a long streak for a long time that we hadn’t won down there.

“I think what it means is that there’s not a lot of margin for error down there. So as an offense, I think we have to understand that they have a very good defense and they play well at home. So, you’re right, it’s a tough contest for us every time we go down there, every time we play those guys. . . . We’ve always had some great battles with the Dolphins. I’m sure this week will be no different.”

In a broader sense, the idea is for a lot of things to be different in Miami this time around.

And if that can be accomplished, this season could have a much different outlook for New England as it enters its bye week.

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