Breaking down the game

Coach Nick Saban said this week he would hope and expect the Dolphins to play their best game of the season Sunday because it's their last game of the season. It might be what it's going to take for the Dolphins to extend their winning streak and finish with a winning record.

In New England, the Dolphins are facing another hot team and one that suddenly is being talked about as a legitimate threat in the AFC playoffs.

In other words, it's back to normal for the Patriots, who have gotten healthy in recent weeks and are playing superb defense.

Of course, it must be pointed out -- and TV commentators have yet to mention this -- that three of New England's victories in their current four-game streak were against the Jets, the Bills and the Jets.

The truth is New England has played very well on offense all season, in large part because of the play of Tom Brady, who is having an MVP-caliber season.

Yet Brady didn't have a ton of success against the Dolphins when the teams met on Nov. 13 and he generally hasn't had much success against Miami, period.

What Brady did accomplish in November was rally the Patriots with two long passes that produced a lightning-quick touchdown drive after the Dolphins had taken a 16-15 lead late in the game.

The Dolphins didn't have much success stopping the New England running game in the first meeting, despite the absence of Patriots starter Corey Dillon. Instead, it was former Dolphins fullback Heath Evans who did the damage.

Offensively, the Dolphins put up big numbers against New England with over 400 yards of total offense.

It was the passing game that did most of the damage, as Gus Frerotte passed for a season-high 360 yards in that game.

New England has been very, very good against the run lately, but the Pats remain very suspect against the pass.

That's why the Dolphins' ticket to victory should be throwing the ball again. Ronnie Brown needs 114 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for the season, but it's highly unlikely he'll be able to get that against New England, even if he were to get the majority of the carries.

What the Dolphins must do is protect Frerotte and make plays in the passing game.

And find a way to finish the game, something they weren't able to do in November when they failed to score after getting a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line in the final minute and change.

That's what the Dolphins have done better during their current hot streak, that's what New England has done so well so consistently the last five years, and that's what the Dolphins need to continue doing if the balance of power in the AFC East is to finally shift away from the Pats.

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