The defense rebounded in a big way against the New England Patriots, with the pass rush coming to life again and the secondary coming up with a few big plays. But what can't be overlooked is that perhaps none of that would have been possible had the run defense not turned in another strong performance.

The Dolphins totally shut down the New England running game, putting the Patriots in several second-and-long and third-and-long situations.

Antowain Smith, who burned Miami for over 150 yards in the teams' meeting at Foxboro last December, was stuffed to the tune of 14 yards on nine carries.

In one particularly dominating sequence late in the first half, the Dolphins stopped Smith after a 2-yard gain on first down, dropped him for a 4-yard loss (Jermaine Haley made the tackle) on second down, and dropped J.R. Redmond for a 3-yard loss on a third-down draw play.

The Dolphins have shored up their run defense considerably since being burned by Edgerrin James on Sept. 15, and they have shut down Curtis Martin, Priest Holmes and Smith the last three weeks.

The Dolphins now rank fourth in the league in rushing defense, a big improvement over last year.

"It's something we take a lot of pride in," said Coach Dave Wannstedt. "If you're in the top 10 in both rushing and stopping the run, you're generally going to have a chance to win the game."

The Dolphins made stopping the run a priority after their late-season collapse in that department last season.

Among the things they did was start playing their safety closer to the line of scrimmage so they could get more involved in the running game.

Another factor that's helped is the fact that defensive tackles Larry Chester, Tim Bowens and Haley have remained healthy. You make recall that last year injuries were a problem at defensive tackle late in the season.

The bottom line, though, is that everybody is chipping in.

"To play good run defense week in and week out, it's a collective effort," Wannstedt said. "Right now we've got confidence in it and we're doing a very good job."

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