-- The uplifting 38-13 victory over the Patriots in Foxborough was just the elixir and confidence booster needed for a young, rebuilding team who desperately needed a reward for all the hard work put in over the past six months.
It also gave the new coaching staff, particularly Sparano, credibility to their hard-driven methods, particularly after two sloppy losses filled with undisciplined penalties. The innovative "Wildcat" formation, which had running back Ronnie Brown taking shotgun snaps from center, scored four of the five touchdowns and completely outwitted Bill Belichick, considered one of the smartest defensive coaches in NFL history.
-- After two season-opening losses in which the ground game was negligible, the Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown Show finally took off, combining for 211 yards against the Pats. This was partly due to the 'trick' Wing-T spread offense, but it also displayed tremendous progress for the young offensive line, anchored by rookie left tackle Jake Long and first-time starter Ike Ndukwe at right guard. Brown's comeback from a torn ACL seems complete.
-- Veteran quarterback Chad Pennington's adroit game management and accurate passing -- 17 of 20 for a career-high 85 percent completion rate against the Patriots -- nipped a premature quarterback controversy in the bud. However, rookie Chad Henne's solid debut in garbage time against the Cardinals did give management further proof that he could step in if Pennington falters or gets hurt.
-- Rookie defensive ends Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford are collapsing pockets and making big plays as the two have combined to make 17 tackles and three sacks. Merling also has a fumble recovery. The pass rush, anchored by a resurgent Joey Porter -- now that he's back to his favorite side on a 3-4 defense -- has already notched nine sacks. Porter's four is tied for second most in the NFL. Last year, they didn't reach nine sacks until after the seventh game. Porter seems primed for a return to the Pro Bowl and possibly in line for Comeback Player of the Year honors.
-- Although the Dolphins are remarkably healthy after three games with no one on the injury list last week, they did lose promising rookie right guard Donald Thomas in the season-opening loss to the Jets. Thomas, a former walk-on at Connecticut, was called a "Godsend" by Dolphins architect Bill Parcells before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. As a result, the running game stalled the first two games, but flourished against the Patriots as Ike Ndukwe seemed more comfortable in the starting role.
-- Special teams has been anything but special even though they brought in special teams coach John Bonamego from the Saints to turn around last year's inept unit that ranked last in the league in opponent's field position. With the surprising cuts of Keith Davis, Boomer Grigsby and Edmond Miles -- all considered special teams stalwarts -- the coverage teams have been just as bad, particularly last week when the Patriots' Ellis Hobbs gashed them for a franchise-record 237 return yards, including an 81-yarder and a 50-yarder. Miami is ranked 31st in opponent's field position, but are a respectable 10th in their own starting position thanks to rookie returner Davone Bess.
-- Although the secondary improved in Sunday's blowout of the Patriots, cornerback Andre' Goodman and free safety Chris Crocker struggled in the first two games, allowing several big plays. Cardinals venerable quarterback Kurt Warner had a perfect 158.3 passer rating in Arizona's 31-10 win. The confused secondary allowed an average of 271 yards in the first two games, including passes of 56, 75 and 79 yards. Crocker was replaced by Renaldo Hill in the starting lineup.
-- The tight ends, including Anthony Fasano and David Martin, have become Pennington's favorite targets, while only Greg Camarillo has been steady among the wideouts with 11 catches for 143 yards. Ted Ginn Jr. has eight catches but for just 75 yards, and has been replaced by Bess as the team's primary returner. Expensive free agent receiver Ernest Wilford has barely been on the field and has just one catch in three games, while demoted starter Derek Hagan has just three catches.