The end of the regulation play calling was perplexing, however. With a first down on Miami's 45 with 1:35 to go and no timeouts in a tie game, the Patriots used a huddle and then called two straight running plays, the second of which went for minus-7 yards when Terrell Buckley came on a corner blitz and blew up Kevin Faulk.
New England was attempting to get close enough for a field goal while whittling the clock down to nothing so that Miami wouldn't get the ball back, but at the 45, they were not yet in field goal range and would not have gotten there without Faulk breaking off a decent run. They were content to attempt a long field goal that left no time for Miami to get another possession and didn't want to throw and risk stopping the clock or having to punt. They were going to win in regulation or go to overtime, but they never even gave themselves a chance at the field goal. That plan was too conservative, considering the drive began with a 20-yard Brady to Deion Branch pass.
Playing against a defense that has dominated it in Miami in recent years, the Patriots' passing carried the team to victory. It wasn't perfect, but Tom Brady's 24-for-34, 283-yard, two touchdown, no interception afternoon was the best by a Patriots passer in Miami in some time. He played smart football, took what the defense gave him and then carved it up for an occasional big play. His protection was solid most of the day and he averted disaster on Miami's only sack when Jason Taylor knocked the ball from his hand in overtime, only to watch it fortuitously bounce back to Brady.
Overall, it was a solid day against an opportunistic, big-play defense. Brady's first touchdown pass came in the third quarter when he fired down the middle 24 yards to David Givens on a third-and-10 play that marked the fourth third-down conversion of the 76-yard, 7:57 drive. He also threw a beautiful 82-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Troy Brown, who led the team with six receptions for 131 yards. The Patriots did the job on Taylor most of the day by chip-blocking him with the fullback or with a tight end. This was Brady's best game of the season and it came in the team's personal house of horrors against a strong defense. His 115.2 passer rating was a season high.
Staying out of trouble
Believe it or not, one of the keys against Miami is to avoid negative rushing plays and the Patriots had just four of those, with one coming on the last play of regulation. The other key for New England was that it maintained offensive balance even though the production on the ground wasn't there. The Patriots rushed 29 times for only 59 yards, but didn't have the slew of negative plays that usually leave the, in the difficult situations in which Miami's ferocious pass rush thrives. Kevin Faulk led the Patriots with 18 carries for a measly 38 yards, but fumbled once. Brady also fumbled on one of his three quarterback sneaks. Those two turnovers led to 10 first-half Miami points. There wasn't much daylight against a run defense among the league's best. But the Patriots stayed out of third-and-long most of the day.
Got the job done
Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael exploited mismatches in the Patriots' man-to-man coverage and occasional zone with a career-high eight receptions for 102 yards. The pressure was on New England's corners once again to win man-to-man battles and they did that most of the day despite playing without their best corner, Ty Law, who missed the game with an injury.
New England intercepted Jay Fiedler twice and both came on deep passes. On the first, rookie Asante Samuel deflected a ball that fellow rookie safety/corner Eugene Wilson intercepted. Tyrone Poole's overtime interception came one play before the 82-yard game-winning touchdown pass. Miami's wide receivers caught just seven passes and one of those was a 31-yarder to Derrius Thompson in overtime that should have been reviewed since replays clearly showed the receiver stepping out of bounds before he made the catch and maybe even before coming down with the ball. The Dolphins alertly rushed the next play to avoid any review.
But the Patriots' corners did the job. Poole continues to play standout football, as does Samuel. Wilson's interception was his team-high third, and with Law out of the lineup, he moved to corner in some sub situations. Miami converted just one third down before the fourth quarter. Rookie Ty Warren had his first career sack.
Quote to Note
"Until that last drive, we played the game the way we wanted to play it. We put together some drives offensively; we had some time of possession; they didn't hold the ball all day; and we were able to get off the field on third down." -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick.