Patriots-Dolphins: Game Snapshot

<p>As the Playoff picture becomes more clear, with the Steelers continuing their winning ways and the Colts putting on awesome displays of offense, the Patriots find themselves in a perculiar position. Having only one defeat, they must continue to win out in order to secure the home field advantage of Gillette Stadium in the playoffs.</p> <p>Check out Scout's Game Snapshot to see who's expected to have an impact on the game, the strategy, personnel and prediction.</p>

PHOTO: Miami Dolphins running back Sammy Morris (31) steps over Denver Broncos cornerback Kelly Herndon (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

New England Patriots (12-1) at Miami Dolphins (2-11)


KICKOFF: Monday, 9:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/20/04
TV: ABC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Michele Tafoya

SERIES: 79th meeting. Dolphins lead series 45-33 but New England has won the last four and five of the last six while it will go for a second straight series sweep, something it has only done five times against Miami over the years.

2004 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 9th (8th rush, 11th pass); defense 11th (9th rush, 17th pass). Dolphins: offense 28th (31st rush, 21st pass); defense 8th (29th rush, 2nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots don't want to do the Dolphins' struggling offense any favors by turning the ball over and providing short fields. New England has averaged just 14 points in Miami under QB Tom Brady since 2001, and RB Corey Dillon will be the main factor early. The Dolphins are beat up at linebacker and the Patriots would be content to grind it out, control the clock and play mistake-free football. Meanwhile, Miami must force some turnovers on defense and have QB A.J. Feeley avoid them on offense. His decision-making is slowly improving, but Feeley gets precious little help from his ground game. The Patriots will throw a variety of different looks and packages at him and try to take advantage of the Dolphins' poor pass blocking.

FAST FACTS: Patriots: RB Corey Dillon needs 178 rushing yards to break Curtis Martin's single-season team record of 1,487. ... Have won 18 of their past 21 games against AFC East teams. Dolphins: Lead the NFL with 70 appearances on Monday Night Football and are tied with Dallas for the most victories with 38. ... K Olindo Mare needs two points to tie Garo Yepremian's franchise record of 830.

PREDICTION: Patriots 17-9



  • S Rodney Harrison missed a portion of Thursday's practice with the flu, but is listed as probable for Monday night.

  • CB Ty Law, who remains doubtful for the Dolphins game, is pushing to get back to play under the Monday night lights. Belichick offered a vague update. "He's better than he was and he should be. It's been six weeks. We won't know where he is until we get out on the field. He's day to day," Belichick said.

  • DL Vince Wilfork will enjoy his first homecoming as an NFL player. The rookie nose tackle played collegiately at the University of Miami and was a high school star at Santaluces High in Lantana, Fla., and hails from Boynton Beach, Fla. He was inundated with interview requests Thursday and spent the entire media session doing phone interviews from outside the locker room.

  • LB Willie McGinest leads the Patriots with 7.5 sacks, leaving him just 2.5 shy of reaching 10 for the first time since 1995 and also 2.5 shy of tying Tony McGee (1974-1981) for third on the team's all-time sack list. Andre Tippett (1982-1993) is first on the list with an even 100 sacks followed by defensive lineman Julius Adams (1971-1987), who had 79.5.

  • QB Tom Brady hopes to have a better game against Miami this time around after throwing for only 76 yards in the first meeting. Belichick noted his team's difficulty throwing against a defense he called "one of the best pass defenses in football every year."

    "We didn't throw it well at all against them," Belichick said. "We had pressure on us and didn't have people open. We were fortunate to get what we got. We will have to do things a lot better if we are to have any success throwing the ball against them. Nobody plays the pass better than Miami. And you can't stand back there and hold the ball either because they'll get you."

  • LT Matt Light has seen Jason Taylor change a game. He has been victimized by Taylor running past him for a strip-sack turnover. In fact, it was a hit from Taylor in the 2002 season finale that still has Brady listed on the injury report with a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery last February. Taylor has sacked Brady 5.5 times since 2001, all with Light opposing him at left tackle. Light hopes a fast start by the Patriots can slow down Taylor and the Miami defensive tide. "You want to perform well early because once they get on you, it's tough to get out from under that," Light said.

  • CB, Tyrone Poole, was placed on the injured reserve list effectively ending his season. Poole had tried to come back form a knee injury last week, and it became apparent that he will not be healthy enough to be of help to a beleaguered Patriots Secondary.

    The quartet of Randall Gay, Asante Samuel, Earthwind Moreland and Troy Brown will be called upon once again to cover for Poole's absence. In his press conference earlier in the week, coach Bill Belichick commented that the replacements in the secondary can no longer consider themselves rookies. They've played for most of a season, and will be judged as seasoned vets, in spite of this being relatively inexperienced.



  • SLB Eddie Moore (calf/knee) didn't practice Thursday and remains listed as doubtful for Monday's game against New England. Brendon Ayanbadejo will make his first NFL start if Moore can't play.

  • SLB Brendon Ayanbadejo practiced with the first-team defense Thursday and will make his first NFL start Monday against New England if Eddie Moore (calf/knee) can't play. Ayanbadejo leads the Dolphins with 17 special teams tackles.

  • MLB Zach Thomas didn't practice Thursday and remains listed as doubtful for Monday's game against New England. Thomas will be replaced by rookie Derrick Pope if forced to miss a third consecutive game.

  • DT Bryan Robinson was added to Miami's injury report Thursday with a knee/shin injury and missed at least a portion of team drills. Robinson, who is listed as probable, would be replaced by Dario Romero if unable to play Monday against New England.

  • RT John St. Clair (knee) was added to the injury report Thursday but participated in all of team drills. St. Clair is listed as probable.

  • DE Jay Williams is set to play in his 127th consecutive game Monday against New England. Williams had an interception and five tackles during last Sunday's 20-17 loss to Denver.



Some team is always the model for the league. It's like a fad, the "in" team. In the 1980s it was the 49ers. In the 1990s, it was the Cowboys, Packers, Broncos and even Dolphins to a degree. So far this decade, it has been the Patriots, and players around the league recognize how they've reached their level of success. As Miami defensive end Jason Taylor acknowledged, selflessness seems to be a critical ingredient.

"Very much so," he said as he prepared for Monday night's game against New England. "There's not really one guy that sticks out where you could say he is a star or these two guys are stars and there is everybody else. They keep everything on one level. The beauty of that team is that they have great players. They have Tom Brady, who I'd take in a heartbeat if I were starting a team. They have Corey Dillon, a great running back. They have some good receiver and players on defense.

"Richard Seymour is one of the best defensive linemen out there, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law. They all play together. It's not one guy standing up wanting all the credit and wanting all the glory. They do what it takes to win every week."

It was Taylor who helped make Brady look overmatched when the now two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback made his second career start, which came in a 30-10 Patriots loss in Miami back in 2001. Brady, who would go on to win a Super Bowl later that season, completed just 12-of-24 passes for 86 yards while being sacked four times that day, including one in which he fumbled with Taylor scooping it up for a Dolphins touchdown.

Miami's top sacker has taken Brady down 5.5 times in seven meetings, but is just 2-5 against New England during that time.

"I think the world of Tom Brady," Taylor acknowledged. "I played against him in his second game as a pro and got after him pretty good, but ever since them he's been kicking my butt. He is the best to me. Peyton Manning is great. He does a lot of great things and you can't take that away from him, but Tommy has won. He knows how to win and he's done it twice. Like I said, if I had to start a team today, I'd give a butt load of money to Brady and I'd bring Charlie Weis with him and let them go."

Chances are that the duo would need the rest of the selfless Patriots to make it work, which is why the Patriots have emerged as one of the model franchises in the league. Of course, Bill Belichick, who is responsible for creating the environment in which the Patriots win and the man that Miami interim head coach Jim Bates called "one of the best, maybe, of all time," also had something to do with it.


A.J. Feeley will get the chance Monday night against New England to prove he is a better quarterback than during his first prime-time start as a member of the Dolphins earlier this season.

Feeley had a roller-coaster outing in September during a 16-13 loss to Cincinnati. While he led a fourth-quarter Miami comeback that tied the score at 13-13, Feeley also threw an interception that was returned by linebacker Brian Simmons for Cincinnati's only touchdown.

Feeley can now make amends against a Patriots team that has won 27 of its past 28 games.

"It's an exciting time," Feeley said. "It's a major stage for us to get a chance to show our skills and hopefully make something out of the season thus far."

Feeley has shown improvement over the past four games since being named a starter once again by interim coach Jim Bates.

"I don't know if relaxed is the term, I'm just, I guess, more determined," Feeley said when asked whether he feels more comfortable as a starter than earlier in the season. "I'm kind of taking care of what I can and not worrying about the other things that go on around me. It's just a mater of taking care of my job, which is to control the offense and put us in a situation to win. The other things that happen outside of that, I can't concern myself with."

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