Patriots Fall to Dolphins 28-26, Will Host Jacksonville Next Week
By Darren Kelly
PHOTO: New England Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie is congratulated by punter Josh Miller (8) after Flutie drop kicked an extra point during the fourth quarter of their 28-26 loss to the Miami Dolphins in NFL football action at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2006. The extra point was the first point scored on a drop kick in the NFL since 1941. Looking on are teammates Christian Fauria (88) and Stephen Neal (61). (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
With most of the starters long out of the game, and the knowledge that winning or losing would impact their first playoff opponent, backup quarterback Matt Cassel (11-of-20 for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns) brought the Patriots within a two-point conversion of forcing overtime.
The Patriots treated this match-up with the Dolphins as if it were the final preseason game. Quarterback Tom Brady (3-of-8 for 37 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception) played just 3 series on offense. Most of the defensive starters played just 3 series as well. Corey Dillon, Tedy Bruschi, Bethel Johnson, Daniel Graham, Jarvis Green, Asante Samuel, and Artrell Hawkins all were inactive. With a guaranteed home playoff game but no bye week at their disposal this year, Coach Bill Belichick decided to give many starters some needed time off in this game.
With the playoff seedings not yet set, the result of this game impacted the entire slate of AFC playoff teams. With Cincinnati losing to Kansas City today, a Patriots win would have secured the #3 seed and a date with Pittsburgh next week. A loss meant hosting the Jaguars.
Trailing 28-20 with 1:46 to go in the game, Cassel completed passes to Heath Evans, Bam Childress, and Andre' Davis, moving the ball to the Miami 29 with 47 seconds left. Following a spike and an incomplete pass, Cassel hit Heath Evans over the middle. A holding penalty left them with 3rd-and-1 at the 20. Cassel threw incomplete to Davis, but gained the first down on a quarterback sneak. A roughing the passer penalty on Jason Taylor (on a play that would have been an interception) gave the Patriots one last chance.
On 1st-and-goal from the 9, Cassel overthrew everyone, leaving 4 seconds on the clock, and time for one more play. Cassel rolled to his right and found Ben Watson in the end one for the touchdown. Trailing by 2, Cassel rolled right once more but threw the ball too high for Childress, giving the Dolphins the win and the Jaguars the chance to book their flight north.
Brady and the starters showed some different looks to the Dolphins (and potential playoff opponents) on their opening drive. On the first play of the game, Brady ran a nifty play fake and threw deep for Andre Davis, but the ball was overthrown. On 4th and short at the 50, the Patriots -- as they often have over the last few games -- ran a successful quarterback sneak for a 1st down. New England then went to a no huddle offense, picking up a 1st down. But Bradys throw to David Givens went off his hands and was intercepted by Lance Schulters.
After the New England defense forced a 3-and-out on the Dolphins first possession, the Patriots went 3-and-out as Brady underthrew Deion Branch on one play and Ben Watson dropped another on a diving attempt.
The Dolphins marched 83 yards on their next possession to take a 7-0 lead. Gus Frerotte (22-of-35 for 239 yards and 1 touchdown) directed the drive with short passes and the running of Ricky Williams (28 carries for 108 yards). Williams capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, as the Dolphins took advantage of the undermanned Patriots defense.
Andre Davis took the ensuing kickoff back 65 yards to the Miami 24-yard line. The Patriots ran the ball on 5 straight plays, with Kevin Faulk, Patrick Pass, and Heath Evans all getting carries. Evans converted a 4th-and-1 with a run up the middle, and Brady capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown strike to Deion Branch, tying the game at 7-7.
With New England starters on both sides of the ball sitting, the Dolphins controlled the ball for the rest of the half and strung together a couple of scoring drives, picking field goals of 36 and 38 yards by Olindo Mare. Cassel started to find his rhythm in the 2-minute drill at the end of the half, setting up Adam Vinatieri for a 49-yard field goal and a 13-10 deficit at halftime.
The Dolphins and Patriots traded field goals to begin the 2nd half, and the patchwork defense forced a Miami punt, only to watch punter Donnie Jones pin the ball at the 1-yard line. Cassel was sacked and fumbled through the end zone on the very next play for a Miami safety, increasing the Dolphins lead to 18-13.
Following back-to-back punts, the Dolphins drove 51 yards and Frerotte hit Marty Booker (7 catches for 86 yards) in the end zone for a 25-13 lead.
New England responded with a 5-play, 54-yard scoring drive of their own. Cassel hit Ben Watson with a 30-yard completion, ran a quarterback sneak for a 1st down, and threw his first NFL touchdown pass, a 9-yard strike to Tim Dwight. Doug Flutie lined up in the shotgun on the extra point try and drop kicked the ball through the uprights for the conversion. It was the first successful drop kick in the NFL since 1941, and might have been the final play of Fluties football career.
Mare hit his fourth field goal of the game to put the Dolphins up 8 and set up the dramatic finish.
New England will host the Jacksonville Jaguars either next Saturday or Sunday in the first round of the playoffs. Cincinnati will host Pittsburgh in the other AFC game, while Indianapolis and Denver will both have the byes.
Darren is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: DestinationSuperBowl. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "Darren Kelly"