PHOTO: New England Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel (16) reacts after his second touchdown pass of the game against the Miami Dolphins during fourth-quarter NFL football action at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Sunday, Jan. 1, 2006. The Dolphins beat the Patriots 28-26. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Week 17: PATRIOTS REPORT CARD VS MIAMI DOLPHINS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- QB Tom Brady played only the first quarter, completing three of eight passes for 37 yards with a touchdown (11 yards to WR Deion Branch) and an interception (off a Sam Madison deflection). Backup QB Matt Cassel gave up a safety on a sack by CB Reggie Howard, but he directed 54- and 62-yard TD drives in the fourth quarter.
PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- Dolphins QB Gus Frerotte (22-for-35 for 239 yards and a TD) had his second good game against the Patriots this season. WR Marty Booker (seven catches for 86 yards) was a tough matchup all day, even when the Patriots had their starting secondary in the game. Booker's stats would have been even better had Frerotte noticed him turning Childress inside out on a double move that could have resulted in an easy touchdown.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- RB Ricky Williams (28 carries for 108 yards) had the kind of success that opposing runners had not enjoyed against the Patriots down the stretch. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry in the first quarter against the Patriots' first stringers. The Pats did a better job against rookie Ronnie Brown, limiting him to 21 yards on eight carries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- With WR/KR Bethel Johnson sitting out, WRs Andre' Davis and Tim Dwight revived the kick-return game. Davis had a 65-yard runback, and Dwight's 38-yarder set up the final TD drive. The Patriots' coverage units were solid again, as the Dolphins averaged 9.0 yards on two punt returns and just 17.3 yards on four kickoffs. K Adam Vinatieri hit both field-goal attempts.
COACHING: Inc. -- Hard to judge the game plan when the starters depart after 15 minutes. The backups played competitively with Miami's first stringers, which is evidence of how well the Patriots get all 53 players on their roster prepared. Letting Flutie attempt the dropkick was a nice bone to throw to a veteran. It also put a smile on everyone's face, never a bad thing at this time of year. The lone quibble: Why not leave Branch in for a few more plays to get his 1,000 yards? He subbed back in on the final drive, but his 6-yard catch was nullified by a penalty.
DOLPHINS REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Gus Frerotte misfired on four third-down passes but still completed 22 of 35 passes for 239 yards and one touchdown. While they had nice outings, WRs Marty Booker (seven catches for 85 yards, one touchdown) and Chris Chambers (5-75) erred when getting flagged for a choreographed touchdown celebration that helped trigger a Patriots rally.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Ricky Williams finished the season with 280 rushing yards in the final two games, including a 108-yard outing against the Patriots. Although Miami's longest carry went for only 9 yards, the Dolphins were able to control time of possession for 38:06.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Dolphins tied their franchise single-season record for sacks at 49 when CB Reggie Howard sacked rookie backup QB Matt Cassel for a third-quarter safety. But the Dolphins allowed Cassel, who was buried on Southern California's depth chart throughout college, to complete two fourth-quarter touchdowns and almost lead a Patriots comeback from a 12-point deficit.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Miami surrendered a season-low 2.0-yard-per-carry average against a New England offense resting starting RB Corey Dillon for the playoffs. With 10 stops, MLB Zach Thomas finished with double-digit tackles for the 28th time in the past 31 games.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Olindo Mare connected on all four of his field-goal attempts to cap a solid season (83.3 percent success rate). But Andre' Davis did have a 65-yard kickoff return to set up New England's first touchdown.
COACHING: B -- Dolphins coach Nick Saban deserves credit for guiding Miami to its sixth consecutive victory, but it was something of a hollow win considering New England had rested its key starters by the end of the first quarter.
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