The word 'if' may be two little letters, but this week's home game against the New England Patriots could've turned the AFC East Division upside down if only the Dolphins had taken care of business against an injury-ravaged, reeling Buffalo Bills team.
Instead, the 5-6 Dolphins blew a 14-7 lead in the fourth quarter before losing 31-14 to set up Sunday's rematch with the 7-4 Patriots as a must-win game just to cling to some hope of a wild-card berth.
"It was the type of situation where if you jump out to a lead maybe they back off as a losing team," said Dolphins receiver Greg Camarillo. "But give them hope and they'll play hard if not harder. They played hard, enthusiastic football for 60 minutes and we let up at the end.
"It's a momentum stopper. We were heading in the right direction. We took a step back. It's not going to change anything we do here. Obviously, we have way more urgency."
The Dolphins will be facing a less-than-confident Patriots squad after they got rocked by the undefeated Saints 38-17 Monday night. But the Patriots can gain confidence from watching the tape from their early-season 27-17 victory over the Dolphins in which they amassed 432 yards, including 323 passing yards as quarterback Tom Brady played catch with wideouts Randy Moss and Wes Welker, who combined to catch 15 passes for 231 yards, including a back-breaking 71-yard TD to Moss in the third quarter.
"We are a 5-6 football team that has our next five opponents coming in here that all have the same thing at stake that we do," coach Tony Sparano said. "You people might have wrote us out of this thing, but I didn't. There's a 5-6 team that we have to play down the road (Tennessee) that's won five in a row. Because they won five in a row, they're in the conversation, and because we lost against the Buffalo Bills we're out of it? I'm not buying that."
The Dolphins know they must fix their fourth-quarter woes in which they have allowed a league-high 134 points. They must also fix a wilting run-defense that has allowed 100 or more yards in the past six games. They need to figure out a way to improve their 30th-ranked passing attack without the threat of a toothless Wildcat since running back Ronnie Brown went down with a season-ending foot injury.
"It comes to a point of the season where we're tired of saying if we do this we can win," Camarillo said. "There are no excuses at this point. There's no more maybe we can fix this next week, we have to have everything fixed and we have to play the best football we can."
Other than their 1-15 season in 2007, the Dolphins have won at least one game against the Patriots every year since 2004. Sparano knows that he will have to prepare his team better than he did last week.
"We didn't get them prepared," Sparano said. "I'm not proud of standing up here saying that. Our fans deserve better. This organization deserves better than that. We're going to make it better. I don't know the mood of the players right now, I haven't seen them. I am sure that, if I know them, they will be pretty quiet, because as I have told them, these things are not acceptable. It should hurt a little bit. If it doesn't, something is wrong."
--QB Chad Henne imploded in the fourth quarter, throwing three interceptions to end each of Miami's final three drives. He posted a career-low 42.5 rating. Although he was pressured and hit while throwing a couple of his picks, he clearly was throwing the ball too low, and his decision-making was questionable.
--RB Ricky Williams gained 115 yards on 27 carries with a 1-yard touchdown, but he threw a costly interception to kill a first-quarter drive on the 3-yard line. Williams has gained 100 or more yards in three straight games for the first time since 2003 when he did it against Baltimore, Washington and Dallas. Williams is now 1-for-3 lifetime as a passer, completing a 34-yarder in 2000 against the Dolphins while he was still with the Saints.
--FB Lousaka Polite had a career-high 22 yards on three carries. He also converted a fourth-and-1 that led to a touchdown by Ricky Williams. Polite is 9-of-9 on third- or fourth-and-1 situations this year with five of those drives resulting in touchdowns.
--WR Ted Ginn Jr. was a non-factor in both the passing offense and special teams. He averaged just 18.8 yards on four kick returns while catching two passes for 18 yards.
--WR Greg Camarillo had two balls thrown in his direction but didn't have a reception for the first time this season.
--TE Anthony Fasano broke out of a season-long slump with season highs of five catches and 74 receiving yards, including an 18-yarder.
--SS Yeremiah Bell had a team-high 13 tackles with his first interception of the season and second of his career, but he sustained what is believed to be a minor thumb injury.
--OLB Joey Porter notched 2 1/2 sacks of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, giving him 6 1/2 sacks this season. He is the only NFL player with at least five sacks every season since 2000. He has 4 1/2 sacks in his last two games (Carolina).
--DE Tony McDaniel, helping to pick up the slack left by the season-ending quad injury to NT Jason Ferguson, had 1 1/2 sacks of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to equal his four-year career total. He also had two quarterback hurries. Coach Tony Sparano said Monday that he needs to get McDaniel in the game more often.
--WR Brian Hartline continued to show his big-play ability in his first season with an excellent catch of a 4-yard TD pass from QB Chad Henne. His other TD catch this season also came against Buffalo in Miami's early-season victory. Hartline also showed veteran-like savvy when he caught a short pass, fell to the turf and got up before he was touched for a 20-yard gain to set up a 1-yard TD run by Ricky Williams. Hartline basically accounted for both of Miami's touchdowns Sunday.
--DE Ryan Baker, an undrafted rookie out of Purdue, got into his first NFL game Sunday for nine snaps. He drew praise from coach Tony Sparano for his half a sack of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, two tackles and a quarterback hurry.
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