KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Dan Dierdorf, Armen Keteyian
SERIES: The Dolphins lead the all-time series lead, 46-31. But the Patriots have won three consecutive games against Miami, including a sweep in 2003 that played a large role in the Dolphins' failure to reach the postseason despite a 10-6 record.
2004 RANKINGS: Dolphins: offense 32nd (32nd rush, 24th pass); defense 3rd (27th rush, 1st pass). Patriots: offense 3rd (11th rush, 5th pass); defense 13th (22nd rush, 9th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: For the Patriots to win their NFL-record 19th consecutive game, the most important factor is avoiding turnovers. The Dolphins' anemic offense will struggle to put together lengthy drives, so New England doesn't want to do Miami any favors. The Dolphins are a league-worst minus-10 in turnover margin. QB Jay Fiedler is averaging an interception once every 12 passes and will be facing an aggressive Patriots defense that will attack Fielder and his porous offensive line with a variety of looks and blitzes. Offensively, the Patriots will rely more heavily on RB Corey Dillon because QB Tom Brady is likely to be without WRs Deion Branch (knee) and Troy Brown (arm) while the Dolphins defense is allowing 135 rushing yards per game.
FAST FACTS: Dolphins: Off to their worst start since their inaugural season in 1966. ... Lead the series 46-31, but have lost the past three meetings. Patriots: TE Daniel Graham has a touchdown reception in four consecutive games, one shy of the team record held by two others. ... CB Ty Law needs one interception to tie Raymond Clayborn's (36) all-time team record.
- MLB Zach Thomas missed at least a portion of 11-on-11 drills Thursday because
of a sore right shoulder, which he injured in last Sunday's 17-9 loss to the
New York Jets. Thomas remains listed as probable and should start Sunday at
- CB Jimmy Wyrick was added to Miami's injury report Thursday as probable
because of a hamstring ailment. Wyrick participated in all of practice Thursday
and appears likely to play on special teams and in a reserve role as a defensive
back Sunday against New England.
- RT John St. Clair missed his second consecutive practice Thursday and remains
out for Sunday's game at New England. St. Clair suffered a sprained right
knee and ankle in last Sunday's 17-9 loss to the New York Jets.
- DT Tim Bowens missed his second practice Thursday and remains doubtful for
Sunday's game at New England. Bowens, whose starting spot will be taken by
Jeff Zgonina, hasn't played this season because of a herniated disc in his
- RB Travis Minor missed his second practice session of the week Thursday
and remains out for Sunday's game at New England because of a sprained ankle.
The Dolphins hope Minor may be able to return in at least a limited capacity
Oct. 17 at Buffalo.
- LB Tony Bua practiced Thursday and may be ready to return in a special teams role Sunday at New England. Bua has missed the past two games because of a strained hamstring.
- LB Tedy Bruschi has been a full-time starter since 1999, his fourth year
in the league. Since then, he's developed a reputation as a big-time playmaker
with nine interceptions, 38 pass breakups, nine forced fumbles, three fumble
recoveries and four defensive touchdowns. Of course, that touchdown total
doesn't include the one Richard Seymour scored last week when he picked up
a fumble forced by Bruschi and ran 68 yards for a touchdown. In three games
this season, Bruschi has intercepted Peyton Manning at the goal line, forced
that aforementioned fumble in Buffalo and notched a pair of sacks. "I
think with some players you can't even find the right word or the right identification,
but you just know they are playmakers," head coach Bill Belichick said.
"They have an instinct for the ball or an instinct for the situation.
They just seem to make the right decision at the right time. Tedy is one of
- RB Corey Dillon has given the Patriots an improved running game and a back
that must be game planned for. He is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 108
yards per game so far this season. "He definitely gives them balance,"
Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas said, "and that is something that they
haven't had. They tried to run it, but they didn't have a running game like
they have now. That was a big pickup in the offseason."
- WR David Givens, who leads the Patriots in receptions (14) and yards (286)
could very well be Tom Brady's go-to receiver against the Dolphins. Givens
is easily the Patriots most physical receiver and is the most equipped to
handle the physical style with which Miami's corners play. "David's a
tremendous player," Brady said. "He's a great guy to have out there.
He's strong, tough, physical, smart and fast. He keeps getting better and
I'm lucky to have him out there." Givens was a 2002 seventh-round pick.
- WR P.K. Sam could get his first real opportunity to catch a pass this week
thanks to injuries that will likely keep Deion Branch (knee) and Troy Brown
(arm) out of action this week. Sam, who is the youngest player in the NFL,
is simply preparing without an expectations. "I just do what I have to
do and if I get to play, I get to play," Sam said. "I'm just waiting
for my time and learning from the veteran guys. I always feel ready."
Sam got his feet wet last week by contributing on special teams and running
a handful of routes without seeing a pass thrown his way. "It got rid
of what little jitters I had," he said.
- DT Vince Wilfork's playing style or alleged tactic have come under fire in Buffalo where Bills offensive lineman Jonas Jennings believes Wilfork purposely blindsided him in the head, causing a concussion that forced Jennings from the game. Bills offensive lineman Chris Villarrial also believes that Wilfork purposely kicked him when he was on the ground. Neither play drew a flag. Wilfork was not available for comment, but Belichick had this to say regarding Jennings' claim. "He ran into him. That's the way I saw it. I'm sure someone else will look at it and make a determination."
INSIDE THE CAMPS
There are easier opponents to face in an NFL debut. But Vernon Carey's first
NFL start will come against a defending Super Bowl champion hoping to set a
league record with its 19th consecutive victory.
Carey is getting the nod at right guard Sunday at New England in place of John
St. Clair, who suffered a sprained right ankle and right knee in last Sunday's
17-9 loss to the New York Jets. Carey's only action this season came when he
replaced an injured St. Clair in the fourth quarter of a season-opening loss
"All I can do is prepare and be ready," Carey said. "That's
what I'm doing. I'm spending extra time with (offensive line coach Tony) Wise
and all the coaches and just getting ready. I'll be prepared."
A 2004 first-round draft choice from the University of Miami, Carey failed to beat out St. Clair for a starting position during the preseason. Dolphins coaches also believe Carey was best suited for right tackle, which is why they only experimented with him at right guard for a week in training camp before returning him behind St. Clair.
Carey was declared inactive for the past two games, which raised questions
about whether he is becoming a draft bust. Amplifying the criticism is the fact
Carey was raised in Miami and has oodles of friends in the area quizzing him
about the situation.
"It's part of the sport," Carey said. "Writers are going to write. You can't really say anything. I didn't read it, but I'm from here and people were always asking me what's going on. My thing is to get ready for this week and not worry about that stuff."
Think of the Patriots special teams and names like Adam Vinatieri, Bethel Johnson, Troy Brown and Larry Izzo come to mind - front line players who help the unit excel. Heck, the Patriots have won games, and even championships, because of their special teams play. That's why Sunday's woeful performance in the kicking game has Bill Belichick and special teams coordinator Brad Seely back at the drawing board.
The Patriots allowed a 34-yard run by the Bills punter for a first down, a
98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, committed two penalties on a punt that
cost them a chance to put more points on the board at the end of the first half
and muffed a punt for the second time in three games.
With Brown, who has missed almost all of two games, and Kevin Faulk out of action, catching punts has been a problem. Deion Branch fumbled one away against the Colts and Tyrone Poole misplayed one against the Bills that ended up rolling out of bounds at the Patriots 3.
But every other area of the kicking game was also a problem last week with
the exception of the two specialists, Vinatieri and punter Josh Miller, who
have both performed well. Even Johnson, who led the AFC in kickoff return average
last year with a 28.2-yards per return mark, has struggled this year, averaging
only 22.6 yards per return.
"I know we're better than that," said Izzo, the Patriots special
teams captain and two-time Pro Bowler. "We have better players in here
and we'll do what we have to do to get better. We can all find something to
improve on and hopefully everybody takes last week's poor performance personally."
Safety Shawn Mayer must be taking it personally. He missed an open field tackle that allowed Terrance McGee to run 98 yards for a touchdown and then lost his job two days later. Belichick and Seely elected to call on experienced special teams ace Je'Rod Cherry to replace him. Cherry was a standout special teamer for New England from 2001-2003, but couldn't stay on the field during training camp because of injuries, and was cut.
"He's experienced and familiar with how we do things here," Izzo
said. "I look forward to his contributions."
In his three seasons with New England, Cherry tallied 36 special teams tackles, good for third over that time behind Izzo (73) and Matt Chatham (48). He remained in Massachusetts working out on his own after being released..
"They told me to stick around because you never know what could happen
and things worked out," Cherry said. "I definitely know I can play
football and I still have it in me."
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