AFC East: Patriots-Dolphins 120609

Davone Bess: the best WR you don't know

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
5:50
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David Butler II/US PresswireMiami receiver Davone Bess has exceeded expectations and leads the Dolphins in receptions this season.
If you're a Miami Dolphins fan who has been privy to Davone Bess for the past two seasons, play along for the next few minutes.

Chances are the rest of the country doesn't know much about him.

There are several reasons casual observers probably haven't heard about Bess. He played college ball 2,400 miles from the mainland. His gaudy receiving stats were dismissed as the product of a gimmicky system. Nobody drafted him. He made it to the NFL with a run-oriented team. He doesn't make the sort of plays that get spliced into highlight reels.

Still, Bess has emerged as one of the NFL's most trustworthy targets, a high-percentage receiver the Dolphins seek when it matters most.

"Unless you're really watching football, you probably wouldn't know about Davone," said Colt Brennan, his quarterback at Hawaii.

"When I think about Davone, I think he's the next big receiver you're going to hear about. You haven't heard about him yet, but he's working his way up to somebody who's going to be a big name in your mind for years to come."

Bess had a breakout performance Sunday, helping the Dolphins pull off a ginormous 22-21 comeback victory over the New England Patriots in Land Shark Stadium.

On an afternoon the Dolphins turned quarterback Chad Henne loose, Bess caught 10 passes for 117 yards -- both personal bests -- and his first touchdown of the year.

All the more impressive was the Patriots at times were double-covering Bess, a tactic Dolphins coach Tony Sparano noticed toward the end of their first game against the Patriots in Week 9.

"I think that there was clear emphasis on the Patriots' part to try to take Davone away," Sparano said.

That's right. Bess has gone from undrafted to a double-cover danger.

"In my eyes, the sky's always the limit," Bess said Monday. "It was devastating not getting drafted, but a year later now I'm actually not surprised how much success has come my way because I've worked hard my whole career to make it to this point.

"This is only the beginning of it. I still have a long way to go. I still have to learn and get better and better each week."

Bess leads the Dolphins with 59 receptions for 548 yards. He has almost twice as many catches as the next-busiest teammate, Greg Camarillo, and more than twice as many as Ted Ginn, the ninth overall pick in the 2007 draft.

Bess does most of his damage underneath. While dizzying haymakers might garner the most attention, Bess delivers a succession of body blows that often get overlooked but can be just as effective.

"He can separate from any defender, and it's tough to cover him," Henne said. "Last time we played the Patriots, [Bill] Belichick was on the sideline, yelling 'Why aren’t we pressing Davone?' He's a tough guy to press because he can beat you lateral, and he can beat you vertical, too."

Bess and Patriots slot receiver extraordinaire Wes Welker went into Sunday with the NFL's shortest pass lengths. The ball traveled an average of only 5.2 yards to reach Welker and 5.5 yards to reach Bess. Those long handoffs emphasize their abilities to get yards after the catch.

"Bess has great short-area quickness, much like Welker, but not a home-run guy or a bomb threat," Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson said. "Bess has impressive body control and very solid hands. He catches the ball away from his body and is quick to turn upfield after securing the football.

"He kills linebacker coverage that he sometimes gets in the slot, but he also is put together pretty well and can outmuscle a lot of smaller nickel cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage. In the slot, he is a real handful when given a two-way go and has a very good feel for coverages and how to present himself open to his quarterback."

No wonder, then, that Bess is such an attractive option when it matters most.

He ranks second in the NFL in third-down receptions. Bess has 29 catches on third down (two behind New York Giants receiver Steve Smith), with 23 of them moving the chains (one behind Smith for the league lead).

"He's never gotten the credit he's deserved, but he's gone out there and done it," said Brennan, a backup quarterback with the Washington Redskins. "He's a true football player and should be an inspiration to a lot of people out there."

Bess and Brennan were kindred spirits from the moment they met at Hawaii. Both vividly recall their first meeting in the summer of 2005, when they had a heart-to-heart talk on Bess' front porch.

"There was a connection of me and him going through a lot and wanting to prove a lot, to defy the odds," Brennan said. "We said 'Why not shoot for the stars? Why not shoot for something great?'"

Brennan arrived in Hawaii with considerable baggage. He left Colorado under a black cloud. He had been convicted of first-degree criminal trespass and second-degree burglary for entering a female student's room uninvited. He served seven days in jail, was put on four years' probation and kicked off the team.

Bess was a reclamation project, too. He had signed with Oregon State, but two weeks before leaving his hometown of Oakland for Corvallis, he was sentenced to 15 months in a juvenile facility as an accessory for receiving stolen goods.

"Our situations were totally two different scenarios, but we both had the finger pointed to us without the proper evidence," Bess told ESPN.com while still at Hawaii in November 2006. "We both were pretty much taking life for granted. We couldn't be stopped. Everything was going so good for us. And then all of a sudden, bam! That's a reality check.

"Now you have no choice but to mature and man up, take it and learn from it, grow from it and tell others your situation."

Brennan and Bess lit up the sky in Honolulu. Brennan became a Heisman Trophy candidate in June Jones' prolific run-and-shoot system that threw first and asked questions later. Brennan broke 18 NCAA, 17 Western Athletic Conference and 41 school records.

Bess was instrumental. In his three years at Hawaii, he amassed 293 receptions for 3,610 yards and 41 touchdowns.

"I've heard stories of receivers grabbing quarterbacks and saying 'Hey, I'm going to be open this play,'" Brennan said. "When I look back, I never remember Davone in three years telling me to throw him the ball this time. He just ran his route and did his job."

Hawaii's offense, rejected by most NFL scouts as a collegiate contrivance, propelled it to a No. 10 ranking, the last undefeated record in Division I-A and a berth in the Sugar Bowl. When Georgia trounced Hawaii, all of the skepticism around Brennan and Hawaii's offense seemed founded after all.

"We all got grouped together," Brennan said, "and ever since we lost that Georgia game we all got, in some weird way, flagged. 'Maybe they're not as good as they are on paper.' Because of that it totally killed us as far as getting an opportunity.

"Lucky for Davone, he had been through so much already, going through the bottom up was easy."

Bess, listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, was deemed too short and too slow to warrant a draft pick. A few NFL teams, knowing he was worth a look, jockeyed for his services after he was passed over. The Dolphins, coming off a 1-15 season, sold him on the chance to play right away.

As a rookie, Bess caught 54 passes -- two behind Ginn for the team lead -- for 554 yards and a touchdown.

A year later, he already has more receptions and almost as many yards with four games to play.

Bess isn't a highlight-reel staple or a must-start in your fantasy football league, but attentive football fans recognize him as one of the most important players on a team that's in the playoff hunt.

Video: AFC East Huddle

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
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ESPN's John Clayton takes his weekly spin around the AFC East and touches on a variety of subjects, from the New England Patriots second-half woes to what the New York Jets will do at running back in 2010. Check the myriad tags below for an idea of the ground Clayton covers.

Did stress of new baby affect Brady's play?

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
11:10
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Maybe this is why Tom Brady was having so much trouble in the second half on the road.

And I'm not joking. I wish I would have explored this possibility sooner.


Kevin Mazur/Getty ImagesTom Brady and Gisele Bundchen reportedly welcomed a son sometime this week.
People magazine has reported Brady's wife, superdupermodel Gisele Bundchen, has delivered a son. People didn't provide details of the birth, but it apparently happened since Sunday's loss to the Miami Dolphins in Land Shark Stadium.

It's not ridiculous to consider the stress of impending fatherhood was weighing on Brady, probably not in September, but in recent weeks, when he has been anything but Tom Terrific in the second halves of road games. In retrospect, he might have been more preoccupied with getting back home than with the task at hand.

Pshaw, you say. Tom Brady is a gamer. He wouldn't let something like that affect him.

Six years ago, I covered the Buffalo Sabres when captain Chris Drury -- one of the greatest competitors and clutch performers in any sport -- dealt with considerable anxiety while he wife was expecting.

Here's what I wrote after his daughter was born and the pressure evaporated:

Drury's stress level steadily grew, especially when the Sabres went on the road.

He had nightmares about missing the delivery. A member of the training staff kept Drury's cell phone on the bench during games just in case the moment arrived. There was a false alarm. There was a missed flight for a road game. There were practice interruptions.

Drury certainly didn't seem like himself on the ice. He continued to play hard, but he wasn't scoring goals.

Drury, a perennial 20-goal scorer from Boston University, went 19 games without a goal before the birth of his daughter. He scored the first game after she arrived.

"There is a personal weight off," Drury told me that night. "If you asked me a week or two weeks ago I would have said, 'I feel fine.' But the fact was it was on my mind a lot."

These Patriots are not those Patriots

December, 8, 2009
12/08/09
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Richard Seymour's not walking through that door, fans. Rodney Harrison's not walking through that door, and Tedy Bruschi is not walking through that door.

This year's New England Patriots can't swaddle themselves in banners or wait for recent ghosts to reappear and save them from their suddenly obvious shortcomings. The players in the locker room will have to get it done on their own.

No wonder Patriots coach Bill Belichick bristled over the summer when Randy Moss and Wes Welker proclaimed this year's offense could be more dominant than it was in 2007.

That was then, and this is now. The Patriots are 7-5, losers of two in a row for the first time since 2006 and three out of four for the first time since 2002. They're one game ahead of the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.

"What Bill tries to get across to us is, we need to stop living in the past," Maroney said.

We ain't the '07 team. We ain't the '03 team. We ain't the '01 team. We're the '09 team. We got to play with what we have here and make a name for ourselves and stop living like 'Oh, we're the championship-caliber team.'"

One of the disconcerting trends that has developed for the Patriots has been their inability to score in the final two minutes of a half, illustrating the combination of their offensive and defensive woes.

The Patriots haven't scored inside the final two minutes over their past four games, getting outscored 27-0. The only game they won in that stretch was their blowout of the New York Jets in Week 11.

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

December, 8, 2009
12/08/09
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

1. Bill Belichick, Patriots coach: His refusal to kick on fourth down might've cost the Patriots a second game. He declined to take three points Sunday, opting to go for it from the Dolphins' 6-yard line in the second quarter. The Dolphins stopped them and went on to win the game by a point.

2. Patriots' pass defense: The Dolphins were known as a run-dominant team entering Sunday, but against the Patriots, quarterback Chad Henne and receiver Davone Bess had career days. The Dolphins, who gave up one sack on 53 pass plays, even threw out of their end zone, showing the Patriots' defense no respect.

3. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills quarterback: He put together a couple of nice games and seemed to have developed chemistry with Terrell Owens. But on Thursday night, Fitzpatrick completed nine of his 23 attempts for 98 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He had a 34.3 passer rating. The Jets sacked him three times, reducing the Bills to 71 net passing yards.

[+] EnlargeDavone Bess
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeDavone Bess set single-game career highs in catches and receiving yards against the Pats.
Rising

1. Davone Bess, Dolphins receiver: The undrafted sophomore from Hawaii had the greatest game of his overlooked career. He caught 10 passes for 117 yards -- both personal bests -- and a touchdown in Sunday's big victory over the Patriots.

2. Thomas Jones, Jets running back: While most folks fixated on the Jets' erratic campaign and the exploits of rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, Jones quietly surpassed 1,000 yards Thursday. Jones notched his sixth 100-yard game and is the driving force behind the NFL's best ground attack despite the loss of Leon Washington.

3. Dan Carpenter, Dolphins kicker: Another undrafted find last year for the Dolphins, he made a 41-yard field goal with 62 seconds remaining to beat the Patriots. Carpenter has missed only one try all season, and is tied with Ryan Longwell as the most accurate kicker at 95 percent.

Patriot Nation flag flying upside down

December, 7, 2009
12/07/09
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To put it bluntly, the New England Patriots don't play like champions anymore.

ESPN's team of the decade, coach of the decade and player of the decade apparently won't sprint through the finish line because based on their past four games, they just don't have it anymore.

Here is what ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss wrote after watching the Patriots lose 22-21 to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday in Land Shark Stadium.

When the Patriots have a chance to bury the opposition, they can't call on a killer instinct, and when they take an opponent's best shot they don't consistently respond in kind. Once tough as nails and counted on to respond favorably in critical situations, the Patriots now crumble.

Elsewhere around the New England-based Webs:

Did Belichick lose again on fourth down?

December, 7, 2009
12/07/09
7:49
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MIAMI -- So what's with Bill Belichick's fourth-down fetish?

Three-card monte games have had better payoffs.

The New England Patriots head coach seems to be making it a point to go for it on fourth down to prove some sort of point, but the results this year have been destructive.

Belichick on Sunday squandered three points in a game that was decided by one because he opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Miami Dolphins' 6-yard line and failed to convert late in the second quarter.

The Dolphins crammed a Sammy Morris run and took over the ball on downs. They eventually won 22-21 in Land Shark Stadium and made a mess of the AFC East standings.

"Bad football can also be coaching decisions," NBC Sports analyst Tony Dungy said. "They had the chance to kick a field goal. They went for it on fourth down. Taking points when it's going to be a tight game is the way to go. I would have kicked the field goal, knowing it's going to be a low-scoring game."

The Patriots have gone for it on fourth down 16 times this year, tied for sixth in the NFL. They've converted eight.

All of clubs that have gone for it more often are lousy -- Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins -- and often need to convert fourth downs late in a game out of desperation. Those teams have only three more wins combined than the Patriots.

So logic would dictate the Patriots are going for it on fourth down unnecessarily compared to other good teams.

A field goal against the Dolphins would have made the difference, although you never can be sure what the butterfly effect would have been.

The Patriots' most infamous fourth-down case, of course, is when Belichick decided to go for it on fourth down from his own 28-yard line with 2:08 to go against the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots, ahead by six points, failed to pick up the 2 yards and handed Peyton Manning possession on the doorstep.

Has Belichick tried to prove a point since then? Counting that failed attempt, he has run an offensive play on fourth down six times in the past four games. The Patriots converted three of them, which is their season average.

And that's way off their recent success rate.

The Patriots converted 77.3 of their fourth downs last year. Their 22 attempts were fourth in the NFL.

They converted 71.4 percent in 2007. Their 15 attempts were tied for sixth.

Henne's rebound brings a new December

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
9:28
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Doug Benc/Getty Images Chad Henne may have saved Miami's playoff hopes Sunday when he put together a 10-play drive to put the Dolphins in field-goal range in Miami's 22-21 win over New England.
MIAMI -- A week ago, with the game on the line, Chad Henne choked. Multiple times.

The Miami Dolphins quarterback threw three interceptions over the final 2 minutes, 43 seconds of an odious defeat to the Buffalo Bills. The loss was poison to the Dolphins' playoff hopes and made Henne seem more like a neophyte than any sort of future star.

Henne found himself in another clutch moment Sunday afternoon. The Dolphins, down by two points in the fourth quarter, kept getting the ball punted back at them. Their defense was stifling Tom Brady, but everybody knew the New England Patriots were destined to win because they don't lose two in a row and they were chosen, by gosh, to win the division and this was going to be a game they won. Pure and simple. That's the script.

So what that Brady had thrown an interception in the end zone instead of another touchdown pass that would have put the game almost out of reach with 9:45 to play?

The Dolphins offense was not to be feared. Henne sprayed the ball hither and yon. First possession after the interception: Three incompletions and a punt. Next possession: Four incompletions on seven plays and a failed fourth-down conversion.

Time evaporated in Land Shark Stadium. The Patriots were getting closer and closer to a victory that would propel them toward the division title and exterminate the hopes of the Dolphins.

With their season in the balance and one last chance to put his team within striking distance of the AFC East leaders, Henne got it together.

"Our backs were against the wall," Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline said. "It was now or never. That is kind of how we felt the whole game. I don't know if it translated well on television, but this game was do or die."

Henne put together a 10-play drive to put the Dolphins in field-goal range and run out most of the clock, setting up Dan Carpenter's 41-yard kick to beat the dumbfounded Patriots 22-21.

The exhilarating finish tightens the AFC East standings. Had the Patriots won -- as everyone assumed -- they would be two games ahead of the second-place New York Jets and three ahead of the Dolphins with four to play.

Instead, the Dolphins and Jets are 6-6, one teensy game behind the Patriots.

"It's critical," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "We knew that this was going to be a big football game to give ourselves a chance to continue to play meaningful games. Winning that football game out there today against a team like that was important in a lot of ways.

"Our mettle got tested last week, mine, theirs. We didn't do a good enough job. We put our minds to it, and every guy in that room committed to one week of hard work.

"This thing got done. It's a tremendous win for us and puts us right back in this thing."

Henne completed 29 of 52 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. The last time he threw that many passes was at practice, because he hadn't recorded 50 attempts in a game since his freshman year at Michigan.

On the winning drive, he went 3 of 5 for 30 yards, including a dart to Greg Camarillo to covert a crucial fourth down.

"If you want to, we can throw all day," Henne said. "I love it. Put it in my hands. Put pressure situations upon me. I really thrive on those."

Sure didn't seem that way a week ago against the Bills, when Henne was outplayed in crunch time by journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.

On Sunday, he outshined fellow Michigan alum Brady, who had a monster first half but once again crumbled when it mattered most.

Brady's first 15 attempts: 93.3 percent completed for 277 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions.

Brady's last seven attempts: one completion for 11 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions.

The Patriots failed to exploit the NFL's worst fourth-quarter defense. The Dolphins entered the game having allowed a franchise-record 134 points in the fourth quarter. And that was with five games left on the schedule.

"We stopped them, and we were going against the top receivers," Dolphins rookie cornerback Vontae Davis said. "You got to grow up sometime, and today was one of those games to grow up."

The Dolphins' offense needed to capitalize badly on the defense's newfound verve.

"You could see it in everybody's eyes," receiver Davone Bess said of the Dolphins' huddle before they began their final drive. Bess recorded career-highs with 10 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. "Everybody was determined, and they wanted it. We all wanted it."

With 3:44 to play, the Dolphins took over on their 26-yard line. Henne completed two passes in a row for the first time since the second quarter.

No wonder many of the fans behind the Dolphins bench had their backs to the game and were craning their necks to catch a glimpse of part-owner Jennifer Lopez in a luxury box. This year's trends indicated the Dolphins were doomed, just like they were at Buffalo.

Then, on third-and-6 from the Patriots' 41 with 2:15 remaining, fullback Lousaka Polite ran a pattern in the flat and found himself wide open. He turned it upfield. Nobody near him.

And Henne overthrew him.

"If he's that wide open, I need to hit him," Henne said. "After that, you kind of just erase it from your mind. If you're worried about that play, you're not going to covert the fourth down."

Henne, sacked once on 53 pass plays thanks to a fabulous afternoon for the offensive line, rolled right. Camarillo made his break and gained slight separation on Patriots cornerback Darius Butler. Henne located his target and drilled him.

"It was something out of a movie, man," Dolphins left guard Justin Smiley said. "Every football movie that you see, it comes down to that fourth-and-whatever, and you've got to make the play to win the game or give yourself a chance to win the game."

Camarillo made the first-down catch at the Patriots' 28-yard line, well within Carpenter's range. The Dolphins ran three running plays to drain some clock and the Patriots of their timeouts.

Carpenter made the kick, and that was that.

December looks a whole bunch different now than it did Sunday morning -- for the Patriots, the Dolphins, the Jets and Henne.

"The kid," said Dolphins outside linebacker Jason Taylor said, "grows up more and more every day."

Check remaining AFC East schedules

December, 6, 2009
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MIAMI -- Given all the doings that have transpired in the past seven days, the AFC East is open for business again.

The Miami Dolphins made the division standings so much more intriguing Sunday with a 22-21 victory over the New England Patriots in Land Shark Stadium.

The Patriots, who once seemed to be pulling away from the pack, have lost twice in a row and three out of four. The New York Jets have won two in a row, and the Dolphins are right there at .500 with them, one game out of first place.

Good time to take a look at each team's remaining schedule. Each team has two home and two road games left.

I've listed them in order of where they are in the standings (the Dolphins would hold the tiebreaker over the Jets), but they also seem to be ranked from easiest to hardest.

Patriots (7-5): Carolina Panthers; at Buffalo Bills; Jacksonville Jaguars; at Houston Texans.

Dolphins (6-6): at Jaguars; at Tennessee Titans; Texans; Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jets (6-6): at Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Atlanta Falcons; at Indianapolis Colts; Cincinnati Bengals.

In second half, Brady a road woe-rrior

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
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MIAMI -- Through five games, it's difficult to shrug off these stats as mere happenstance.

AP Photo/Lynne SladkyTom Brady's second-half performance against the Dolphins was dismal.
Tom Brady's struggles in the second half of road games are a full-fledged trend, and a disconcerting one if you're a New England Patriots fan.

The Miami Dolphins made sure the Patriots remained winless in true road games, stunning them, 22-21, in Land Shark Stadium. Brady was nearly perfect through two quarters, but came up small again in the second half.

If the Patriots make the playoffs -- yes, I meant to type "if" -- and harbor any aspirations to last beyond a game or two, then they will need to beat good teams on the road once they get into the postseason.

That's the situation they're in, and Brady's performances on the road are a significant reason why.

Brady started the game ablaze, driving the Patriots to touchdowns on each of their first two drives. He went into halftime 13 of 14 for 196 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.

In the second half, he completed six of his 15 attempts for 156 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

In New England's five true road games -- not counting the game they played in London against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Brady has completed 52.9 percent of his attempts for 530 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions for a 60.0 passer rating.

"I think we've played pretty inconsistent," Brady said. "We have some good drives, and then we have some bad drives. Everyone is trying to put their finger on it and really figure it out. It's frustrating for all of us.

"We certainly think when we go out there we have a lot of confidence that we're going to get the ball in the end zone. We had some good chances today inside the 5-yard line, the 10-yard line, and we get no points. That's the frustrating part for all of us."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Dolphins' 6-yard line rather than kick a field goal right before halftime. The Dolphins stopped them. Brady threw an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter.

Rapid Reaction: Dolphins 22, Patriots 21

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
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MIAMI -- Over the summer, Joey Porter declared the road to the AFC East still went through Miami.

The Dolphins, after all, were the defending champs even though everybody was predicting the New England Patriots, with Tom Brady back at the helm, would regain their standing as the team to beat.

On Sunday, the Patriots came through Miami.

Consider it symbolic, then, that the Patriots went into Land Shark Stadium with the chance to essentially end the Dolphins' season but couldn't. In losing a 22-21 thriller, the Patriots not only failed to put away a divisional opponent, they also gave the Dolphins new playoff hope.

Dan Carpenter kicked a 41-yard field goal with 1:02 left to make matters a whole lot more interesting in the AFC East.

The Patriots lost two in a row for the first time since November 2006 and have lost three out of their past four games. They are 7-5, a single game ahead of the Dolphins and the New York Jets with four to play.

Tom Brady seemed to bounce back from Monday night's atrocity in New Orleans with a sizzling first half. Then, on second-and-goal from the Dolphins' 5, he threw an interception. He tried to force a ball to Randy Moss in the end zone with 9:39 to play, but rookie cornerback Vontae Davis snagged it.

Rather than pad their lead, it remained at two points. The Dolphins had three cracks to get into field-goal range, and finally did.

Chad Henne completed 29 of 52 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

Dolphins receiver Davone Bess had a career day with 10 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. Brian Hartline scored Miami's other touchdown.

The Patriots scored touchdowns on each of their first two possessions and left three points on the field late in the second quarter, when Bill Belichick decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Dolphins' 6-yard line.

Halftime observations from Pats-Fins

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
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MIAMI -- Is it possible an unsuccessful fourth-down decision could cost the New England Patriots another game?

They appeared to be in command of Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins in Land Shark Stadium, scoring touchdowns on each of their first two drives and marching for another score late in the second quarter.

Rather than kick the field goal for a 17-7 lead, Patriots coach Bill Belichick decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Dolphins' 6-yard line. Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter stuffed running back Sammy Morris for no gain -- and no points.

The Dolphins responded with an 11-play, 83-yard drive that ended with a Dan Carpenter field goal to trim the Patriots' lead to four points at intermission.

The Patriots haven't lost two games in a row since November of 2006. But if the Dolphins can surprise them in the second half and win, then the Patriots will have not only lost two in a row, but also three out of their past four.

And the Patriots still would be looking for their first true road victory of the year with two left, at Buffalo in two weeks and at Houston in the regular-season finale.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has looked sharp despite the injured finger that caused a stir before the game. Brady has one incompletion in 14 attempts, 196 yards and a touchdown. He connected with Randy Moss for 58 yards on a fake reverse to open scoring and hit Wes Welker for 58 yards up the seam during the possession that ended in the failed fourth-down play.

On the long ball to Welker, Dolphins outside linebacker Jason Taylor suffered a right shoulder injury. His return has been categorized as "questionable," but he appeared to be in agony when he went back to the Dolphins' locker room.

Chad Henne has been testing the Patriots' secondary. Ricky Williams went into Sunday with three straight 100-yard rushing games, but the Dolphins seem intent on winning through the air after seeing what Drew Brees did Monday night.

Williams has rushed seven times for 33 yards, but Henne has thrown 25 times, completing 18 for 186 yards and a touchdown. He threw an interception when he didn't notice Brandon Meriweather playing deep center field and laid out a pass for Davone Bess.

Brady poking the Dolphins

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
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MIAMI -- Finger, schminger.

Brady
Despite the revelation New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was dealing with an injured finger, he hasn't looked any worse for wear two possessions into Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins in Land Shark Stadium.

The Patriots already are ahead 14-0 one play into the second quarter. Brady has thrown only one incompletion on his first nine attempts. He has 112 yards, with 58 of them coming on a bomb to Randy Moss for the first touchdown.

On the play, Brady absorbed a shot from Dolphins end Randy Starks and trotted off the field to be examined. A press box announcement said Brady injured his arm. He didn't miss a play.

Arm, schmarm.

Fins' D historically bad in fourth quarter

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
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MIAMI -- You can tell by watching the games the Miami Dolphins' defense is feeble in the fourth quarter.

When you examine the numbers, you see just how pathetic they have been. The Dolphins have surrendered 134 points in the fourth quarter. That's through 11 games. That's already a franchise record for an entire season.

Palm Beach Post reporter Brian Biggane takes a look at Miami's fourth-quarter problems heading into Sunday's game against the New England Patriots in Land Shark Stadium.

The Dolphins are outscoring opponents 182-141 through the first three quarters. Think about that for a moment. They have allowed only seven more points in the first 45 minutes of a game than they have the final 15.

"Wow," inside linebacker Akin Ayodele replies when Biggane shares the stark stats. "We play three quarters of the game well and we have to realize the fourth quarter is a dire-need situation. The speed of the game is faster. I don't care what people say. Games are won and lost in the fourth quarter."

Greetings from Land Shark Stadium

December, 6, 2009
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MIAMI -- After a couple days of rain and a chilly night that felt more like Delaware than South Florida, the weather is gorgeous about 90 minutes before Sunday's kickoff in Land Shark Stadium.

The field is awash in sunlight. The forecasted high temperature is 76 degrees.

Big game between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins. I still think the Patriots are the class of the division by a significant margin, but if the Dolphins can score an upset, then they and the New York Jets will be only one game behind the Patriots with four to play.

Buzz in the press box is about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's finger. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the injury, announced Friday by the Patriots, isn't bad enough to keep Brady from starting.

But there's skepticism over the injury, especially with the way Monday night's game in New Orleans unfolded. Brady threw two interceptions and was pulled from the game with 5:26 to play. His removal was Bill Belichick throwing in the white towel, but now folks are speculating Brady might've been hurt back then.

The entire inactive list for each team:

New England Patriots

Miami Dolphins

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