- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI -- It's too early in the season for doom and gloom.
I know the Miami Dolphins' pass defense offered the resistance of wet paper Monday night. I also know the Dolphins lost their eighth home game in nine tries.
But here is the most important lesson from Miami's 38-24 defeat to the New England Patriots: Chad Henne looked like a solid and confident NFL quarterback. That's enough reason for Dolphins fans to look forward to what's in store the rest of the 2011 season.
Henne threw for a career-high 416 yards, two touchdowns and was intercepted on the final play of the game. He also showed good mobility and rushed for 59 yards. He was Miami's leading rusher and passer.
The Catch-22 was Henne was only the second-best quarterback on the field. New England Patriots counterpart Tom Brady outdueled Henne with 517 passing yards and four touchdowns. Miami and New England combined for the most passing yards (906, including sack yardage) in NFL history.
Brady was amazing. Henne was great. But that's much better than expected from Miami's fourth-year quarterback.
Maybe it was one good game for Henne. Maybe it was a sign of things to come. That will be determined later.
But what we do know is Henne faced a red-hot Brady in front of a national audience on "Monday Night Football" and didn't blink. Henne kept fighting and making plays down to the end in a losing effort.
"Chad did a phenomenal job, man, and I'm so proud of him," Dolphins rookie center Mike Pouncey said. "They're putting the workload on Chad this year, because they drafted me and we had a shortened offseason. So Chad makes all the calls, and like I've been saying, he's our sole leader. He's really molded himself into a leader."
Full disclosure: I'm new to the AFC East. This was my first game in the division, but nearly all the reviews about Henne were not good.
The Dolphins entertained other quarterbacks to replace Henne this offseason. Miami fans booed Henne this summer before he threw his first pass. I entered Sun Life Stadium wondering whether I would see the erratic, turnover-prone quarterback I kept reading about.
But I didn't see any of that Monday night. Instead, Henne was poised, made strong throws and kept New England's defense on its toes for four quarters. He took some big hits and kept coming. He ran when he needed. He made the type of plays good starting quarterbacks make.
"I thought he was outstanding," Miami coach Tony Sparano said. "I thought the kid played a great game. That's the way he's been practicing. That's the way he's been playing."
Henne entered the season with more interceptions (33) than touchdowns (27). He had a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio against the Patriots. He also had a career passer rating of 75.3. He finished with a 93.6 passer rating Monday.
Miami's weapons showed up to play. No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall caught seven passes for 139 yards. Davone Bess caught five passes for 92 yards, and tight end Anthony Fasano caught five passes for 82 yards. Miami tailback Reggie Bush added 38 yards rushing, 56 yards receiving and one touchdown.
If Henne and Miami's offense -- which totaled 488 yards -- play this well every week, the Dolphins have a chance to win some games.
"It's not about my personal stats out there; it's all about the team and what we need to get accomplished and do to win games," Henne said. "Obviously you want to start off with the right start. But we're going to get back to the grind, keep going at it and keep improving."
Face it: Miami was playing against a heavyweight. Barring significant injuries, New England is going to the playoffs this season and should have a lot of say in which team eventually represents the AFC in the Super Bowl. On top of that, Brady is the best quarterback in the NFL.
The Dolphins are not on that level. They have a lot of problems to fix -- particularly on defense -- but they were competitive for about three quarters. Henne certainly isn't Brady, but he did very well sharing the same field with the future Hall of Famer.
That's tremendous progress from the past three years. Maybe Henne is turning the corner in Year 4.