NFL Nation: Patriots-Dolphins
|Doug Benc/Getty Images|
|Patriots receiver Randy Moss had his best outing of the season (eight catches, 125 yards, three touchdowns) in a win against the Dolphins Sunday.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Bell didn't know what Moss expected from them.
The New England Patriots emptied their backfield, lined up extra receivers and operated out of the shotgun. There's only so much a pass defense can do.
"When they spread out five wide, you can't double anybody," Bell said. "How do you do that?"
The Dolphins clearly didn't have any answers. Moss had been marginalized so often, but on Sunday he enjoyed his finest game of the season and one of the best of his career to help the Patriots defeat the Dolphins 48-28, tying the season series.
"It's the kind of stuff you dream up on video games," Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson said of Moss' performance: eight receptions, 125 yards, three touchdowns.
It was the sort of afternoon Moss grew accustomed to last year, while the Patriots obliterated records with Tom Brady at the controls.
Those explosive games became less common after Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener. Moss has walked off the field with 26 or fewer yards four times. He was kept out of the end zone six times in his first nine games.
"Today we had a great day," Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel said, "and I'm happy to be able to go out there and have some production with [Moss]. We've got to keep doing that and keep going to him and let him do what he does best, which is make plays."
Moss, feeling slighted the Dolphins didn't think he was enough of a threat to double-team him, thrived against single coverage.
With Cassel maturing to the point the Patriots can pick up their 2007 user's manual, the Patriots' offense seemed a lot like the one that almost went unbeaten with Brady.
"Any time I feel disrespected I want to go out there and make it happen," said Moss, who passed Cris Carter for third on the all-time receiving touchdowns list with 132. "I think they disrespected me today by really playing single coverage and really letting me have fun and do what I love to do and get in that end zone."
|Doug Benc/Getty Images|
|Randy Moss pulls in a one-handed catch over cornerback Jason Allen.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
The Patriots have taken a 24-21 lead in the third quarter at Dolphin Stadium on Moss' second touchdown reception, an 8-yard timing route in the back of the end zone with Allen defending.
It was the sixth lead change.
Two plays earlier, on a third-and-10 play, Matt Cassel absorbed a jarring hit before rifling a pass to Moss for a 15-yard gain even though Allen was flagged for defensive holding.
On Moss' first touchdown, he gave New England a 17-14 lead with 2:14 to go in the second quarter. Cassel threw a short pass to Moss, who made the catch, faked Allen to the ground and ran the rest of the way for a 25-yard score.
Moss has six receptions for 90 yards.Allen, the 16th-overall pick in 2006, has been used at both cornerback and safety this year. He entered Sunday with only one start.
MIAMI -- Chad Pennington never has been known for his feet.
That was Pennington's longest run in five years. He had a 10-yard gain against the Patriots in Week 16 of 2003.
His last touchdown run came against the Dolphins last year, when he was with the New York Jets.
The rushing TD was Pennington's seventh in his nine NFL seasons and only his second in the past four years.
Pennington was questionable last week with a foot injury.
The Miami Dolphins made the turnover sting.
Dolphins linebacker Matt Roth stripped Morris early in the second quarter. Cornerback Andre Goodman recovered the loose ball on Miami's 28-yard line to thwart what probably would have been a lead-padding drive for New England.
Miami drove 72 yards on seven plays for a touchdown. Chad Pennington scrambled in from 7 yards away to give Miami a 14-10 lead.
Keyshawn Johnson: Let's switch to the New England Patriots game. Is there a big difference in that rivalry of the Miami Dolphins, New England, and Pittsburgh-New England?
Joey Porter: Yeah, it's a big difference. But I still got hate from when I was at Pittsburgh.
Porter: Because I got cheated.
Johnson: Cheated in what?
Porter: In both of them AFC championship games.
Johnson: What did they do?
Porter: Come on, man. They've been videotaping for years, man. You cannot sit up there and honestly tell me if it wasn't working, why was he doing it so much? You're not going to sit up there and tell me if I'm a quarterback in my headset I know where the blitz is coming. I know where my hots and stuff is at before it happens. I know what play you're running on defense. All you got to do is be in the right position, just catch the ball.
Johnson: So you feel they were cheating. You don't feel they were just the better team?
Porter: What? No, no, no, no. Two times we could have blown them people out easily. They say, 'Oh, [Bill Belichick is] so smart. This is the best brain-storming coach.' Yeah, because he's cheating. He got caught.
If it wasn't so bad, why did you destroy the tape so fast? We want to see the tapes. When you get rid of evidence like that, there was something in it they didn't want everybody to see.
MIAMI -- All four AFC East clubs are kicking off at 1 p.m. Sunday, which will make scoreboard watching especially entertaining.
Of interest on the various injury reports, the Jets have scratched Mike Nugent, meaning Jay Feely, perhaps the best street free-agent pickup of the year, will remain their kicker for at least one more week.
There are no surprises in the Patriots-Dolphins game. Most notable is that defense end Richard Seymour and linebacker Tedy Bruschi will play. Both were questionable. Dolphins receiver Ernest Wilford is inactive. Again.
For the Bills, receiver Josh Reed is back after missing three games with an ankle injury.
Comparing players on different sides of the ball is difficult to do, but when the clock hits zero, it's pretty easy to figure out who got over the other.
I was asked an intriguing question during my Friday afternoon AFC East chat session and decided to open it up for discussion in the blog:
The performance of one generally will be dependent upon the other.
Before the last time they met, Porter publicly belittled Cassel and proclaimed the Dolphins would "throw the kitchen sink at him." Porter backed up his bravado with a dominating force in a jaw-dropping 38-13 Dolphins victory in Week 3.
Porter began his NFL defensive player of the year campaign by sacking Cassel four times and recording six tackles.
Cassel, in his second career start, completed 19 of 31 passes for 131 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Cassel, though, has matured exponentially each week. In his last game he threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another 62 yards.
Porter's job won't be as easy as it was nine weeks ago. Cassel quickly has evolved into a bona-fide NFL starter and is confident enough to tuck and run now.
Porter has been respectful this week when discussing Cassel.
"I think he's got a little smarter, and he's grown up since then," Porter said of Cassel. "He's played a lot of football since then. If his read is not there, he's going to take the 3, 6, 7 yards instead of just sitting there and taking no play.
"He's being a smarter quarterback. If his first read is not open he's not going to sit back there and take a sack when he can try to make a play out of something that's not there."
DAVIE, Fla. -- If the oddsmakers are correct and the New York Jets aren't quite good enough to be the first to beat the Tennessee Titans, then the Jets will have company atop the AFC East on Sunday afternoon.
That means the Dolphins, who went 1-15 last year and started the season 0-2, could be tied for first place in the division.
"From where this team has come from?" marveled Dolphins cornerback Nate Jones, who spent his previous three NFL season with the Dallas Cowboys. "To be 6-4 right now and looking at possible first place, we all envisioned it. I don't know how many people bought into it outside of this room, but we all envisioned it.
"We're walking the walk right now."
It will be the most significant game for the Dolphins this late in a season since they played the Philadelphia Eagles on "Monday Night Football" in December 2003. That also was the last season the Dolphins finished with a winning record.
"It's a game that actually means something, one of the only ones I've been in," Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder said. "We were always just a game for somebody, and we were trying to be the spoiler. Now, we're not trying to be the spoiler. We're trying to be a contender."
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano on Monday said if "your heart's not racing a million miles an hour then you don't have a pulse. This is why we do what we do. We put ourselves in a position to have a big game at home here at the end of November."
But since Sparano made those heady remarks it sounded like somebody gave a locker-room speech to throw on the brakes.
Some players on Wednesday tried to downplay the game's connotation with a similar phrase.
"We definitely want to come out and get a win, but by no means is it going to make or break our season," outside linebacker Matt Roth said. "We still got a lot more games to play."
Said Jones: "We want to keep everything in perspective. We all know this is a big game. Aw, man, the outcome of this could mean a lot down the line as far as playoff runs and all that. But we feel this won't make or break our season."