In the opening remarks at his press conference last Wednesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, "Nobody has given us more trouble than the Dolphins." Belichick could have just as easily replaced "us" with "Tom Brady."
Superman had Kryptonite, the Beatles had Yoko Ono, and the Patriots quarterback nonpareil has the Dolphins, whom he faces today at Dolphin Stadium.
Brady is 7-5 as a starter (.583 winning percentage) against Miami. He is 69-19 (.784) against the rest of the league. His completion percentage is a
mortal 55.3 percent against Miami. It's 63.4 percent against the rest of the league. He has thrown for an average of 156.5 yards per game against the Dolphins, 81.9 yards below his average against the rest of the NFL. The same goes for passer rating. It's a stellar 92.8 against the rest of the NFL but dips to 74.2 against Miami.
"They're a tough defense," said Brady. "They challenge you in a lot of ways. They've got a great pass rush. I always talk about double coverage on the receivers . . . well, there's a lot of double coverage on the receivers. They force you to hold the ball."
Miami is a glamour town, but it hasn't been glamorous for Brady. The last time he stepped on the field at Dolphin Stadium, Brady had one of the worst games of his career. On Dec. 10 last season, the Dolphins shut down and shutout Brady and the Patriots, scoring a 21-0 victory. The two-time Super Bowl MVP was sacked four times, fumbled twice (losing one), and finished 12 of 25 for 78 yards before he was mercifully removed by Belichick with 4:56 left in the game.
It was only the second time since Brady became the starter in 2001 that he was not able to put any points on the board for the Patriots - the other was the 2003 season opener against the Buffalo Bills.
How does Miami befuddle Brady?
"You can't throw it quick because they're up there with man-to-man coverage on the receivers and you can't hold it too long because you know Jason Taylor and Vonnie Holliday, they're coming," said Brady. "So, you've got to try to get rid of the ball quick. It's a fine line between getting the ball out quick but not so fast that their DBs are right on the receivers. You need time to create separation on routes."
Holliday is out today with an ankle injury, but Taylor will be there. The Miami defensive end, who has sacked Brady more than any other quarterback, downplayed the Dolphins' ability to shut down his friendly rival.
"We got in his way a little bit, but I don't know that there really is any stopping Tom Brady," said Taylor. "We try to do what we do better than he does what he does. It's kind of a matchup thing where on the back end in years past we've matched up well, covered a little bit, and given us some time up front to bring some pressure.
"We try to mix up coverages a bit and bring pressure at different times instead of straight four-man rushing, and whatever it is, our formula has had a bit of success in years past. But you look at these guys on film now and obviously, I've watched every game being a fan of his for the last six weeks, and it's just ridiculous."
Taylor is right.
Brady is playing some of the best football of his career. Last week he dissected the Dallas Cowboys for 388 yards and a career-high five touchdowns, completing 31 of 46 passes. Brady is completing a gaudy 72.5 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,771 yards with 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions in the first six games. Even the Dolphins might not be able to slow him down, especially with wide receivers Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donté Stallworth lighting up defenses like the neon signs that adorn the art deco buildings of South Beach.
In addition, the Dolphins' defense is not up to its usual penurious standards. Miami is allowing 30.3 points per game (29th in the league), and the Patriots have not scored fewer than 34 points in any game this season. However, pass defense has not been the problem for Dom Capers's unit. Miami ranks sixth in the league, allowing 183.7 yards per game, while the Patriots' top-rated passing attack averages 289.5.
Maybe, that's why Brady, of all people, said the Patriots don't want to sling the ball around all day against the Dolphins.
"You don't want to get forced into a passing game with these guys," he said, "because with the way they rush the passer and cover the receivers, it eliminates a lot of what you're trying to do in the passing game."
Patriots cornerback Eddie Jackson, who spent the last two seasons with the Dolphins, said Miami never felt as though it had Brady's number.
"No, you can't have Tom Brady's number," said Jackson. "Tom Brady is a great quarterback and it's kind of hard to get his number."
Miami's number might be up this time.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org