Sports

Dolphins not scared off by cold weather

The Patriots practiced outside in the elements Thursday in preparation for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the warm-weather Dolphins.
The Patriots practiced outside in the elements Thursday in preparation for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the warm-weather Dolphins. Credit: bill greene/globe staff

FOXBOROUGH — Reggie Bush was born in San Diego, played college football in Los Angeles, and for the last two years has called Miami home, as a member of the Dolphins.

A late-December game in New England, then, when Sunday’s high temperature isn’t expected out of the 20s, probably isn’t Bush’s idea of a good time.

Not true.

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“I think it’s fun. I think it’s the opposite. It’s kind of fun for a team who is always playing in warm weather or playing indoors getting a chance to go out and play in the cold,” Bush said. “I definitely enjoy it.

“Football is football. You still have to go out there, it’s still 100 yards. The basics don’t change. Obviously, the weather will be different, but we’re all grown men. I think we can handle it.”

Because they are in the AFC East, the Dolphins are guaranteed three road games a year — against the Patriots, Bills, Jets — that, depending where they fall on the schedule, could be played in conditions that wouldn’t be described as tropical.

With the league closing the regular season with division games, it’s a safe bet that the Dolphins will play a late road game or two in cold weather. They’ve drawn their share in Foxborough, and will get another one this year, ending their season on Sunday with a 4:25 p.m. game at Gillette Stadium.

Miami’s record in December road games against the Patriots isn’t embarrassingly bad. Since Bill Belichick took over before the 2000 season, the Dolphins have played eight regular-season games against the Patriots in Foxborough after Dec. 1. They’ve won twice: 27-24 on Dec. 24, 2000, and 28-26 on Jan. 1, 2006.

They’ve been competitive in others: losing in overtime (27-24) on Dec. 29, 2002, and by the same score last season, on Dec. 24, 2011, a game in which they led at halftime, 17-0.

The Dolphins also have three December wins at Buffalo since 2000, including a year ago.

“These last two years we’ve been playing in Buffalo and in New England toward the end of the year, so I just kind of mentally prepared myself for it ahead of time,” Bush said. “Obviously, we would love to play them early on in the season rather than in the cold, but it doesn’t affect me or the rest of the guys on the team.”

Like last season, the Dolphins won’t be participating in the playoffs, and don’t have a whole lot to play for on Sunday. A win would get them to 8-8 in Joe Philbin’s first season as coach, and Bush needs 40 yards for his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season.

The Patriots, meanwhile, could have plenty of incentive. Depending on the outcome of other Sunday games, notably Houston at Indianapolis and Kansas City at Denver, the Patriots could secure a first-round bye with a victory. Their seeding could be anywhere from 1 to 4.

Is it safe to assume that a team accustomed to cold weather would have an advantage playing in it, especially against a team from a warm-weather city?

Many of the Patriots say no.

“I don’t feel there’s an advantage,” defensive end Trevor Scott said. “You get so jacked up for games, you really don’t think about the weather.”

Said kicker Stephen Gostkowski: “In theory you would, but like anything, you still have to execute. It’s hard to go from one [weather] extreme to the other. It can make a difference, but you still have to play good. Guys are good enough in the NFL to where they can adjust. It’s about being mentally tough and doing your job.”

Preparation and execution, regardless of the climate, are the keys to playing in cold conditions, said defensive back Devin McCourty. Well, after the initial shock.

“When they get here Saturday, it’s just different. You’re leaving 80-degree weather, come here, and it’s freezing,” McCourty said. “But I think once kickoff happens and the game starts that they’ll be ready.”

The Patriots left cooler temperatures for a game at Miami on Dec. 2, when the temperature at kickoff was a welcoming 77 degrees. The Dolphins made it interesting at the end, but the Patriots won, 23-16.

A bigger impact than the weather, some Patriots say, is the fact that it’s a division game between teams that know each other well and faced off less than a month ago. Windchill numbers and possible snow won’t be a factor once the game starts, they say.

“Any football team, they’ll just say, ‘Hey, suck it up, let’s go out here and play.’ They’ll be out there for three good hours in the cold,” said Rob Ninkovich. “They do a good job of coming up here and playing in the cold.”

Added Belichick: “I think it’s about us doing the most we can with whatever the conditions are [rather] than worrying about what they do or don’t do with them.

“We expect them to handle them well because that’s what we expect from all our opponents: That they’ll perform at the highest level against us, so that’s what we have to get ready for.”

That’s what Bush is expecting from his teammates. Even though there will be long, heavy jackets hung over the Dolphins and seat heaters on the sideline. And even though an iconic piece of equipment remains on display not far from Gillette Stadium, a reminder of the teams’ most memorable cold-weather game: Dec. 12, 1982, when the Patriots won on a fourth-quarter field goal, 3-0, thanks to a swath of snow being removed from the field with a snow plow just before the kick.

The weather on Sunday will be cold. It might snow. This time of year, up here, it’s what the Dolphins expect. They’ll offer no excuses.

“You have to go out there and get it done. You don’t have a choice,” Bush said. “Obviously, it is going to be cold but you know that going into it, so you think about it early on and then during the game you forget about it. You just go play football.”

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