After Giants, giant challenge
FOXBOROUGH -- They were still sitting in soggy pants and dirty socks when Bill Belichick reminded them for the first time that Sunday's 17-6 victory over the New York Giants wouldn't mean a thing if history repeated itself in seven days. In the National Football League that's how life is because, as former coach Jerry Glanville once said, "You know what NFL stands for? Not for long."
On Sunday, a hard-fought victory's meaning lasted about as long as it took Belichick to stand in the Patriots' locker room and remind them that they hadn't beaten the Dolphins in Miami in six years. It lasted as long as it took for him to remind them that in the last two seasons they have gone down to South Florida and been beaten up by an aggregate score of 56-23 and over that five-year streak have been manhandled, 105-52.
Belichick was not trying to rain on his team's parade because the elements had just been doing that for three hours. What he was doing was reminding his team where its focus quickly had to go -- away from the departing Giants and on to some real giants, the AFC East-leading Dolphins.
Miami has won four straight since losing on Opening Day to the Houston Texans. It has done it primarily with the pounding runs of Ricky Williams and the pounding play of its ill-tempered defense. In combination they have ground down the last four teams they faced, allowing an average of only 9.25 points in the four victories, with three of those games on the road.
As it has been for quite some time now, the Dolphins' defense is among the stingiest in the NFL, ranked first in the AFC in rushing defense but far more importantly ranked No. 1 in points allowed after giving up a paltry 11.6 per game thus far.
One might think Belichick's team would have been allowed at least 24 hours to bask in the glory of its collective victory over the Giants on a day when eight starters were out of the lineup and the offense was badly out of synch in the first half. But Belichick wasted no time refocusing the players, because when you have not won at a place in six years and been dominated there the past two it's never too early to start getting ready.
"We haven't done well down there the last few seasons," linebacker Roman Phifer said. "We haven't performed well there for whatever reason. He reminded us of that."
At the same time Belichick was praising his team's performance against the Giants publicly, his players already had heard that the game was history, and if they didn't want to become history themselves they had best get refocused on the Dolphins in a hurry. A big hurry.
Miami has a tremendous home-field advantage at Pro Player Stadium in large part because of the consistently hot and humid weather opponents have to face, weather that withers many teams as readily as Miami's defense does. Over the last two-plus seasons, the Dolphins are 15-3 at home, 7-1 each of the last two years and 1-1 at the moment after being upset by the Texans, 21-20, Sept. 7 in a game that had guys in knockout pools holding their heads from coast-to-coast.
Since first opening up for business in 1966, the Dolphins are 197-80-3 at home, a winning percentage of .710. Over the last 14 seasons, they are 12-2 against the Patriots at home and since Pro Player Stadium opened 17 years ago the Dolphins are 12-4 when facing New England. Much will be made of this all week and Belichick and the Patriots will try to downplay it publicly, saying every year is different and every team is different in this era of the salary cap. Yet it was Belichick who reminded his team first of its recent history in Miami, back-to-back chappings in which the Dolphins dominated them defensively and rolled over them offensively.
"We've got to get those guys," guard Damien Woody said less than an hour after the win over the Giants. "They beat the crap out of us. It's been ugly games down there ever since I came here."
Woody was a first-round draft choice in New England in 1999 and since his arrival the Patriots never have won in Miami. Add his experiences against the University of Miami while at Boston College and it's unfathomable why he built an offseason home down there except that, obviously, he likes the heat, too.
Little of what has gone on at Pro Player Stadium (or the old Orange Bowl for that matter) was Woody's fault. But it has not gone unnoticed by him and, frankly, by many of his teammates that year after year the outcome has been depressingly the same whenever he and his friends from New England leave for a weekend in Miami. To let that happen again this Sunday after wrestling their way to a 4-2 start despite enough injuries to justify opening a triage center next to Gillette Stadium would not be the end of the world and certainly wouldn't be the end of the season. But it wouldn't exactly help the cause, either.
"We're fed up with going down there and getting beat," Woody said of his previous four trips to Miami. "We want to try and do something about it. We know it will be hot. That's a great advantage for them. It's hot down there right now. But we can't worry about it.
"They play great ball at home. We know that. It's been ugly down there. This game is huge. You know what it would do for our team to go to Miami and beat them down there?"
Apparently quite a lot or Belichick wouldn't already have reminded his team the game was coming only minutes before he came out to face the TV cameras and rhapsodized about his team's win over the Giants.
"Man, that was a great win for our football team," Belichick said. "That is a great win. I'll tell you, I just can't say enough about those guys. They keep fighting and keep scrapping. They just played hard for 60 minutes against a good football team. Man they played hard and I thought they did a good job. To be able to just hang in there with them for 60 minutes defensively, play 90 plays or whatever it was , those guys did a good job."
Good enough that he barely mentioned the Dolphins until the final question of his news conference when he said, "Right now, we have got to get ready for Miami. We haven't played too well down there in a while and, hopefully, we can be a little more competitive than we have been the last few years in Miami."
"I think he sees the same things that we see," quarterback Tom Brady said of Belichick. "Since he's been here, Miami isn't really a team that we play well down there and they just happen to be the next one on the schedule. He's challenging us . . . and it should be a challenge because this is a good team and I think it's going to be up for the challenge." If it isn't, it won't be because its field general didn't have the early warning system in place.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.