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ON FOOTBALL

Beaten men after this play

Aggressiveness bites Marion

MIAMI -- If you ask Sammy Knight and Brock Marion today about Troy Brown's speed they'll tell you this: He was fast enough. If you ask Knight and Marion today about Tom Brady's arm they'll tell you this: It was strong enough.

If you ask Knight and Marion today about how they let the Patriots' relentless wide receiver get between and behind them on the last play of overtime yesterday they'll tell you this: It beats us.

Which indeed it did.

When Brown ran a slant on the back side of the Dolphins' defense with 5:57 to play in OT, he and Brady believed he might get open and, if he did, he'd get open deep because he was matched up against two of the league's slower and most aggressive safeties. Knight and Marion are smart players and hard hitters. What they are not is fast or patient, so if Brady got time enough to wait for Brown the advantage would be New England's.

It required several things to happen. It required Brady to have enough time to wait for Brown to split Miami's safeties, which he did. It required Brady to have enough air on the ball to get it deep and over those safeties, which he did. Most of all, it required Brown run faster than the stopwatch says he can, which he always does.

All those things happened the way they were supposed to in the late afternoon at Pro Player Stadium and the result was an 82-yard touchdown that beat Knight and Marion and the Dolphins. That throw, catch, and run provided the Patriots a sultry 19-13 victory that improved New England's record to 5-2 and gave it sole possession of first in the AFC East with the season more than a third over.

But those were not the only reasons that play worked as it had been drawn up. There was a more subtle one and it was simply that Marion got greedy. He tried to do too much. He exceeded his job description on that play and hence he found himself a step behind.

Knight was where he was supposed to be as the play developed and Brown was where he was supposed to be on a pass that took 12 seconds to complete. But where was Marion?

Not deep enough, that's where.

Twelve seconds is a lifetime in the NFL when a pass is called. Normally a QB has five seconds to throw if he's lucky. Twelve seconds is enough time to go out to lunch first. Brady didn't do that, but he handed Marion and the Dolphins their lunch when he executed a play-action fake, and then a pump fake, and Marion bit on it.

Instead of holding his ground and then retreating deep enough to protect Knight in coverage if Brown ran a deep route, Marion reacted to the fakes even though there were plenty of defenders in front of him to handle any situation that might have developed.

Fact was, Brady had no intention of handing the ball off to anyone, or throwing to anybody but Brown. What he wanted to do was freeze Marion for a moment, but he got better than he hoped for when Marion actually stepped toward the line of scrimmage, creating too much space between himself and Knight to get back if Brady got the time to let the ball go deep.

With Marion not where he needed to be, Brown had room to get the leverage on Miami's deep zone and because he is as smart a receiver as there is in football, he kept going. After that, Brady bought some time by rolling out and his linemen did yeoman's work keeping the rush off him so he had time and space to let the ball fly. Once he got that done, Knight knew he was beaten and so was his team, long before the ball nestled into Brown's hands.

Even though Knight was in the proper position it didn't make a bit of difference because for all intents and purposes he was alone in man coverage even though he and Marion were supposed to be playing a deep zone. In short, even though Knight was right, the play went all wrong for him.

"They got a nice deep ball and they got us on the play-action," Knight said. "Brady put it in the right place. Brown split us and Brady threw it across the field and they made a great play."

Yes they did. A winning play. The kind of play the Patriots have been making ever since the season appeared to turn into a disaster when they lost eight starters to injury.

Brady had warned Brown of what was likely to be coming just before they broke the huddle on the game's final play, saying, "This is your play."

His play and his day, as things turned out.

"I don't really care what anyone says [about my speed]," Brown said. "I just want to go out and play. That play was designed to go long so Tom had to buy some time. He did a good job of that. He threw the ball and I was able to make a play on it. After I caught it, I just kept running."

Running until he was in the end zone. Running behind Knight and Marion, neither of whom had a chance to catch him even if he had to run all the way back to Foxborough to score. Running free for a lot of reasons, many of which he had no control over.

"Our offensive line did an unbelievable job all day and they gave me a little extra time on that play," said Brady (24 of 34 for 283 yards). "Troy got behind them, I laid it up there and just let old No. 80 go trot in for the win."

As Brown trotted around the end zone trying to find enough oxygen to allow himself to break into the required NFL post-touchdown song and dance routine, Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor was trotting over to Knight and putting his arm around him. What he told Knight was this: "That was my fault. He had too much time. It's my job to make sure he doesn't."

Marion wasn't saying anything. He was still busy wondering why Brady hadn't gotten rid of the ball sooner. Or, why on first and 10 at the New England 18, he, himself, thought it so important if he did.

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