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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

Landing of coin has 'em flipping out

MIAMI -- The coin decided yesterday's overtime contest between the Patriots and Dolphins. Only not in the usual sense.

New England lost the overtime toss (though the Patriots disputed that fact) but wisely chose to defend the west end of Pro Player Stadium -- and the infield for Games 3-5 of the World Series. The strategy worked, as the Dolphins' Olindo Mare, kicking from the dirt, pushed a 35-yard field goal attempt right on Miami's first drive of OT. The teams traded possessions before Tom Brady and Troy Brown connected on the winning 82-yard touchdown.

"Give Bill [Belichick] credit because he considered that when we chose which side to defend," special teams captain Larry Izzo said. "That was discussed as far as if [Mare] was to have a field goal opportunity, he'll have to kick out of the dirt. So give him credit for having the foresight to anticipate that."

It would never have come to that had the Patriots gotten their way. They called tails, but there was some confusion on the part of captains Brady, Richard Seymour, and Izzo as to which side of the coin was tails. Izzo implied that referee Gerald Austin flipped the coin "kind of like a magician would do," he said. "It happened so fast. All I really know is that Tommy noticed it.

"One of our captains, I think Brady, pointed it out to him that we called tails and it looked like tails. Once one of our guys challenged it, we were like `Hey man, we said tails and it was tails.' The ref might have made a mistake."

No, said Austin. The silver dollar was "heads" up. "They were declaring it was tails when [Lady Columbia] was clearly showing," Austin said. "That's not tails. They made the same call at the beginning of the game. They called tails and it came up the same way."

Law inactive

Ty Law made the trip -- earlier than his teammates, as it turned out, but was among the eight inactives. Law had been playing (less in the previous two games) through pain since spraining a ligament in his right ankle against the Jets in Week 3, but it was more the rib injury that popped up last week that forced him to sit for the first time since he was suspended for the 2000 season finale against Miami. Law had been here since Thursday consulting with his personal physicians, who have decided to place his ankle in a cast today . . . Rookie Asante Samuel got his first career start in place of Law . . . Antowain Smith missed his second straight game because of the neck/left shoulder injury he suffered against the Titans. He was sorely missed on two third-and-1 situations the Patriots failed to convert . . . Mike Vrabel was active for the first time since breaking his right arm against the Jets a month ago and saw action primarily on third down. . . . Willie McGinest (neck) did not play for the second time in three weeks. . . . The other inactives were Je'Rod Cherry (knee), Ted Johnson, Wilbert Brown, Ted Washington, and Rohan Davey (third quarterback) . . . Bethel Johnson hurt his right leg in the third quarter but returned. Dan Klecko had the wind knocked out of him in the third quarter but returned . . . According to The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Miami defensive tackle Tim Bowens punched Patriots safety Chris Akins during a brief scuffle in the tunnel as the teams left the field.

Tough talk

Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael and Patriots safety Rodney Harrison spent a lot of time talking to each other during the game, and by the way it looked, they weren't talking about getting together on South Beach sometime.

McMichael caught a game-high eight passes for 102 yards, while Harrison finished with 12 tackles, a deflection, a forced fumble, and a recovery. So both players let their play do the talking, too. After the game, though, McMichael wasn't finished.

"It's just that some days you get into that zone and then somebody [ticks] you off and that makes you want to get into that zone even more," McMichael said. "Harrison [ticked] me off. He's talking about how I'm overrated. `I'm sure you're overrated.' But, like I said, he got the last laugh over there.

"Harrison, Marvin . . . whatever his name is. That's all I know. I can't wait to get some more of that cat, and you can print that. Put that up on his bulletin board.

"He's a garbage player. He's a great player, but he's a dirty player. That's all right, though. He got the win. I ain't even going to go into it because I don't want to start no rift or nothing. Let's just leave it at that. He's just a dirty player."

Centers released

The Patriots on Saturday released fullback Larry Centers and placed right tackle Adrian Klemm on injured reserve. Centers had been listed on the injury report as "doubtful" with a knee injury, while Klemm had missed three games with a severely sprained ankle. With the available roster spots New England activated linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, a seventh-round pick out of California, and signed rookie safety Shawn Mayer of Penn State.

Through six games Centers was tied for second on the team with 17 receptions and was averaging 4.6 yards per carry, so it's hard to imagine his release being related to performance. What it probably came down to, as it did with Fred McCrary when the Patriots released him the day before the Titans game, was roster spots, and Centers's injury would have kept him out for several weeks.

Centers is only signed for this season, so rather than place him on injured reserve and end his season, it made more sense to reach an injury settlement and, should he clear waivers, perhaps bring him back later this season if/ when he's ready to play.

Banta-Cain, who had groin surgery in the summer and began practicing Wednesday, played special teams and made his debut at outside linebacker when starter Matt Chatham left the game in the second quarter with a right leg injury (he returned).

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