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Dolphins' attack proved offensive

FOXBOROUGH -- It was not shocking, just so predictable.

It was the same old story for the Dolphins, losing a December game in New England, 12-0. This was a team that cried about its opening day loss to Houston, cried about its overtime loss to the Patriots in Miami. This was a team that spoke all week about finally stopping talk about it not being able to win in December, not being able to beat the Patriots. And then what do they do?

"It was only one week [in December]," said Dolphins running back Ricky Williams, who carried 25 times for 68 yards. "We could have won. We should have won."

Don't know about that.

You see Ricky, Randy McMichael called Rodney Harrison a cheap-shot artist after the Patriots' overtime win at Pro Player Stadium, and then yesterday missed a blitz pickup on Harrison on a third and 3 at the Patriots' 10-yard line late in the third quarter, which wound up costing the Dolphins the game.

Jay Fiedler, dragging his left leg around the Dolphins locker room, looked like a guy who played collegiately in the Bahamas rather than Dartmouth. Whether it was the cold weather, the confusion the Patriots caused defensively, or just poor play by his offensive line, he looked a little overwhelmed by the day's events. He was sacked five times, one that led to a safety, threw two interceptions, and had a costly fumble.

The Dolphins' defense was just fine, keeping it a 3-0 game until the fourth quarter. But the offense played its poorest when it counted most.

There was McMichael, letting Harrison come in off the left side as Fiedler not only took a 12-yard sack but was stripped of the ball the only time Miami had penetrated the red zone.

McMichael was quite humble afterward. He did not catch a ball, and cried interference on Harrison coverage on one pass, but he took full responsibility for the loss.

"It was a mental mistake," said McMichael. "I was blocking on the line, but I should have been blocking the blitz. We had the momentum, and that play changed the momentum in their favor."

Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt told his team that while the divisional title is lost, the wild-card is within its grasp.

What he should have added was, "But not if you play like you did today."

The Dolphins needed to make one play, and they made none. The revamped offense they exhibited the past two weeks with Fiedler went up in smoke.

The Dolphins had three turnovers -- two interceptions and a fumble, and they punted a team-record 11 times. Next Monday night they begin their quest for a wild-card spot against the red-hot Philadelphia Eagles. At 8-5, they need a few things to happen to regain a spot.

"We need to win two, and possibly three games," said Dolphins fullback Rob Konrad.

If the Dolphins had been jump-started after Fiedler's return against Washington three weeks ago, they were brought back down to earth yesterday.

They discounted the weather conditions. They claimed they saw nothing new from the Patriots' defense.

Wannstedt did admit, "We didn't block them one-on-one, not consistently enough. We made some mental mistakes."

It seemed the Patriots knew what was coming.

"[The Patriots] are clued into a lot of our tendencies," said right guard Todd Wade. "They played good football. No other excuses."

Wade was another reason the Dolphins lost.

On third and 1 on the Dolphins' 42 with 9:31 remaining, Wade was called for a false start. At the point all the Dolphins were going to do was run a sneak with Fiedler. The penalty put them into a passing situation, and on third and 6 the Patriots brought the pressure and Fiedler had to rush the throw. On the ensuing punt, receiver Darrius Thompson downed it at the Patriots' 8-yard line, but he was called for illegal touching because he had gone out of bounds and was the first player to touch the ball inbounds. That didn't cost the Dolphins immediately, but it certainly didn't help them in this game of field position as the Patriots were able to start their next drive at the 34 after the re-punt.

The Dolphins defense played well, holding the Patriots to 228 net yards. They allowed only a field goal of 29 yards to Adam Vinatieri in the first quarter, when half the fans hadn't even arrived at the stadium.

The Dolphins were in the game even when Brooks Barnard, New England's new punter, hit a beauty to the 4-yard line in the fourth quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, with 8:59 left to play, curious play-calling by offensive coordinator Norv Turner (where have we heard that before?) had Fiedler dropping back and throwing out to the right flat. Fiedler intended to hit Chris Chambers on the fly, but Tedy Bruschi undercut the route, intercepted the pass, and stepped into the end zone to give the Patriots a now insurmountable 10-0 lead.

"We were trying to make something happen there," Williams said.

Wannstedt said, "Our best opportunity to throw the football was on first down when they had Ted Washington and their big guys in there." From their 4, with almost nine minutes remaining? That was the thinking last December when the Dolphins could have run out the clock, beat the Patriots, and made the playoffs.

"During the entire game all we we had to do was convert one play," Fiedler said. "I never saw [Bruschi]. He stepped up to the line like he was blitzing. It was a good play. They made good plays all day. They played hard and aggressive."

The Dolphins flew through a blizzard to get here. They didn't get into Providence until close to midnight Saturday. The conditions were difficult, with a 28-degree game-time temperature that plummeted during the game, and winds coming from the north at 15-25 miles per hour for a windchill of 17.

But this was a game they needed to win for their own peace of mind. Instead, they came away knowing the Patriots are the better team.

"I've been reading that they're lucky," said Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas. "They're not lucky. They're a great football team."

That's just a fact of life in the NFL. A fact the Dolphins now acknowledge.

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afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 11 2 0 .846 20.7 16.1
Dolphins 8 5 0 .615 18.5 15.6
Bills 6 7 0 .462 16.5 15.4
Jets 5 8 0 .385 18.5 19.6
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