MIAMI -- Is Nick Saban the closest thing to Bill Belichick?
Maybe in theory, philosophy, coaching style. Another similarity is how Saban got the Dolphins to play hard for 60 minutes in yesterday's 23-16 loss to the Patriots. But the comparisons stop right there.
The Dolphins simply aren't equipped to make plays when they need them most. In a game they could have won, they made too many mistakes at critical times. Mistakes Belichick-coached teams don't make. Saban's Dolphins have been plagued by dropped balls and crucial mistakes all year.
''I think in the third quarter we went a little flat," said Saban. ''We didn't do much. I think we had one first down or something like that in the third quarter. They kept getting the ball back, we kept playing defense and they kept driving it . . . they ended up scoring on a couple of field goals and a touchdown. We had a chance to stop them at the end of the game and they bang us with a big play right off the bat. Those things are disappointing. I was very proud, though, of the way our players fought back in the game."
This was a huge game for the Dolphins in that they could have tied New England for the AFC East lead. Now they're 3-6 and fading fast, a chance their season might be going nowhere.
''I don't look at it like that," said Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas. ''Nobody ever said it was over. The way the division is playing it's not over. We just have to get over the hump and we are not over it yet. We just can't get over the hump. The offense did a great job of getting us down the field and in two plays, they score. That was frustrating. We just have to make a big play."
Miami did make some plays, just not enough. There was the botched snap to Gus Frerotte in the fourth quarter that the quarterback turned into a 15-yard touchdown pass to Chris Chambers for a 16-15 lead with 3:04 remaining. That drive was set up by safety Yeremiah Bell's interception of Tom Brady at the Miami 44.
They were the victim of questionable calls, the most painful a 49-yard pass interference penalty called on Travis Daniels in the third quarter when it appeared André Davis could have been called for offensive interference. The call gave the Patriots the ball at the Miami 17 and they settled for a 32-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
Frerotte believed Ellis Hobbs held Marty Booker on first and goal with less than a minute remaining.
But good teams make their own breaks.
''Those are things that as we grow together as a team, we can build on. There was a lot of good stuff out there that we can build on," Frerotte said.
But time is running out.
''We're making mistakes that are killing us and not giving ourselves [a chance] to capitalize at the end," said defensive end Jason Taylor. ''We're in all the games. We have a chance to win all the games and play pretty darn well in those games."
After taking that 16-15 lead, Miami wasted little time letting the Patriots back in the game.
The big play was a 59-yard go pattern to Tim Dwight, who fought the ball out of Reggie Howard's hands to lead the Patriots to their winning score.
''Reggie had a chance to make a play on the ball," Saban said. ''[He] got his hands on the ball, tried to intercept the ball, and certainly could have knocked the ball down. Judgment and decision you always have to make, whether you strip it or intercept it or tackle the guy. And in trying to intercept it I think he put himself in a bad position to tackle the guy. It turned out to be a big play."
It was hard to see where exactly the chess matches were being played between Saban and Belichick. But one was before the 17-yard touchdown pass from Brady to a wide-open Benjamin Watson, one play after Dwight's catch, who made a nice play to keep both feet in bounds, which won the game for New England.
''We were in a blitz and they ran empty," said Saban. ''We really thought they would run the ball. That's why we called timeout, so they wouldn't take the clock and the game. I thought they would run and kick a field goal and milk the clock. Maybe they took the shot because we did call timeout and they figured that we weren't going to let them milk the clock and make them play 60 minutes. We wound up matching up on coverage and there was a mixup."
In the end, Saban was very pleased with his team's effort. He said his team was positive when things weren't going well. But the reality is the Dolphins are on life support in the AFC East, after a game they should have and could have won.