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Defense stoked fire in Patriots

Call it passion, energy, fire, or whatever you like, and feel free to note that the Patriots played with more of it in Sunday's 23-16 win over Miami.

But the intangible emotion comes only after tangible actions. Playmakers making plays is what lifted New England to victory.

A tormented defense, which certainly bent (437 yards), came through when needed.

There was Rosevelt Colvin hustling to force a fumble inside the 10-yard line to thwart a Dolphins scoring opportunity. Amazingly, it was the first turnover the typically opportunistic Patriots have forced inside their 10 all season.

There was rookie Ellis Hobbs, finally released from the coaches' intensive care unit after extensive burns in the exhibition season, coming up with the first two turnovers of his career, and fighting off two Dolphin attacks in the final minute.

There was reserve defensive back Hank Poteat, who was not good enough to make the team in training camp but was a desperate addition after a slew of injuries, making a tackle at the 10 with seconds left in the game.

There was Michael Stone, unemployed the first three weeks of the season, matching his career high with seven tackles for the second straight week.

There was Troy ''Double Duty" Brown, lining up at cornerback for the first time this season.

And, of course, there was Tedy Bruschi. How could you miss him? The high-flying, ought-to-be-wearing-a-cape stroke victim seemed to be all over the field.

''I'm just playing the way I know how to play," Bruschi said. ''Third game back, I keep getting better myself. That's the goal I have individually: improve from week to week."

Bruschi laughed when asked about his aerial work, which included a leap over running back Sammy Morris on a blitz on Miami's third offensive play. Think that wasn't a signal to his teammates that he was going to get after it all day?

Bruschi says he fed off his teammates' energy. Perhaps it was the other way around.

''Maybe my wife cringed when she saw that a couple of times, but I'm out there playing, I'm out there playing football," Bruschi said. ''I'm not going to hold back. It's my third game now, and I haven't had any preseason or anything like that, but it's time to go for it. It's time to play football.

''I know I'm doing well, I feel great."

Richard Seymour doesn't feel so good, but he gamely battled through a not-quite-healed injury, wearing a huge knee brace on his left leg, to contribute steady play up front. It was the first time this season the Patriots had Bruschi and Seymour together in the lineup.

Seymour had missed the previous four games with his injury.

''It was good to see him back out there, just like it was good to see Tedy back out there a couple of weeks ago," coach Bill Belichick said. ''Hopefully we can get everybody back out there."

The Patriots are 31st in the league in red zone defense, but they held the Dolphins at bay on two trips inside the 20. On one drive, Bruschi knocked away a probable touchdown pass from Gus Frerotte, leading to a missed field goal attempt. On the Dolphins' final possession of the game, New England forced three incompletions and made a tackle for a 5-yard loss to take over on downs at the 10. Before Sunday, opponents had been 28 for 28 (19 touchdowns) in the red zone against the Patriots.

Belichick said shutting down the running game keyed the red zone success.

''If you can stop the run, then you hope you can gain a little bit of an advantage in the red area passing game just because they're working in closer quarters," he said. ''You still have to cover them. You still have to defend it, but you're not defending quite as much space as you are when they have the ball at midfield.

''If you can stop the running game, then you can force them into that situation, and then if you can play well enough in the passing game, then you have a chance to keep them off the board. But if they hand it off for 7 yards, then it doesn't make any difference whether you play the pass or not. They're just walking into the end zone."

Colvin's play wasn't an official red zone stop, as the play started at the 36, but his hit on Randy McMichael, which forced a fumble that Hobbs scooped up, kept Miami from adding to a 7-point lead with less than two minutes left in the first half.

''It's the No. 1 stat that we have to win," Bruschi said. ''We always want to get the ball. Make tackles and get the ball."

Jerome Solomon can be reached at jsolomon@globe.com

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