FOXBOROUGH - Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter runs his mouth the way he rushes the passer - at full speed. But Porter's latest incendiary comments barely registered a ripple with the Patriots, at least publicly.
Instead of trading barbs with Porter, the Patriots ceded the floor to him yesterday, the day after Porter told reporters in South Florida that he didn't like the Patriots and felt New England disrespected the Dolphins last season in a 28-7 victory by running the ball instead of kneeling late in the fourth quarter. Porter also accused the Patriots of purposely punting into the area where the Dolphins were stretching during warm-ups before the teams' first meeting this season, a 38-13 win for Miami.
While the few Patriots who talked yesterday feigned ignorance over Porter's remarks leading up to Sunday's AFC East showdown at Dolphin Stadium between the 6-4 teams, it's a safe bet they found their way to Foxborough. But Porter isn't Steelers safety Anthony Smith, who guaranteed a Pittsburgh victory last season and then proceeded to get lit up like Times Square by the Patriots. The pugnacious Porter might talk a good game, but he plays one also, as evidenced by his NFL-leading 13 1/2 sacks.
Fullback Heath Evans said he wasn't aware of Porter's comments, but he gave the loquacious linebacker his due.
"I don't know, but if you've got 13 1/2 sacks in 10 games, you can pretty much say whatever you want in this league and get away with it," said Evans. "Until we do something about him, he's earned the right to say what he wants to say. They're 1-0 against us this year."
Last time the teams met, Porter poked the Patriots by insulting quarterback Matt Cassel: "I know he's not a Tom Brady, so if it's not Tom Brady, it shouldn't be that hard."
Porter backed up his talk with four sacks of Cassel and a forced fumble, and the Dolphins, with the help of the wily "Wildcat" offense, demolished the Patriots.
To prevent a similar result, the Patriots will have to do a much better job of blocking Porter. That's easier said than done. Porter has recorded at least a half-sack in eight straight games, starting with his performance against the Patriots Sept. 21. It's been more than two months since he has been shut out.
"He's playing some of his best ball," said Patriots left tackle Matt Light. "He's one of those guys that you just have to get a hat on. You can't give anything to him. He's going to take everything he gets. He's playing well."
Porter, who was labeled a free agent bust after a disappointing 2007 season, has benefited from the arrival of new Dolphins coach Tony Sparano.
Patriots defensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said the Dolphins are using Porter to rush the quarterback on most passing plays, which wasn't the case last year. Porter's pass-rushing ability at linebacker has allowed Miami to rush just four players most of the time and drop seven into coverage to bolster a secondary that is pedestrian at best outside of cornerback Will Allen.
In a way it's a compliment that Porter would get so fired up to play the Patriots, saying, "I don't like them," and worrying about where they punt the ball in warm-ups. It's a sign of the respect he has for them.
"Some of those details I don't know; I warm up in my same spot every week," said Evans, with a chuckle.
The Patriots seem to respect Porter's passion for the game because he backs up his words.
"I think he's that fired up every week. He's a competitor," said Evans. "I admire a guy like that on the field. He's a fiery guy, and I think he inspires that defense and he's made a boatload of plays for them this year."
Of course, Evans could have been playing coy. He might think Porter is a blowhard, but a Bill Belichick team knows better than to trade verbal volleys with adversaries through the media.
In the past, whether it was with Smith, or Terrell Owens of the Cowboys, or former Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, the Patriots preferred to let their actions on game day be their response.
That could be the case again this time. Because nothing would shut up Porter faster than a Patriots win.
"You can't control anybody else; all we can control is ourselves," said wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. "I'm not sure what he said, but he's having a heck of a year. He's pretty much at liberty to say what he wants to say. The game is still to be played either way."
The truth is the Patriots shouldn't need any added motivation. Sunday's game is big enough.
The Patriots don't like the Dolphins this week, but it's not personal. For New England, it's just football.
"That's kind of the way we all feel when we take the field. We're trying to beat the other guy, right?" said Light.
"It's a huge rivalry. Obviously, we didn't play very well the first game, so I think there are a lot of guys in this locker room that want to go out there and put forward a much better performance."