On Sunday afternoon, before they even took the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Patriots had an opportunity to put a hammerlock on the AFC East. The Jets had lost to fall to 4-5. The Dolphins trailed the Bucs with less than a minute remaining, taking them to the verge of dropping to 3-6.
And then Dan Carpenter of the Dolphins kicked a game-winning field goal with 10 seconds left, lifting the 'Phins to 4-5. The Patriots, of course, lost that night. Last night rolled around, Ricky Williams turned back into the Heisman Trophy winner, and the Dolphins surged to 5-5 with a dominant win over the Panthers to put them just 1 1/2 games behind the Patriots.
In three Sundays, the Dolphins will play the Patriots in Miami. Between now and then, the Patriots will host the Jets and play at the undefeated Saints on Monday night. The Dolphins will play at the Bills, who will be into Game 2 of the Perry Fewell Era.
So, say the Patriots go 1-1 against a desperate Jets team and an offensively dominant Saints team. (The Patriots could very well win both -- they just outplayed the Colts for 59 minutes. But it's reasonable to predict 1-1.) And say the Dolphins beat the Bills, which seems like an utterly safe assumption.
If that happens, then on Dec. 6 the Patriots and Dolphins -- who started 0-3 -- will be playing for the AFC East lead. The Patriots would be 7-4 with, at best, a 3-1 division record. The Dolphins would be 6-5 with a 4-1 division record.
So last night's victory by the Dolphins only makes Sunday's game for the Patriots against the Jets that much more important. They can not only send the Jets to the mat, but they will also keep up with the Dolphins. They way Miami is playing, that is becoming more and more necessary.