Miami (3-5, 3-1 AFC East) ran 10 plays out of its newfangled formation but netted just seven yards and one touchdown. The Dolphins' longest gain out of the Wildcat was a 12-yard run from Ricky Williams, but nothing else went for more than three yards. They also had a blown reverse to quarterback Chad Henne, who was sacked for a loss of 11 yards, and that was a play for which the Patriots (6-2, 2-1) had specifically prepared last week in practice.
"I think we did a good job overall," Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said. "We did give up a couple plays here and there, but it wasn't anything they did. It was really blown assignments that we had."
The Dolphins did add a new wrinkle to their offense, as backup quarterback Pat White ran a few successful option plays in the second quarter. White's first option went for 33 yards, and a few plays later, he pitched the ball to Williams, who flew into the end zone from 15 yards out.
That was the extent of the damage, though. With White under center, the Dolphins ran eight plays for 60 yards and the one touchdown. Outside of the two big gains, the Patriots limited White's six snaps to just 12 yards.
"You definitely have to respect the way he runs," Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "He can run the ball and pass it as well. He is a dual-threat QB, and any time you face a guy like that, you have to take it into account."
After Williams' touchdown run, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick met with the defense on the sideline and made some adjustments. The Dolphins added a wrinkle to White's option play, lining up the running back behind him rather than to his side. White's speed also caught the Patriots off guard.
"We worked on it [at practice], then it probably just happened a little faster than we practiced it," Belichick said. "Once we got adjusted, I thought they did a good job. We knew they were going to throw some new stuff at us like they always do, gadget plays and stuff like that. That's part of their offense."
In all, the Dolphins ran 18 plays with their substitute offenses — in the Wildcat formation or with White under center — and netted 67 yards (3.7 yards per play) and two touchdowns. That amounts to 20 percent of their 334 net yards and 25.7 percent of their 70 offensive plays.
Williams ran three times for 12 yards on Wildcat plays, and Ronnie Brown ran four times for five yards and also completed 1-of-2 passes for one yard and a touchdown. White ran the ball six times for 45 yards and missed on his only pass attempt. With all of Miami's different offensive weapons and schemes, the Patriots were pleased to keep the unique attack at bay.
"They've shown a lot of things this year," Banta-Cain said. "That's the nature of their team. You can't really pinpoint anything that they're going to do. You can't really watch too much film on them because they're going to give you a different look. They might run the same plays, but it will be out of a different look."
The Dolphins' gimmick offense seemed to work against them, too, and not just because the statistics don't jump off of the page. They only ran one Wildcat play in the first quarter (a three-yard loss from Williams on the ground), and it was almost as if head coach Tony Sparano was trying to out-think himself.
After the Dolphins had varied degrees of success in the second and third quarters, they completely abandoned their gimmick offense in the fourth quarter, when they didn't run a single Wildcat play and never put White under center.
It was even more telling when they got the ball trailing 24-17 with no timeouts and 3:38 remaining in the fourth quarter, and they stayed away from the Wildcat. Obviously, the Wildcat is Miami's offensive identity, but in situations similar to this when the Dolphins are trying to come from behind, they can't run a basic offense with enough success.
The Wildcat isn't dead — the Dolphins will continue to beat lesser teams with it for awhile — but it's on life support against the Patriots. These teams meet again in Miami in four weeks, and the Dolphins surely will try something new to resuscitate their pride and joy.
But the Patriots are just too smart. They'll prepare like crazy at practice, and if the last two games against Miami are any indication, they'll shut it down on Sunday.
You know what? That's fine by Belichick and Co. As far as the Patriots are concerned, the Dolphins are doing them a favor.
"They always have something special for us," Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas said, "and I guess we are their coming out party."
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