"It was shocking," New England's nose tackle said. "We
really didn't know what they were doing."
The Dolphins were doing the wildcat, unpacking it for the
first time when they visited Foxborough in the third game last season. It worked
very well: four touchdowns in six plays in a 38-13 win that ended the Patriots'
NFL record 21-game regular-season winning streak.
On Sunday, running back Ronnie Brown returns to the scene
of the unveiling, the field where he ran for three touchdowns and threw for
another from that alignment against a coach, Bill Belichick, who prides himself
on preparing his players for whatever they may encounter.
But Brown isn't indulging in nostalgia.
"It's not about New England versus the wildcat," he said.
"It's about the Miami Dolphins versus the New England Patriots and how can we
get a win. Whatever it takes — running the ball, throwing the ball, however we
get a win, I don't care."
The Patriots (5-2) are coming off a bye week that
followed wins of 59-0 over the Tennessee Titans and 35-7 over the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers, both winless at the time.
The Dolphins (3-4) are 3-1 since Chad Henne took over at
quarterback after a shoulder injury ended Chad Pennington's season. The offense
gained only 104 yards in last Sunday's 30-25 win at the New York Jets. But Ted
Ginn Jr. scored on kickoff returns of 100 and 101 yards, the only player in NFL
history with two touchdowns of at least 100 yards in the same game.
"That can definitely be a big momentum swinger," Patriots
kickoff returner Matthew Slater said. "We just have to focus on us and our job
and being disciplined and being able to go down and cover him as a unit."
Ginn's plays were critical as the Dolphins struggled in
the wildcat for the second straight game and Henne absorbed five sacks.
"I could have gotten the ball away on a couple of
sacks," the second-year quarterback said, a challenge again against a Patriots
defense that plays "a different coverage every down."
In their last two games, the Dolphins gained just 6
yards on seven wildcat plays against the Jets, and 30 yards in 14 wildcat plays
in a 46-34 loss to the unbeaten New Orleans Saints. The season total: 66 wildcat
plays for 357 yards and four touchdowns, the same number they scored in the
Patriots' worst loss at Gillette Stadium since they began play there in 2002.
"It took everybody by surprise on our team, and it took
the league by storm last year," Tom Brady said. "That's all you heard this
offseason was 'who's going to be running the wildcat, and which teams will be
good at it?' And everyone has some version of it at this point. They've done a
great job with it. Anytime you have Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams on the field
at the same time, there's a lot of danger."
Of the 66 wildcat plays, 62 have been runs and four have
been passes by Brown. He's completed just one for 21 yards and been sacked once.
Last year he completed two passes, both for touchdowns, in four attempts for 72
yards from the formation.
"Ronnie has gotten better and better throwing the ball,"
Miami coach Tony Sparano said. "The first time I ever saw him throw the ball, I
told (offensive coordinator Dan Henning), `Take that out. I don't want to run
The Patriots stopped the wildcat in the 11th game last
season, holding the Dolphins to 66 yards rushing and winning 48-28.
Both teams finished 11-5 overall and 4-2 in division
play, but Miami won the AFC East with a better conference record while New
England missed the playoffs.
"The game we lost here (to Miami) was the reason why we
didn't go to the playoffs," said Wes Welker, second in the AFC with 46 catches.
Another loss to the Dolphins could be very costly. Both
teams are 3-2 in the AFC, but in the AFC East, Miami is 3-0 while New England is
"The last champion was the Miami Dolphins, so we have
the (division) championship," Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter said. "It's ours
to lose. You can't just crown the champions because they used to be the champion
back in the day. That hardly makes any sense."
The Patriots won the previous five AFC East titles and
went on to two Super Bowl championships. But Brady is just 9-5 as a starter in
the regular season against Miami and 25-3 against the other AFC East teams.
"They've played a really unique style for a lot of
years, rushing basically four guys," he said.
This year he's been sacked just eight times and hasn't
absorbed many big hits after returning from knee surgery and missing all but the
first game last season.
"At the end of the game, you want his jersey to be clean
(and) everybody else's to be dirty," Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson said.
Especially the jerseys of Brown and Williams, who both
would like to improve on their recent wildcat production.
"Teams are obviously putting time into it and we're
still putting ourselves in position to win games," Brown said. "It's not all
about the wildcat. That's something they have to prepare for, but we have a lot
of different things."
Maybe some different things out of the wildcat that the
Patriots haven't seen?
"Possibly," Brown said with a smile.