MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Star power means everything in Miami. The owners are celebrities, and a couple of their players can be big-time headline grabbers.
While wide receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Reggie Bush have been two of the NFL's most well-known players for their dynamic styles, the Dolphins' offense can be its most fluid when they get slot receiver Davone Bess in a rhythm.
The Patriots really keyed on Bess during their 38-24 victory Monday night, and it threw Miami out of whack. Bess had five receptions for 92 yards in the game, but he was held to two catches for 37 yards through three quarters. The rest of the action came after the game got out of hand and the Patriots relaxed their coverage.
"He's big in their offense," Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty said. "If you just watch on third down, he makes a lot of big plays in that slot. He's definitely one of the quickest guys in this league, so we really put emphasis on trying to stop him and trying to get on him early, try to contain him because in recent years, he's had some big games against us. It was definitely a key coming in here, but their offense has so many weapons."
Cornerback Leigh Bodden was primarily responsible for Bess in the slot. In fact, Bodden left Bess to cover Marshall for one play, and the speedy receiver ripped off a 26-yard gain. The next play, of course, Bodden was back in Bess' face.
Bodden had help, as the Patriots mixed up a lot of their coverages on Bess. There were plays when Bodden led Bess to the inside when a linebacker would help bracket him. Other times, safety Patrick Chung or Josh Barrett hovered over the top to allow Bodden the ability to play more freely at the line of scrimmage.
"It was pretty good," Bodden said. "He got a couple catches on me, but for the most part, I think I played good coverage on him. Sometimes, we doubled him. Sometimes, we didn't. Just had to mix it up on him. It was decent on my part."
It was reminiscent of the Patriots' game plan on Bess in 2010. In Week 4, they loaded their defense toward Marshall, but Bess really drove the offense, catching eight passes for 96 yards and one touchdown. The Patriots changed the direction of their defense in Week 17, when Bess was held to three catches for 35 yards and one score.
He has become the safety blanket for quarterback Chad Henne, and the two have formed a bond that's similar to Tom Brady's with Wes Welker. When it's thrown out of whack, the Dolphins can struggle, and that's how it happened Monday night.
"It's definitely important to slow those two down," Bodden said of Henne and Bess. "When those two get going, it opens up for the outside. We wanted to slow that combo down."