In this strange NFL season, consistency wins and nothing is more consistent than the Miami defense.
That was evident Sunday as the Dolphins beat the Patriots 27-17, picking off five Drew Bledsoe passes and sacking him five times to stay in a tie with Indianapolis atop the AFC East at 8-2. The victory also opened up ground on the Patriots (6-4) and Buffalo (7-4), which lost to the New York Jets on Sunday.
Miami gained just 229 yards against New England and didn't have a first down for 17 minutes at the start. Quarterback Damon Huard, who threw two short touchdown passes to Oronde Gadsden, left in the third quarter with a broken nose.
But the defense set up 13 points, stopped two late New England threats and basically dominated.
"In this division you have no margin for error," Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson said. "Our defense today, playing at home, came through for us."
It was just in time.
Miami was coming off a loss in Buffalo in which it gained just 101 yards and lost starting running back Cecil Collins with a broken leg. Rookie running back J.J. Johnson, who had alternated with Collins, had more than last week's total fo the entire team 106 yards on 31 carries.
Jimmy Johnson lost his temper after that game and it seemed to work.
"Being a Dolphin wasn't the best job this week," Taylor said. "Coach was upset and he had a right to be. But he made us focus."
The defeat seriously hurt the Patriots, who lost 31-30 to Miami in Foxboro, Mass., in October. That means they're really three games behind the Dolphins in the division.
Dolphins send Patriots Packing 27-17.(AP)
Huard, replaced by former Patriot Scott Zolak, threw touchdown passes of 4 and 3 yards to Gadsden, who also had two important third-down receptions on Miami's first touchdown drive. Huard, who was 18-of-30 for 131 yards, said he could play Thursday in Dallas, but Johnson said he hopes Dan Marino will return from a pinched nerve in his neck.
Miami broke a 10-10 halftime tie by driving 80 yards in 10 plays for the go-ahead score on the 3-yard Huard-Gadsden hookup. That never would have happened if Willie McGinest hadn't been called for a late hit on Huard after an incomplete pass on third-and-5 from the Miami 39.
"There's a number of things that could have changed the game around. I'm not going to sit here and say 'Willie, your play changed the game around,' " McGinest said.
"I'm an aggressive guy. I'm going to go after the quarterback any chance I've got. We're at the point now where it's just going to kill us if we lose any more divisional games."
New England jumped out to a 7-0 lead on Terry Allen's 6-yard run two plays after Huard fumbled trying to pitch out and Chad Eaton recovered at the Miami 7.
Sam Madison's interception set up Mare's field goal that cut it to 7-3 late in the first quarter.
Adam Vinatieri's 27-yarder made it 10-3, then the Dolphins drove 76 yards in 12 plays. Gadsden, who had two good third-down receptions on the drive, made a leaping catch of Huard's 4-yard pass in the enzone to tie it and send the game to halftime at 10-10.
After the 80-play TD drive that made it 17-10 early in the second half, Terrell Buckley picked off Bledsoe's pass and returned it 18 yards to the New England 10. Three plays later, Johnson went into the end zone.
But on the second play from scrimmage after that, Jefferson got behind Buckley and weaved his way into the end zone.
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed