Pats Squish the Fish

The standards are awfully high for the New England Patriots, who were annoyed Sunday by a handful of penalties, a couple of turnovers and the necessity to punt once.

By the way, they beat the Miami Dolphins 48-28.

"At times we sputtered," receiver Randy Moss said with a straight face. "We've got a little work to do."

There actually were some rocky moments: Three times the Patriots lost the lead, and three times they took it back. Matt Cassel threw for 415 yards, Moss caught three touchdown passes and resilient New England pulled away in the fourth quarter against the feisty but outgunned Dolphins.

The Patriots (7-4), who remained a game behind the AFC East-leading New York Jets, avenged an upset loss to Miami in September. New England hasn't been swept in a season series by a division opponent since 2000.

"Every game is important," coach Bill Belichick said. "It was a division game, and they got us the first time. At least we squared it up with them."

For the Dolphins (6-5), the loss snapped a four-game winning streak and hurt their chances of an improbable playoff berth after going 1-15 last year. They unraveled as the game slipped away, drawing three late personal-foul penalties, and defensive linemen Vonnie Holliday and Jason Ferguson apologized for the emotional lapses of teammates.

"We didn't show much class at the end," Holliday said. "What's so disappointing about this loss is not only were we beaten, but the way we handled the loss, especially at the end."

They couldn't keep up with Cassel, who had his second consecutive 400-yard day, doubling Tom Brady's career total. Working mostly from the shotgun, Cassel completed 30 of 43 passes, including touchdowns of 25, 8 and 29 to Moss, and ran for a score.

New England totaled 530 yards and has 1,041 in the past two games.

"The production is starting to come around," Cassel said. "When it all works together and works right, it's easy for me."

Moss was impressed by Brady's backup.

"Matt is getting in the comfort zone," Moss said. "He's playing some hellified ball."

Moss gained 125 yards on eight catches, several of the circus variety. It was his best day since an injury ended Brady's season in September, and he took advantage of frequent single coverage by the Dolphins.

"Anytime I feel disrespected, I want to go out there and make it happen," Moss said.

The Patriots needed the big showing on offense, because they had trouble stopping Chad Pennington, who threw for a career-high 341 yards and three touchdowns. The result was an offensive display reminiscent of the Dan Marino era, with the teams swapping scores until New England pulled away in the last 16 minutes.

The sixth and final lead change came on Moss' 8-yard touchdown catch to put the Patriots up 24-21. After they forced a punt, Wes Welker took a short pass and hugged the sideline for a 64-yard gain -- the longest of his career -- to set up a 21-yard touchdown run by Kevin Faulk on the final play of the third quarter.

That made it 31-21.

The Dolphins weren't finished -- they drove 69 yards and scored on Ricky Williams' 13-yard reception. But Moss answered with a 29-yard touchdown reception, and Brandon Meriweather's interception sealed the outcome.

Then it got ugly: Miami linebacker Channing Crowder and New England tackle Matt Light were ejected midway through the fourth quarter. Crowder lost his helmet when blocked by Light on a field-goal attempt and shoved Light, who responded by taking several swings at Crowder's head.

"It looked like a lack of poise," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "We did the things that young, immature teams do."

With less than three minutes left, Miami's Joey Porter was penalized for a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct.

New England bounced back from an overtime loss to the Jets on Nov. 13. Since the start of the 2003 season, the Patriots are 17-1 in games following a loss.

While their extensive use of the spread offense surprised Miami, the Dolphins' Wildcat formation was shut out after producing four touchdowns in six plays when they won at Foxborough in September. This time the Dolphins snapped directly to running back Ronnie Brown eight times, and the plays netted 25 yards.

"Having some time to prepare for it definitely helped," Belichick said.


Copyright AP - Associated Press
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