"It was a mess," Sparano said.
It was that, too.
It was a 41-14 victory for New England over Miami, and it was baffling. Whichever side you were rooting for, you had to be scratching your head after this one. Where did that come from? Any of it -- all of it?
It was incomprehensible.
"It was a tidal wave of negative plays," Sparano said.
It was that, too.
Miami won the first half 7-6. Miami outgained the Patriots 400-265. Miami quarterback Chad Henne completed 29 of 39 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Miami held Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to 153 passing yards, held the Patriots ground game to 3.7 yards per carry, held receiver Randy Moss without a catch.
And Miami was demolished.
"This one's on everybody," Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall said. "It's on the coaches, the players. Everybody. Offense, defense, special teams. Everybody."
The Dolphins turned anonymous Patriots into household names. Until this game, I'm guessing most of America had never heard of Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich. I'm a professional sportswriter -- don't try this at home, kids -- and I'd never heard of Rob Ninkovich. Embarrassed? Nah. Another of the "national" sportswriters at the game walked up to me in a panic in the Patriots locker room after the game because he was about to talk to Ninkovich, and he didn't know Ninkovich's first name. And this was after Ninkovich had intercepted two passes.
"Everything that was in the air, he pounced on," said Patriots receiver Wes Welker, who had eight catches for 70 yards as New England's only "name" player to have a big game. "If we ever have injuries at tight end, I guess we can call on Rob."
Welker was kidding, unless he wasn't. Whatever the case, those were the first two interceptions of
Nondescript's Ninkovich's career -- and this is his fifth season in the NFL. New England is his third team. I dare you to name his first two teams. Hint: One of those teams lost Monday night, 41-14.
Ninkovich recorded both his interceptions in the first half, then added a sack -- matching his career sack total, by the way -- but he wasn't the player of the game. He wasn't close to being the player of the game.
That honor would have to go to another New England non-entity, Patrick Chung, a second-year safety.
"He had a great game," Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "Blocked a kick. Interception for a touchdown. A couple tackles. So he had a great game."
|New England Patriots|
|The winning formula started with a 103-yard kickoff return for a TD on the first play of the second half and kept going from there. You know things went well when the Pats win and Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker are hardly mentioned. This game was won on special teams.|
|The special teams were atrocious. A blocked punt, a 103-yard kickoff return for a TD, and a blocked field goal returned for a TD? It's almost unprecedented. The running game was sluggish and the passing game was suspect. The defense was OK. Losing back-to-back home games in the AFC East will leave a lasting mark.|
|By Chris Perkins|
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True, and Mayo left out something. Chung blocked two kicks -- a punt that led to a touchdown, then a field goal that was returned by teammate Kyle Arrington for a touchdown. Finally, Chung returned Henne's third interception 51 yards for a touchdown of his own.
By the time Chung had completed his bizarre hat trick with 6½ minutes left, Sun Life Stadium was almost completely empty. Dolphins fans had cleared out with 14 minutes left, after Chung blocked Miami's 53-yard field-goal attempt, which Arrington scooped up for his 35-yard touchdown return. That made it 34-14. Disgusted by the proceedings, Dolphins fans poured out of the stadium, which means they didn't get to experience the grand finale.
Which sounded like a whoopee cushion.
Chung's interception return made New England the first team in NFL history to score five touchdowns in the following five ways: on a rush, pass, kickoff return, blocked field-goal return and interception return.
The kickoff return had been turned in by Brandon Tate, a 103-yarder that opened the second half and turned the momentum irrevocably toward the Patriots. Until that kickoff return, the Dolphins were winning 7-6, and it wasn't that close. Only Henne's poor throws -- and Ninkovich's fine grabs of those poor throws -- had kept the Patriots in the game. The Dolphins were averaging 5 yards per carry. Henne was completing 76 percent of his passes. Brady was bottled up, limited to nickel-and-dime passing that was going nowhere.
Miami was in command, and then suddenly, Miami was not. Brandon Tate was going 103 yards, and it didn't look like he was touched on the play. Over the radio, Dolphins analyst Jim Mandich was screaming in anger, "If they dusted him for fingerprints, they wouldn't find any!"
True. This Patriots victory was the perfect crime.
"It's not what I expected, no," Sparano said.
It was not that, no.