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For all their accomplishments during Bill Belichick’s eight-year tenure, success in Miami is one of the few things that has eluded the New England Patriots in that time.
Judging by the teams’ respective performances this season, Sunday’s matchup at Dolphin Stadium doesn’t figure to follow that trend.
The Patriots seek the first 7-0 record in franchise history while the lowly Dolphins hope to avoid their first 0-7 start.
Belichick’s eight seasons in New England have been highlighted by three Super Bowl titles, a 12-2 postseason record and an 81-37 regular-season mark.
One of the few places the Patriots have struggled is Miami, where they are 2-5 since Belichick became head coach in 2000. New England is 1-13 all-time there during the first two months of the season, and has never scored more than 19 points in an October game in Miami.
The Patriots had their worst performance of the 2006 season in a 21-0 loss at Miami on Dec. 10. Tom Brady threw for 78 yards in that game, fumbled twice and was sacked four times behind an offense that totaled a season-low 189 yards.
Brady is 31-8 in his career as a starter in regular-season division games, with five of those losses coming to the Dolphins. He has passed for more than 200 yards in only one of his last seven meetings with Miami, though he has not thrown for fewer than 230 in any game this season.
“The last time we went down there, we got shut out,” Belichick said. “So I hope we can do better than that this time. It will be a big challenge for us … I don’t think we’ll have any problem getting ready for that.”
History aside, New England will be heavily favored to improve to 7-0, which would surpass the 2004 Super Bowl-winning team which opened 6-0 before losing at Pittsburgh.
In a matchup between the NFL’s top offenses, the Patriots proved superior last Sunday in a 48-27 victory at previously unbeaten Dallas.
Brady was outstanding again, throwing for a season-best 388 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. He was at his best with his team facing a second-half deficit for the first time this season, responding with five scoring drives - three for touchdowns.
The 48 points were the most scored by the Patriots since a 50-17 win over Indianapolis on Nov. 18, 1984.
“Any time you win you’re doing just fine,” Brady said. “It’s another step in the process. We have to continue to make improvements.”
Brady is the first NFL quarterback to throw at least three TD passes in each of the first six games of a season. He leads the league with 21 touchdown passes, putting him in position to challenge Peyton Manning’s league record of 49.
“That’s not what this team is about,” Brady said. “Individual records are based on opportunities. What I get excited about is team records.”
Brady’s receivers were kept busy last week as former Dolphin Wes Welker caught 11 passes for a career-high 124 yards and two scores. Donte’ Stallworth had seven catches for 124 yards and a TD while Randy Moss turned six receptions into 59 yards with one touchdown.
Morris, who spent the previous three seasons in Miami, reportedly could miss up to a month with the injury. Losing Morris wouldn’t be as big a blow if top running back Laurence Maroney was healthy, but he has missed the last three games with a groin injury.
Neither Morris nor Watson practiced Wednesday while Maroney did, but the second-year back remains unsure if he can return this week.
If both Maroney and Morris are out, nine-year veteran Kevin Faulk would get most of the carries Sunday.
The way Brady and his receivers are working together, the Patriots don’t figure to need much of a ground game against the Dolphins, who rank 29th in the league in scoring defense (30.3 ppg).
Miami is allowing opponents to convert 54 percent of their third-down situations, worst in the NFL. New England’s offense is fifth in that area, converting 48.5 percent on third down.
A 41-31 loss at Cleveland last Sunday dropped the Dolphins to 0-6 for the second time in franchise history. They also lost their first six games in 2004 before beating St. Louis in Week 7.
Miami, which joins the Rams as the only remaining winless teams, has lost a franchise-record nine straight games over two seasons.
“I don’t see how it can get any lower than this,” cornerback Will Allen said.
A matchup against what most feel is the league’s best team doesn’t bode well for the Dolphins.
“You prepare every week to win,” coach Cam Cameron said. “When you get to the point where you don’t think you can go into a game and win, you better go do something else.”
With an obvious eye toward the future, the Dolphins traded receiver Chris Chambers to San Diego on Tuesday for a second-round draft choice in 2008.
The deal will mean more playing time for rookie Ted Ginn Jr., a first-round pick who has only three receptions this season.
There were some positives for the Dolphins to come out of last week’s loss. The 31 points and 356 yards were season highs, Ronnie Brown rushed for more than 100 yards for the fourth straight game and quarterback Cleo Lemon threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns in his second NFL start.
That, however, came against the Browns and one of the league’s worst defenses. Only Pittsburgh is allowing fewer yards per game than New England (256.7).