The New England Patriots played more like the franchise’s dominating 2007 version in two lopsided victories before a bye week, and now they want to show their high-powered attack can keep clicking against tougher competition.
They’ll also have a few things to prove Sunday to the Miami Dolphins, whose blowout victory in Foxborough last year keyed their AFC East title.
The Patriots can further reassert their control over the division they’ve won six times this decade as they face the Dolphins, who try for a second straight road win as they attempt to resurrect their season.
New England’s uneven start seems like a distant memory after the Patriots (5-2) outscored their last two opponents by a combined 94-7, with resurgent quarterback Tom Brady(notes) throwing nine touchdown passes.
Wes Welker(notes) and Randy Moss(notes) combined for 33 catches and six TDs in those games as Brady brought back memories of two years ago, when he threw for an NFL-record 50 touchdowns during a 16-0 regular season. He missed nearly all of last year with a major knee injury.
“For the most part, guys are in the spots where they need to be,” Brady said Wednesday. “We have a pretty good understanding how we’re going to attack people. I think everyone’s excited for what’s ahead.”
Both Tennessee and Tampa Bay were winless at the time of New England’s blowout victories, and the Patriots may find things a bit tougher after their return from the 35-7 win over the Buccaneers in London.
Their November slate includes visits to unbeaten teams Indianapolis and New Orleans and division games against the New York Jets and Miami (3-4).
“There’s obviously some great teams,” Welker said. “That’s the way it is week in and week out, but especially this next month, so we’re definitely going to stay on top of our game.”
New England’s defense was surprised by Miami’s wildcat formation at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 21, 2008, giving up 461 total yards in a 38-13 loss that ended the Patriots’ league-record 21-game winning streak in the regular season.
They avenged that loss with a 48-28 win at Miami on Nov. 23, but both teams finished 11-5 and the Dolphins won the division based on a better conference record while New England missed the playoffs.
Outspoken linebacker Joey Porter(notes) was sure to announce before the season that the Dolphins are still “champions until proven otherwise” in the division, but they’ll fall three games behind with a loss Sunday.
Miami could have been in even worse shape if not for a 30-25 road win over the Jets last Sunday. Although the Dolphins mustered just 104 yards from scrimmage, they scored 21 points in one third-quarter stretch without the offense touching the ball.
With the run-heavy attack out of the wildcat faltering lately, the Dolphins may need to find more balance offensively if they’re going to win for the fourth time in five games.
“We just need to get better overall against an eight-man front,” said quarterback Chad Henne(notes), who will face the Patriots for the first time. “I don’t think overall we executed - the running game or the passing game.”
The Patriots have been working with a patchwork defense after Richard Seymour(notes) and Mike Vrabel(notes) were traded and Rodney Harrison(notes) and Tedy Bruschi(notes) retired. New England also is missing defensive end Jarvis Green(notes) after he had minor knee surgery, but coach Bill Belichick said the team will be ready for whichever strategy the Dolphins offense uses.
“They give you a lot of stuff to defend and I’m sure that we’ll need a lot of different options to handle the variations that they show,” Belichick said.
While the Patriots won five straight AFC East crowns before last season, Miami has often presented problems for New England this decade, going a respectable 8-10 in the series since Belichick took over in 2000.
The meetings have taken on an extra dimension since Bill Parcells, the former Patriots coach and Belichick mentor, joined Miami’s front office in 2007, and Belichick said the Dolphins’ roster has Parcells “stamped all over it.”
“They are a big, powerful team,” Belichick said. “… That’s what Bill believes in and I think he has a great philosophy. And it works for him. And it should work.”