The Dolphins Are Always the Toughest Rival for New England

Since Tom Brady left in the 2020 offseason, the history between the New England Patriots and their division rivals now has a completely different balance. Josh Allen took over as the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills and has given the Pats some of their most humiliating defeats in recent memory. Now that the Jets have Aaron Rodgers, that team is no longer going to be the easy victory that many New England fans anticipate before kickoff.

However, the Miami Dolphins are always scrappy and normally come up with plenty of upsets against this team, mainly whenever they play in South Beach. But it’s not like Miami always comes out to play and brings it down to the wire every single time. No, there have been plenty of moments where the Patriots have blown out the Dolphins, regardless if it is at home or on the road. Let’s take a look at the five best games where that has been the case for now, but do not worry, there will be another time when the Miami curse will be explained.

The Dolphins Are Always the Toughest Rival for New England

#5: 2003 Snow Bowl

There haven’t been a lot of seasons where the Patriots and Dolphins were both trying to fight for a spot in the playoffs, but heading into this Week 14 showdown in Gillette Stadium, one of them needed to win to keep their hopes alive. The Patriots had already beaten this division rival on the road in October, which will be talked about later on, so Miami was under more pressure to win. Head coach Dave Wannstedt had his team 8-4 heading into this pivotal matchup with the third-best scoring defense in the league with a cast of future Hall of Famers and Pro Bowl caliber players, but an average offense that had Jay Fiedler as their starting quarterback. But the good news was that they had 1300-yard rusher Ricky Williams in their backfield, and knowing that there was going to be plenty of snow in Foxboro, it looked like he could have a memorable performance. However, Bill Belichick’s defense not only gave up the fewest points in the league, but they also gave up the fourth fewest rushing yards and sixth-fewest rushing touchdowns, so Miami’s offense had a very strong chance of getting neutralized.

What ensued was quite possibly the most boring game between these two teams in the last twenty-five years. Both offenses could not move the ball whatsoever and the defenses carried their teams for as long as possible. Tom Brady got sacked three times and only threw for 163 yards, they could not get into the endzone one time and only scored three points. Think about that for a second. The Dolphins’ defense allowed just under 230 total yards of offense, they gave up one field goal, and they even forced a fumble. Normally, that should be enough for a victory, but not against this Patriots defense. The reason why New England came through with the win was because Miami’s offense was even worse. Fiedler got sacked five times, they mustered up just 134 total yards of offense, and eight of New England’s points came off of turnovers. All of the momentum came to the Patriots in the middle of the fourth quarter when Fiedler was backed up at his own four-yard line, and he threw the ball right to linebacker Tedy Bruschi resulting in a pick-six. A few drives later, instead of Adam Vinatieri kicking a 55-yard field goal to potentially seal the game with less than two minutes left, they had Tom Brady pull off a surprise punt that was miraculously downed at the one-yard line. The drive was predictably shut down, and on fourth down and eight at the three-yard line, both Mike Vrabel and Jarvis Green swallowed Fiedler up in the endzone for a safety.

The Patriots won that game 12-0, they won their division with a 14-2 record, and the Dolphins missed the playoffs even with a 10-6 season. In the early 2000s, a team could actually get away with a terrible offense if their defense was absolutely outstanding and they were well-coached all around. But after this beatdown from Bill Belichick and the envy of the league in the New England Patriots, they started to shut down that trend themselves. New England won its second Super Bowl championship in three seasons, while Miami was once again on the outside looking in.

#4: Matt Cassel Throws for 400 Yards

This would not be a Patriots article if a game from the legendary Matt Cassel was not mentioned whatsoever. Heading into Week 12 of the 2008 season, he was honestly doing a relatively solid job. New England was 6-4 heading into a very pivotal division matchup against the Miami Dolphins, and not only did Cassel do enough on the offensive side, they were putting up really impressive numbers. They finished that year with the most first downs in the league, they were fifth in total yards, and eighth in points scored! Yes, it was Tom Brady’s team that Cassel and coordinator Josh McDaniels were taking over, but that is nowhere easy to accomplish. But the Miami Dolphins were having an outstanding year themselves. After the worst season they had in franchise history, where they went 1-15, new head coach Tony Sparano decided to completely change the identity of this offense to make sure their defense wasn’t being left out to dry. The Wildcat might not have been the most unstoppable in the league, but it was enough to dismantle New England in the third week of the season in Gillette Stadium, which is the first time that the Dolphins ran that type of system. Heading into this home matchup, they were also 6-4 and were tied with the Patriots for second place in the AFC East. The Jets were sitting on top and had already beaten them at least once before, so whoever won this game was going to have a big tiebreaker advantage if New York somehow held onto that AFC lead.

Right away, the Dolphins had no success running the football. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined for just 58 yards of offense, and New England essentially dared quarterback Chad Pennington to beat them on his own. He was not exactly having the best season of his career, but he was good enough to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2008 because he hardly turned the ball over and he still had plenty of juice left to try to will his team to victory. For forty-eight minutes, Pennington was absolutely carrying the Dolphins. Throughout that span, it was a back-and-forth offensive showdown that looked like it was going to come down to a couple of clutch plays in the end with a last-second score to decide the victor. Pennington threw for 295 yards and three touchdown passes, even with three sacks given up, and they were only down by three with just under ten minutes left. Unfortunately, one unlikely but costly interception to Brandon Meriweather, and the Patriots scored seventeen unanswered points to pull it away 48-28. However, that’s not even the full story.

While Chad Pennington did everything he could to win this game for the Dolphins, Matt Cassel not only succeeded in going toe-to-toe with the former first-round pick, he threw him off the ring once that interception took place. Cassel finished that performance with 415 yards and three touchdown passes, and the craziest part about this was that New England turned it over twice, and they still won the game by twenty. It was also an electrifying and dynamic performance from the unstoppable duo of Randy Moss and Wes Welker, who had a couple of career signature performances. Moss caught three touchdowns and finished with 125 receiving yards on eight receptions, while Wes Welker caught another eight passes for 120 yards. Both offenses were prominent and awesome to watch that day, but the Dolphins screwed up at the worst possible time, which allowed the Patriots to take advantage of their opportunities.

Both teams finished with the same record at 11-5 and the Jets ended up losing their lead in the AFC East, but the Dolphins somehow stole the division title via tiebreaker. The Patriots were somehow out of the playoffs, but if there’s any silver lining for them, the Baltimore Ravens ended up exposing the Dolphins in the Wild Card round and blew them out 20-3.

#3: Wes Welker and the 99-Yard Touchdown

When the Patriots and Dolphins met each other once again in Miami to kick off the 2011 season on Monday Night Football, there were not too many storylines surrounding this game. Miami had a superstar in Brandon Marshall on their offense and their defense was the sixth-best scoring defense in the league that year, but everybody knew that New England was the overall better team. One more thing to point out with this Dolphins team was that they had some outstanding assistants on that coaching staff that year. Brian Daboll was the offensive coordinator, Todd Bowles was the assistant head coach, and Dan Campbell worked with the tight ends. Why were the Dolphins not good that season? More on that later.

For Patriots fans, it was not surprising in the slightest that this was a close game given the history of their games in Miami, but the world was seeing Chad Henne have one of the best statistical performances of his career. For about thirty-five minutes, he was having a solid performance. They started the game with a long opening drive that resulted in a seven-yard quarterback touchdown run, and then after an interception from Tom Brady to start the third quarter, Henne tied the game at fourteen with a touchdown pass to Brian Hartline. Unfortunately, while Henne threw for over 400 yards, those were the only meaningful points that Miami could score. Not only did their offense fall flat, but their defense got absolutely carved up by the greatest quarterback in the history of football. Brady finished that night with 517 passing yards and four touchdown passes in what would be one of the best seasons of his career, four receivers finished with more than 80 yards, and it was topped off in the fourth quarter with a 99-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker that iced the game. The Dolphins fought, but they were just completely outmatched and had no answers whatsoever.

The Patriots went 13-3 in 2011 and once again ran away with the lead in the AFC East, they made the first of what would be eight straight conference championship appearances and would make their fifth Super Bowl appearance in the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era. Unfortunately, things kept going south for the Dolphins since that loss. Not only was their starting quarterback situation in flux almost every single week, but head coach Tony Sparano got fired with three weeks left in the year, and the Dolphins finished the year at 6-10.

#2: Brady and Troy Brown Win in OT

Two months before that beautiful snow game in New England that saw the Patriots shut the Dolphins out 12-0, they met each other for the first time in mid-October in the old Pro Player Stadium in Miami. The home team was 4-1 and needed a win to stay ahead in the AFC East, but the Patriots were 4-2 and made sure that they were not going to be left behind. Unlike that Snow Bowl in Gillette Stadium, this was not going to come down to which defense would turn the game upside down in the fourth quarter, but which quarterback would take over when it mattered most. Between Tom Brady and Jay Fiedler, the answer should be pretty obvious.

Both offenses were definitely a lot better than how they would eventually play in their second meeting of the season, but that is not really saying much. The entire first half was full of sloppy drives and ugly turnovers from both sides, which is why the Dolphins only found themselves up just 10-6 at halftime. In the third quarter, Tom Brady finally got the offense in some sort of rhythm and led a near-eight-minute touchdown drive for 76 yards, capping it off with a 24 yard touchdown pass to David Givens that tied the game up at thirteen. By the time the fourth arrived, it was three-and-out after three-and-out for fifteen minutes. It looked like Miami was going to take the lead after getting into field goal range with two minutes left, but Richard Seymour came up with a huge block on a field goal attempt from Olindo Mare, and the game was heading into overtime.  The Dolphins won the coin toss and got the ball to start, and remember, it was sudden death so a made field goal was going to win them the game. Fiedler managed to lead the Dolphins into the red zone, and even though it stalled, all Mare had to do was make a chip-shot field goal from 35 yards for the win. But for some inexplicable reason, he missed it and the Patriots were somehow still alive! Unfortunately, a Jason Taylor sack forced them to punt and Miami got the ball back with plenty of time left on the clock. It looked like they were going to pick up where they left off, but Fiedler did exactly what he would end up doing later in Gillette Stadium, throwing a costly interception with the game on the line. This time, it was Tyrone Poole who came up with the huge play at the perfect time. One play later, Tom Brady launched a rocket down the left side of the field and found Troy Brown five yards behind two defenders, who blazed past both of them to score the game-winning touchdown! Seeing Tom Brady jump into the arms of his teammates and Bill Belichick toss his clipboard up in the air with elation was the perfect way to describe this football game. Even though there were so many missed opportunities, the Patriots made the most out of the ones that they created, and it ended up saving them when it mattered the most.

#1: The Perfect Game in Miami

While 2007 was considered to be the perfect season for the New England Patriots, it was the absolute worst for the Miami Dolphins. One team finished with zero losses in the regular season and set so many outstanding records, while the other only had one victory and were one of the worst teams in NFL History. Enough gets talked about Tom Brady’s record-setting MVP season, the dominating offense that beat everyone down with the likes of Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and the defense that never missed a beat as long as Bill Belichick was still the head coach. But nobody talks about just how putrid the Dolphins were that year because it becomes an afterthought. Cam Cameron was in his first and only year as the head coach, joining a team that normally had a stable defense but an atrocious offense that needed a shakeup badly. He got the job with Miami because he was the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers in 2006, the year that they went 14-2 thanks to an MVP season from LaDainian Tomlinson, as well as a coming-to-life party for quarterback Philip Rivers. One thing that everybody knew right away was that the Dolphins had nowhere near the same amount of talent that the Chargers had, not even close. Trent Green was the starting quarterback for the first five games and lost all five of them before eventually getting hurt for the rest of the season. The remaining guys on the depth chart were John Beck and Cleo Lemon. That should say everything about the direction of their offense. The defense still had Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas, but the latter played just five games, and their secondary was an absolute travesty that gave up the fifth most touchdowns in all of football.

From start to finish, it was an absolute mismatch. Tom Brady had a perfect passer rating, completing twenty-one of twenty-five passes for 354 yards with a career-high six touchdown passes and zero interceptions. By the start of the fourth quarter, the Patriots were winning 42-7, and the only reason why Miami even scored more than twenty points was because Matt Cassel threw a pick-six in garbage time. It was also the game where Randy Moss caught two of the most impossible touchdowns in Patriots history, yet he made it look like it was nothing, both of them in double coverage. On the first one, he jumped over two defenders and kept his feet in bounds. In the second one, he just snagged the ball with one hand like he was catching his car keys, and Brady had to launch both of them with everything he had in his arm. That’s why nobody talks about the game that Wes Welker had, where he also caught two touchdown passes and led the team in catches and yards that day, nine for 138 on eleven targets. Cleo Lemon, on the other hand, was as bad as you could expect. He might not have been as awful as Jay Fiedler was in 2003, but he still got sacked three times and turned the ball over twice. The Patriots won 49-21, and it should have been a lot worse, and the rest was history for both of these teams.

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Joe Carey

So, even as a Dolphin fan, I was looking VERY forward to this article upon seeing its title. It left me very curious about the basis of that opinion. Upon reading it, however, it didn’t show anything to support its own title. Instead it appeared as a boasting and nothing less. A few of those mentions were spot on as to why I felt a strong rivalry existed, but the reasons it existed were absent. The back and forth. Give and take. The fact that the Patriots lost the number one seed due to the Dolphins multiple times, or the games where the Dolphins came back from deficits. Not even a mention of the only person to consistently bother Brady: Cam Wake. I fully appreciated the mentions of several of these games as far as rivalry went. However, in order to detail WHY they make a great rivalry, shouldn’t you have shared accomplishments the Dolphins had against the patriots in that time? The literal basis of what MADE our teams a rivalry?

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