Down a score and in desperate need of a stop, the Dolphins picked a peculiar time to sit down both their top two defensive ends.
For much of the Patriots’ game-clinching, 16-play, 77-yard field-goal drive that sapped more than seven minutes off the fourth-quarter clock, Jared Odrick and Cameron Wake were on the bench.
Neither were injured.
Meanwhile, the Patriots, who couldn’t run the ball all afternoon, called 12 rushing plays on the possession and gained 53 yards.
“That was our best drive of the day,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “We needed it.”
So what was Dolphin coach Joe Philbin’s rationale for using Olivier Vernon, Derrick Shelby and even linebacker Koa Misi at defensive end during the game’s deciding moments?
“They were running the ball,” Philbin said. “We have a play count that we want to keep guys to [in order] to keep guys fresh.”
Likewise, Odrick cited the Dolphins defensive line rotation when asked about his prolonged absence.
As for Wake’s response, it was a bit curt.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It was one of those questions for the coaches.”
Wake also said he didn’t remember whether he had asked back into the game.
Wes Welker continued to prove himself nearly impossible to cover, with 12 catches for 103 yards and the Patriots’ lone receiving touchdown.
However, the Dolphins seemed to figure him out defensively in the second half; he had just two catches for 14 yards after intermission.
“We stayed with our game plan,” said nickel corner Jimmy Wilson, who shadowed Welker for much of the day. “Everybody knew we were going to have to have a big second half. We decided to hunker down.”
Overall, the defense played quite well, holding the Patriots 14 points below their average, and sacking Tom Brady four times.
Dolphins inactives Sunday were quarterback Pat Devlin, safety Jonathon Amaya, linebacker Josh Kaddu, tackle Will Yeatman, tight ends Michael Egnew and Kyle Miller, and defensive lineman Kheeston Randall.
Amaya was arrested last Monday morning on charges he attacked a South Beach cab driver. Randall had played in every previous game of his rookie season.
Both were apparently coach’s decisions, as neither was on any injury report this week.
Michael Coe was active after signing with the team earlier in the week.
This and that
• Dan Carpenter was a perfect 3 for 3 on field goals, and has made 11 of his past 12 since a shaky start to the season. He booted a 44-yarder into the wind, even after Belichick called timeout with a second left in the first quarter, forcing him to kick in that direction.
• Philbin has established a reputation as a bit of gambler, but he chose to punt on fourth-and-1 from near midfield halfway through the third quarter.
“Our defense was playing pretty well then,” Philbin explained. “We kicked it around. We talked a lot about it this week of going for it on fourth down in various situations. We thought the better of it there.”
• Marcus Thigpen, the team’s top returner, got his first carry of the season, a nine-yard run.
• In addition to picking off Brady, safety Reshad Jones also recorded his first sack of the season.
• The loss was Miami’s fifth in a row to New England, but the Dolphins still lead the overall series 50-44.
• Wilson, Odrick and Randy Starks are among the Dolphins who left the game with apparent injuries, but all three were able to return.
• Sunday’s paid attendance: 72,114, the largest of the season.