Opportunistic Patriots hold off Dolphins

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Oct. 8, 2006) -- Joey Harrington didn't fare much better than the quarterback he replaced. It just didn't hurt as much.

Asante Samuel intercepted two passes by the substitute starter after 21 sacks in four games sidelined Daunte Culpepper with a bruised shoulder and the New England Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins 20-10 Sunday.

"We've been going for too many games here at the start of the season without any turnovers," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "Those turnovers are huge. It puts us on a short field."

The Patriots (4-1) had just one takeaway in the first three games and three for the season before coming up with three Sunday. Harrington, playing for the first time this season, may have been rusty but was sacked just once as he delivered the ball quickly.

He probably should have held it instead of throwing the interceptions that set up two touchdowns.

"He got me. Bill Belichick got me," Harrington said, but "we did a great job of protecting."

The Dolphins (1-4) continued to fall far short of the preseason hype that came with their acquisition of Culpepper, who missed his last nine games with Minnesota last season with a knee injury.

"He'll put his career on the line for this team. You have to admire that in the guy. So when he says he wanted to play, I know he did," Miami coach Nick Saban said. "I made that decision (to start Harrington). I don't know if it was right or not, but it was a decision we had to make."

Belichick was ready for Harrington.

"We talked about him all week as it looked like he was upping his practice time," Belichick said.

Concerned about Culpepper's shoulder and mobility, Saban wouldn't say when he would play again.

There was no quarterback decision to be made by Belichick. Tom Brady was just 6-4 against Miami, compared with 21-2 against the rest of the AFC East. And he completed 16 of 29 passes for a season-low 140 yards as the Patriots were outgained 283 yards to 213.

"We didn't play as well as an offense as we would have liked, but we're playing some good situational football," Brady said. "We're finishing the games when we needed to, making critical plays."

The play with about 10 minutes left really hurt -- and angered -- the Dolphins.

The Patriots had taken the ball at the Dolphins 24 after Samuel's second interception on a pass off the hands of Wes Welker, who led all receivers with nine catches.

After an incompletion and a 2-yard run by Laurence Maroney, Brady underthrew the ball to Doug Gabriel on the right side of the end zone. But Will Allen was called for defensive pass interference, putting the ball at the 1. Brady threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Heath Evans on the next play with 9:47 to go.

The officials "said I didn't look for the ball. I did look for the ball," Allen said. "He (Gabriel) grabbed me."

Saban was incensed because the ball hit Allen as Gabriel was trying to come back to it.

"If it was a good call," Saban said, "we've got bad rules."

The first turnover, a recovery by Tedy Bruschi of Ronnie Brown's fumble on Miami's third play from scrimmage, led to Stephen Gostkowski 's 35-yard field goal.

Miami's Olindo Mare had his 40-yard field-goal attempt blocked by Mike Wright before Gostkowski made it 6-0 with a 31-yard field goal on New England's second possession.

The Dolphins' third series didn't go any better. Harrington's pass on the fourth play was intercepted by Samuel, who returned it 26 yards to the Miami 10. Two plays later, Brady threw a 10-yard scoring pass down the middle to Troy Brown for a 13-0 lead midway through the second quarter.

Then Harrington outplayed Brady for the rest of the second and all of the third quarter, helping cut the lead to 13-10 on Brown's 2-yard run and Mare's 40-yard field goal.

But Mare missed a 50-yarder with 6 minutes left.

"We've got to create more turnovers," Miami linebacker Channing Crowder said. "They get three turnovers, we've got to get four or five."

Another play in the kicking game cost the Dolphins field position, if not points. With a fourth-and-5 at the Miami 36, punter Donnie Jones dropped the snap and fell on it before being tackled by Wright, giving the Patriots the ball at their 46. But New England punted the ball back.

"It's a totally different (approach) from last year," said Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who played 11 days after undergoing surgery on his broken left wrist. "We go out there with the attitude the ball is ours."


Miami WR Marty Booker had his left arm in a sling after the game and said he had an injury in the shoulder and pectoral area. "I don't know the severity of it," he said, but expected to have it checked Monday. ... Maroney rushed for 38 yards one week after getting 125.

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