DAVIE — There are explanations, if you look hard enough.
There are games in which Tom Brady didn’t play like Tom Brady. A game in which Jay Cutler (fortunately for the Dolphins) didn’t play like Jay Cutler. A game in which the New England Patriots pretty much tanked it. And a sublime game in which a guy came out of nowhere to bail out the Dolphins.
Taken on a case-by-case basis, that evidence can explain how the Dolphins beat the New England Patriots in various recent meetings in Miami.
But can they explain the inexplicable? Because when you put everything together, it is inexplicable that the Dolphins are 4-1 against the Patriots in the past five meetings in Miami.
Which brings us to this weekend, when everybody knows what’s supposed to happen when the Patriots visit, but nobody knows what will happen.
The Patriots are 9-3 and can clinch their 10th consecutive AFC East championship when they visit the Dolphins, who are 6-6, have won only twice in the past six outings and lost 38-7 to the Patriots earlier this season. They’re also 10-point underdogs and will be without their best Brady defense mechanism, cornerback Xavien Howard.
And if recent history holds true, not a single fact in the preceding paragraph will matter.
“To sit here and tell you our guys don’t get a little more amped up for the division opponents at home, I’d be fibbing,” said Darren Rizzi, the Dolphins’ associate head coach and special teams coordinator. “I think there’s a little bit more extra incentive there.”
The AFC East angle only explains so much. It falls apart when you consider that the Dolphins have actually fared better at home lately against the Patriots than against the Buffalo Bills, who have won twice in their past five trips to South Florida.
Not only have the Dolphins wrecked the Patriots’ trips here, they’ve done it in convincing fashion, winning by an average of 8 1/2 points and outgaining New England by 81 yards in those four victories. And don’t forget, one team in this equation has zero winning records in any of those four seasons while the other team never failed to win fewer than 12 games and appeared in two Super Bowls. (You read that right — the Dolphins’ 2016 team, which did make the playoffs, lost at home to the Patriots 35-14.)
“It’s a tremendous, tremendous challenge to go down there,” said Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, in what might otherwise be kissed off as coachspeak.
With Howard out because of a knee injury, Brady likely will be zeroing in on Miami’s secondary, including Howard’s potential replacement at cornerback, Torry McTyer. But Brady can’t afford to take this game lightly. He’s 22-10 lifetime against the Dolphins, meaning he has lost more games to Miami than he has to the Bills and Jets combined. He’s also 7-9 in his career in Miami, which accounts for 22 percent of the 41 regular-season road losses he has suffered in his career.
“It’s been a challenging environment,” Brady said on Westwood One. “I think the climate plays some role, and they always seem to play well when they play us down there. We are not going to get beat by the weather; we’re going to get beat by the Dolphins. That is what we realize. We’re going up against a good opponent that plays us very well at home. We play them very well at home. It is just one of those series where it is kind of like that.”
Even though it’s December, the weather will be a factor Sunday. After cool temps midweek, the heat index is forecast to hit 89 degrees during the game, about like the week before, when a cool front exited just in time to bake the Bills. What gives?
“He’s got the weather machine,” Walt Aikens, the Dolphins’ special teams captain, said of coach Adam Gase.
“They cook out here. … You come down here, to The Oven — I ain’t even calling it Hard Rock anymore — it’s as hot as I don’t know what.”
With so much heat on Miami’s depleted defense, Gase might want to turn to running back Kenyan Drake, who rushed 25 times for 114 yards in last year’s 27-20 victory over New England. Drake also had five receptions for 79 yards.
You could say it likely was the Dolphins’ best performance of the season, but you’d have to say it definitely was the best Miami saw of Cutler, who passed for 263 yards and three touchdowns.
And in a rare opportunity for the Dolphins to rub the Patriots’ nose in it, after Jarvis Landry caught a 4-yard touchdown pass, he pretended to pump up the football, an obvious swipe at Deflategate.
Brady was intercepted by Howard twice and finished with a 59.5 passer rating, his worst in four years.
But how strange was all that compared to:
2015 — Dolphins 20, Patriots 10: Imagine, Bill Belichick lost to a team that didn’t even have a coach. Interim coach Dan Campbell was running the Dolphins for the final time in a 6-10 season. At 12-3, the Patriots entered the game having clinched a playoff berth and hardly seemed to have put a game plan together for Miami. They threw only five times in the first half. Overlooking this game ultimately bit the Patriots in the behind, because they had to go to Denver via a tiebreaker for the AFC title game and lost 20-18.
2014 — Dolphins 33, Patriots 20: New England was up 20-10 at halftime and surely on its way to its 11th straight opening-day win … until the Dolphins outscored the Patriots 23-0 and held them to 67 yards in the second half. This despite all three of Miami’s starting linebackers out with injuries. After the game, Dolphins defenders gleefully reported hearing Brady yelling at teammates in frustration.
2013 — Dolphins 24, Patriots 20: The granddaddy of all these head-scratchers. This is the game in which Brady’s fourth-down throw into the end zone with seven seconds left was intercepted by a guy wearing No. 31. His name was Michael Thomas, having just been signed off the 49ers’ practice squad five days prior, but when he was tossed into the fray because of injuries, teammates were yelling instructions while referring to him by jersey number because they hadn’t learned his name. Thomas kept that ball even though he was asking people if it was against the rules to do so. With playoff hopes renewed, the Dolphins then got shellacked by the Bills and Jets to miss the postseason.
Going back to the original question, what gives about this rivalry?
“I couldn’t give you an honest answer on that,” Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills said. “I just know that if we come out and execute and play our game, we’re a good team and we’ll be tough to beat.”