The New England Patriots are winning games without scoring a lot of points. They are avoiding penalties, however, a trend Coach Raymond Berry would like to see continued.
Berry said yesterday that his team's avoidance of penalties and Miami's penchant for them were critical in the Patriots' 6-3 victory Sunday night that vastly improved New England's playoff chances.
"You could make a pretty good case that that's the difference in the game," Berry said.
The Dolphins were penalized nine times for 69 yards, while the Patriots were called for just two penalties that set them back 15 yards. Two Miami penalties, both called against free safety Jarvis Williams for unnecessary roughness, helped set up Jason Staurovsky's two field goals.
The first penalty came early in the second quarter after Reggie Dupard ran 14 yards to a first down at the Miami eight-yd. line. That moved the ball to the four and Staurovsky connected from 22 yards four plays later.
The second call against Williams came early in the third quarter with the score tied 3-3. Quarterback Doug Flutie scrambled 15 yards for a first down at the Miami 42 and the penalty put the ball at the 27. Eight plays later, Staurovsky kicked his game-winning 34-yarder.
Committing penalties "is dumb football," Berry said. "Let the other team play dumb football, and we will accept all donations."
The Patriots, 2-4 in their first six games, are 5-1 in the six games since then. At 7-5, they are tied with Cleveland in the race for the second AFC wildcard spot, although they have the edge because of a better conference record, the first tiebreaking criterion.
In the first six games, the Patriots committed 42 penalties and 23 turnovers. In the last six, they had 29 penalties and five turnovers.
The drop in penalties "definitely shows that they're concentrating on playing smart football," Berry said of his players. "It's one phase of the game that you really have a tremendous amount of control over."
New England also has controlled the ball with its running game, thus keeping the ball away from opponents and lessening the need to score.
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