Thu, Oct 02, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Dolphins, Giants in parallel universe as crunch-time nears


This weekend the Dolphins will return to the place where they saved their season. They will stay at the same hotel, dress in the same locker room and play on the same field as they did when they beat the Jets on Sept. 14.

Except, of course, Sunday's opponent will be the Giants, who, like Miami, have a 2-1 record.

That familiar setting, Giants Stadium, worked for Bill Parcells, the former coach of the Giants and the Jets who now coaches Dallas. Last Sunday the Cowboys completed a sweep of New York's NFL teams on the home field they share in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Now it is the Dolphins' turn to try.

Having shown its resilience, Miami figures to arrive more confident than it was when it played the Jets in Week 2. Miami was reeling after a 21-20 loss to the second-year Houston Texans. The Dolphins and coach Dave Wannstedt were engulfed in criticism from their fans and the news media.

"I look back on it and there were some good lessons to be learned from that experience," Wannstedt said Tuesday. "You just hope that it did make a difference in our team a little bit -- -- having everybody understand what it's going to take this year. Obviously, what people write about you, good or bad, doesn't have any bearing on what happens on Sunday."

The lesson is to stick with what you believe in.

Wannstedt said he was disappointed, not angry, about mistakes made in the loss to the Texans, but many people seemed to want him to be more angry than he was.

"I always believe that everybody has their own style of doing things," Wannstedt said. "I've been around most of these players now for five years. This is my fourth year as head coach and this is a group that I put together. And we're going to sink or swim with this group of guys."

Wannstedt said it was important to emphasize to his players that his feelings about the team had not changed. "I told them that, as individuals and as a team, you really don't know what's inside of somebody or what's inside a group of men until you're squeezed," he said. "Then what's inside of you will come out.

After defeating the Jets, 21-10, the Dolphins beat Buffalo (which was 2-0 at the time), 17-7, before sharing a bye week with the Giants.

The Dolphins' defense, pushed around against Houston, has allowed 62 yards rushing in the last two games. Against the Bills, some of Miami's new faces played well. Linebacker Junior Seau, a perennial Pro Bowl player with San Diego, had a sack. Safety Sammy Knight, formerly with New Orleans, had an interception.As coaches often do, he veered quickly from praising his defense to pointing out that the Giants' offense offered "one of our biggest challenges all season."

"They have as many big-play people as anybody," Wannstedt said. "You can't really zero in on a guy and say, `If we stop Toomer, we'll be all right.' Then they've got Hilliard and they've got Tiki Barber and they've got Shockey, plus an excellent quarterback who puts a lot of pressure on your defense."

He was referring to wide receivers Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard, tight end Jeremy Shockey and quarterback Kerry Collins.

Wannstedt said he could not figure out why the Giants' defense was rated last in the 32-team league.

"I think their defense is similar to ours, from the standpoint that they've got veteran guys that have been together and have a lot of ability," he said.

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