MIAMI (AP) When the New England Patriots had closed out a seesaw victory, rallying twice in the second half and then making a last-minute defensive stand, Tom Brady was asked about the team’s most improbable hero, fullback Heath Evans.

“Who?” Brady said.

He was joking. Brady knows Evans’ name and now much of New England knows it, too.

Pressed into duty because of injuries, Evans ran for 84 yards Sunday in a 23-16 win over his former team, the Miami Dolphins.

The game was the first between New England coach Bill Belichick and his longtime friend and protege, new Miami coach Nick Saban. For Saban, the loss stung doubly because he released Evans on Oct. 25.

“I remember the first day at practice when we thought, “Why did somebody release him?”‘ Brady said. “We thank the Dolphins very much for letting him go.”

Miami (3-6) missed a chance to tie for the division lead, instead losing for the fifth time in six games. Two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England (5-4) remained alone atop the AFC East, thanks in large part to their new fullback.

“I don’t know everyone’s name,” Evans said. “I do know the name of the quarterback, the five guys up front and the tight end, and that’s good enough for now.”

With one game, Evans surpassed his yardage total for any of his previous four NFL seasons. He carried one time this year with Miami for no gain.

In Saban’s defense, with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, he didn’t need Evans to carry the ball. The Patriots did.

“He’s a big, physical guy to run the ball, and they didn’t have any backs, so they used him,” Saban said. “That’s not a role that we would use him in here, however. Who would you want to put on the bench?”

Then bench is where Patriots running back Corey Dillon went after two plays because his leg tightened, forcing Belichick to turn to Evans. He ran 21 yards on his first carry, finished with 17 attempts and caught three passes for 18 yards.

“I was surprised,” Miami linebacker Zach Thomas said. “I didn’t think their running game was serious.”

With the Dolphins forced to respect New England’s ground attack, Brady went 21-for-36 for 275 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Benjamin Watson.

The second score came with New England trailing 16-15 and 2:16 left. Gus Frerotte then drove the Dolphins 70 yards to the 5-yard line with a minute remaining, but his fourth-down pass was incomplete with 36 seconds to go.

“It turned into a track meet at the end,” Belichick said. “I’m proud of the guys for hanging in there.”

Brady’s first scoring pass covered 16 yards and put New England ahead 12-7 on the final play of the third quarter. But Frerotte, who finished 25-for-47 for 360 yards, regained the lead for Miami on a bizarre 15-yard touchdown pass.

With the Dolphins in the shotgun on third-and-3, Seth McKinney snapped the ball prematurely and it deflected off Frerotte’s right leg. He quickly picked it up and threw down the middle to Chris Chambers, wide open in the end zone after slipping behind Ellis Hobbs.

The Dolphins’ 2-point conversion failed, leaving them ahead 16-15 with 2:59 to go. New England needed only two plays to come back.

First, Brady threw 59 yards to Tim Dwight, who outwrestled Reggie Howard for the ball. Then, Brady hit Watson with a 17-yard touchdown pass.

Notes: Patriots C Dan Koppen went to the locker room in the third quarter with a left arm injury. … Patriots WR David Givens, RB Patrick Pass, TE Daniel Graham and T Tom Ashworth were inactive. … Frerotte’s yardage total was his highest since 2000. … The Patriots won in Miami for only the second time in their past eight attempts.

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