MIAMI -The season is over.

The microwave is beeping. The teapot is whistling. The last-call lights are flickering.

Because your 3-6 Miami Dolphins are done.

The short-circuited Dolphins must go 6-1 the rest of the way to wheeze to 9-7. They will not. Not after losing for the fifth time in six tries Sunday. And let’s not do creative math and rhetorical tricks after Sunday’s 23-16 loss to New England, talking about how Miami is only two games out of first place in its stink-bomb division:

If you can’t beat the crippled Patriots at home, when up against their fifth-best rusher and their third-string corner and their third-string safety and their backup tight end and a linebacker coming off a stroke, when Tom Brady throws two interceptions and your own QB throws for 360 yards and every bounce seems to go your way, including the one on the ol’ snap-the-ball-off-the-quarterback’s-leg play, then you simply are not as good as the Patriots are, period, no matter how close you happened to appear to them on this day.

Five yards.

That’s what people will say today is the difference between these two teams.

But it isn’t.

That’s a mirage, an oasis, a Keith Traylor-sized lie.

The difference between these teams is that one has a champion at quarterback and the other has Gus Frerotte. The difference between these teams is that one makes the play that kills you while the other drops it. The difference between these teams is that one can win enormous games even while unhealthy and the other one loses when healthy as can be.

And that is not a small difference at all.

Miami has not won once in the AFC’s weakest division, losing to all three other teams. And Brady has never in his professional life lost back-to-back games. So complain all you will for a second straight week about the questionable late play-calling: Four straight passes? From the 5? With two timeouts? And three first-round picks invested in running backs?

But Miami tying the score late would have only delayed the inevitable.

Brady would have just found a different way to administer his heartbreak.

The Patriots have spent three of the past four seasons winning exactly this kind of game. They are better in tight, uncomfortable places than anyone in the history of the sport. In the age of parity, when all teams are separated by about 5 yards, New England wins because it has the world’s best finishers at QB and kicker. Doesn’t much matter who is around them, as Sunday again proved.

You know who was blocking for Brady on a limping O-line Sunday? Rookies at left tackle and left guard. Undrafted players at right tackle and right guard. The highest draft pick among them was the fifth-rounder at center. And Miami had all of two sacks for 1 yard.

With two perfect throws, Brady did at the end, in 43 seconds, over 76 yards, what the Dolphins couldn’t do in four tries after reaching New England’s 5. That’s what he does, who he is. He is so good at it that hockey’s Florida Panthers lost two games in the final three seconds last week just because they heard Brady was coming to town.

On Sunday, the Patriots also unleashed the super-secret-never-before-seen Heath Evans Offense. It is one thing to lose to Michael Vick. But a Heath? Dolphins fans can be forgiven for thinking Evans still played for Miami. Nick Saban waived him during Hurricane Wilma, so nobody around here had enough electricity to even be informed he was gone. And all he did Sunday was gain more yards (84) than Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined (77).

Frerotte threw for 360 yards? Of course he did. But that’s deceptive. The Patriots have the league’s worst and most injured secondary. And Bill Belichick put the game in Frerotte’s hands anyway. He dared, begged and pleaded for Miami to throw, knowing that Frerotte throwing 47 times, as he did Sunday, was a good thing for his wounded team. It is really, really hard to throw 47 times for 360 yards and score only 16 points.

New England dropped several interceptions. New England was without Corey Dillon and several of his blockers. Miami had all the health and chances and bounces it needed to win a game for first place.

And, like Chris Chambers at the end, all Miami did was drop the ball.


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