FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – The New England Patriots are 3-1 even though they lost their best two wide receivers. The Miami Dolphins are 1-3 even though they added quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

Now, say the Patriots, forget those numbers.

“I don’t want people to be deceived by a 1-3 record,” Tom Brady said. “It means nothing, especially the way we’ve played these guys.”

Only two of the last seven meetings between the AFC East teams were decided by more than seven points. Two of those games went to overtime. Then there was the Dolphins’ 29-28 win in which they trailed by 11 points with three minutes left on Dec. 20, 2004. When the final second ticked off, it didn’t matter much that New England entered the game with a 12-1 record while Miami was 2-11.

“Don’t tell me about records. Don’t tell me about streaks. Don’t tell me about last week,” New England coach Bill Belichick said. “None of that means anything. It doesn’t mean one thing in a football game. The only thing that matters is which team goes out there and plays better on Sunday.”

When the teams meet then, it might matter that Culpepper has been sacked 21 times in four games. It also might matter that the Patriots have gained more yards than any other AFC team and are second in the conference in yards rushing with Corey Dillon and rookie Laurence Maroney.

“It looked like they recommitted themselves to the running game again and taking some of the pressure off of Brady,” Miami defensive end Jason Taylor said, “which is probably good because of the turnaround he’s had, as far as the receivers are concerned.”

With Deion Branch playing in Seattle and David Givens with Tennessee, the Patriots lost wide receivers who combined for 137 catches last season. Troy Brown is their only holdover at that position. But that didn’t keep the Patriots from beating Cincinnati 38-13 last Sunday in their best performance of the season.

They did it with 236 yards rushing and two touchdown passes by Brady. The defense sacked Carson Palmer four times and controlled a team that had averaged 28 points per game.

Now that defense can unload on Culpepper, who isn’t as mobile after a serious knee injury limited him to the first seven games last year with Minnesota.

Miami coach Nick Saban said Culpepper played his best game of the season last Sunday when he threw for 249 yards and a touchdown. But Houston won its first game of the season 17-15 after sacking Culpepper five times and holding the Dolphins to 133 yards in the first 50 minutes.

Saban saw improvement from Culpepper.

“We had several drops. We had several missed routes and connections. I also felt that he was more decisive,” Saban said. “I think when he got sacked in this game it wasn’t a lot of fault of his own.”

The Patriots’ five touchdowns against the Bengals matched the Dolphins’ total for the season. And this Sunday, Miami goes against a much better quarterback than the first four it faced: Charlie Batch, J.P. Losman, Kerry Collins and David Carr, who combined for a passer rating of 93.8.

“We’re not a good football team right now, and I don’t think it takes a genius to figure that out,” Taylor said. “We have all the potential to be a great one. We’ve got the players to do it. We have the coaches to do it. We have everything that we need: the facilities, the coaches, the players and the system.”

Miami missed a chance to capitalize on a soft early schedule when it lost to Buffalo and Houston. Now it must play three of its next four games on the road against New England, the New York Jets and Chicago.

If the Patriots win, they’ll take a 4-1 record into their bye week before traveling to Buffalo and Minnesota.

“We’re in a good position,” New England center Dan Koppen said. “I don’t think we’re happy from a standpoint of performance. It’s so early in the season. There’s 12 games left.”

And that’s plenty of time for Culpepper to get more comfortable as he works his way back from his injury. Just last season, the Dolphins were 3-7, then won their last six games.

“We have to do the small things better,” Culpepper said. “We have to put ourselves in third-and-short situations so we can convert some of our third-downs better. We just have to get better offensively.”

That could happen in Sunday’s game.

“Whether you’re 3-1 or 2-2 or 1-3 it doesn’t matter because we have 12 games left,” Brady said. “Hopefully, at the end of the year, we can look back and say ‘All right, there were building blocks along the way and now we’re ready to make a push.’

“We have a long road ahead.”


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