DAVIE (AP) — The Miami Dolphins play their biggest game in at least five years Sunday, and Joey Porter's tongue is already warming up.
The Sunday, Nov. 23 opponent will be the New England Patriots, who seek to avenge an early-season upset that triggered the rapid resurgence of no-longer-lousy Miami.
“We don't like them,” said Porter, the NFL leader in sacks and talking trash. “They don't like us.”
Both teams are 6-4 and trail the AFC East-leading New York Jets by one game. If the Jets lose Sunday at unbeaten Tennessee, the Dolphins-Patriots winner will seize a share of first place.
The Dolphins haven't been to a postseason game since 2001 and haven't been in a playoff race since 2003, so motivation won't be a problem. But Porter's happy to suggest extra incentive: He said the Patriots have been disrespectful to the Dolphins the past two times the teams played.
In September, when Miami pulled off a stunning 38-13 victory at New England, Porter complained that the Dolphins' pregame stretching routine was disrupted by the Patriots walking through as they took the field.
“They let us know how they feel about us,” Porter said Monday. “Then they start punting over our heads – like, you want the whole 100-yard field? You don't do that.”
Porter was also upset last December when Patriots running back Laurence Maroney carried four times in a row in the final two minutes with Miami trailing 28-7. Porter said he expected Tom Brady to take a knee to run out the clock.
“I don't forget things like “I hope our whole defense and our whole team doesn't forget things like that.”
But Sunday's game is about much more than perceived slights. It's a chance for the Dolphins to give the balance of power in the AFC East a big shakeup.
“The road in our division has always gone through New England,” Miami coach Tony Sparano said. “We're well aware of that.”
The game is also a chance for the Dolphins to show the earlier victory over the Patriots wasn't a fluke. Miami unveiled its Wildcat formation in that game, snapping directly to running back Ronnie Brown six times and scoring four touchdowns to end the Patriots' NFL record regular-season winning streak at 21 games.
It was the first win for the Bill Parcells regime in Miami, and only the second victory in 22 games for the Dolphins.
“To have an opponent like that and win, it showed we had grown as a team,” Brown said.
Despite victories in the past four games, including a last-minute win Sunday over Oakland, doubts persist regarding the Dolphins' staying power in the playoff race. But there's no question they're better than a year ago, when they were 0-10 en route to a 1-15 finish.
And they relish the chance to play in a pivotal late-November game. It's a first for many Dolphins, including fourth-year linebacker Matt Roth.
“It kind of brings you back to college days, where every game counted,” said Roth, who played at Iowa. “Now you're in the mix, and it's going to be an electric atmosphere.”
Perhaps enough fans will join the Dolphins' growing bandwagon to fill the stadium, where thousands of empty seats have been the norm in recent seasons.
Sparano said both teams are better than when they met Sept. 21. Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel has settled into his role as a replacement for the injured Brady, and the Dolphins have made strides on both offense and defense while developing a knack for winning close games.
The Patriots played last Thursday, giving them extra time to prepare for Miami. The Dolphins' first practice for the big game will be Wednesday.
“My message to the players is that if you walk through the door on Wednesday and your heart's not racing a million miles an hour, then you don't have a pulse,” Sparano said. “This is why we do what we do. We put ourselves in position to have a big game at home at the end of November. That's where we are.
“That being said, I don't think too much has to be said this week.”
Not even by Joey Porter.
Photo: Joey Porter