DAVIE (AP) — The Miami Dolphins found a solution for their chronic problem at quarterback: Don't snap him the ball.
That wasn't Miami's real motive for springing an unorthodox formation on the New England Patriots that turned quarterback Chad Pennington into a wideout, with running back Ronnie Brown taking a direct snap.
The goal was to confuse the Patriots, and it worked. New England was outfoxed in Foxborough by a team that had lost 20 of its previous 21 games, giving the Dolphins their first win in the Parcells era.
“We finally had some fun out there,” Miami tight end Anthony Fasano said Monday.
Six times the Dolphins ran plays from the formation they call Wildcat, and four times they scored a touchdown. That provided the margin in a 38-13 victory.
Wildcat isn't new; it's similar to the single wing, which dates back a century. The Arkansas Razorbacks used it often the past two seasons with Darren McFadden.
And it wasn't new to New England — coach Bill Belichick said his team practiced against it just last week. But the formation left the Patriots clearly confused, and Miami's element of surprise helps explain the shocking result.
“It threw them off a little bit,” said Brown, who set a franchise record with four touchdowns rushing and threw for a fifth score. “It was like playing hide and go seek, making them guess, and hopefully they were guessing wrong.”
New England guessed wrong so often, the team that nearly went undefeated last year lost to the team that nearly went winless last year. The stunner ended the Patriots' NFL record regular-season winning streak at 21 games, while fortifying the foundation Bill Parcells is building in Miami.
Tony Sparano will have extra time to savor his first victory as an NFL head coach because Miami (1-2) is off this week before facing San Diego. The celebration began along the sideline Sunday when the Dolphins dumped Gatorade on Sparano.
“The Gatorade thing was the players having a good time and feeling good about themselves, so I felt good about that,” Sparano said.
“I didn't feel great when it was rolling down my back, but I felt pretty good about it. Seeing their faces and how happy those guys really were was nice. It was one game, but we want to get used to being there.”
While the work Sparano's staff did with Xs and Os rightly earned raves, Miami won with more than mere trickery. The defense became dominant once the Dolphins went ahead 14-3 midway through the second quarter, throttling a New England offense that sorely missed Tom Brady.
“Playing with a lead, we're a totally different team,” said Joey Porter, who had three of Miami's four sacks.
The ground game averaged 6 yards per carry, and Pennington looked like more than just another caretaker quarterback, completing 17 of 20 passes while finding receivers open downfield for the first time this season.
This against a team Pennington always struggled with as a Jet.
Still, Pennington did his best work as a decoy. When he lined up wide, left tackle Jake Long moved to the right side, running backs
Ricky Williams and Patrick Cobbs became wingbacks, and a third running back — Brown — took the snap from a shotgun position.
Then came the most surprising sight of all: the Dolphins in the New England end zone. Their point total was a five-year high. They gained 461 yards, their best effort since 1999, and earned their most lopsided win since 2002.
“A team like the Patriots, they pride themselves on preparation,” Williams said. “When they're unprepared like that, it's really hard for them to recover.”
Miami quarterbacks coach David Lee brought the Wildcat from Arkansas, where he was offensive coordinator last year. The Dolphins installed the formation during training camp, then put it in mothballs.
On the flight home from last week's 31-10 loss at Arizona, Sparano and Lee decided the Wildcat might be just the thing to jump-start a sputtering offense.
“This is not something that just came up and we scribbled on the board a couple of days ago,” Sparano said. “I just felt on the way back from Arizona that we needed to create space. That's where the process began for me. How do we create angles? How do we create space?”
From the formation, Brown found plenty of openings. When he scored up the middle on runs of 2, 5 and 62 yards, it looked a junior-high JV play, only simpler.
Brown also rolled out and threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Fasano, and twice he handed off to Williams coming in motion from the wing.
“It's more fun than the same old running back right, running back left,” Williams said. “That can get a little old. It's neat to have Ronnie playing the quarterback position. That's basically what it is.”
The possibilities are endless, and Arkansas used the Wildcat — calling it the Wild Hog — about 30 times in a single game last year.
Those sneaky Dolphins are coy about the formation's future in their offense.
“Who knows?” Sparano said with a slight smile. “Wildcat might be dead.”
Not likely. The Chargers probably should brace themselves for the return of the single wing.
“It's a good package,” Williams said. “If you execute it well it's hard to stop, even if you're prepared for it.”
Photo: Ronnie Brown