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6 in a row article


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perhaps this will take some of the bite off of the canes loss.


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - For the fourth consecutive season, the Miami Dolphins walked out of the locker room following their 16th game knowing their season was done.


That part was bittersweet Sunday, to say the least.


But it wasn't like last year's 4-12 disaster, when they couldn't wait to get out of there. Nor was it like 2002 or 2003, when they went out grumbling to themselves about a couple of key late-season losses that cost them a shot at the postseason.


This time, the Miami Dolphins walked out of Gillette Stadium for the most part with a sense of accomplishment and hope.


They had beaten New England 28-26 to finish their season at 9-7 and on a six-game winning streak.


Sure, the Patriots pulled most of their starters after the first quarter. New England (10-6), after all, has a first-round playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (12-4) on Saturday night.


But by beating the Patriots on the road, the Dolphins took another step toward establishing themselves as a team of the future. A team that might be on the verge of making a postseason run of its own.


"I think we're right there," wide receiver Chris Chambers said. "We've got a good year of work. Now we get to go and just build on that stuff. Just knowing the system, that's huge. We're going to go in next year knowing exactly what we need to do."


Miami's six-game winning streak is its longest since going 6-0 to start the 1992 season. The Dolphins also became the first team to close the season with six consecutive wins -- and not make the playoffs -- since the New York Giants in 1995.


But look at some of the old demons that plagued Miami in the past but now are no more:


# This team can't win in December. Miami went 5-0 in December and January, posting the most regular-season wins in those months in franchise history.


# Warm-weather Dolphins can't win in the cold. It was 25 degrees at kickoff Sunday, definitely cold enough. The only times Miami has won in more frigid temperatures came in 1985 and 1992 when it was 23 degrees at Green Bay and New England.


# They can't win at New England. Sunday's win snapped a four-game road losing streak against the Patriots. It was also the Dolphins' first victory ever at Gillette Stadium.


"Even though there were still lessons to be learned in the game today, I'm very proud of the fact of what this team was able to do, winning down the stretch," Dolphins coach Nick Saban said.


"We're not in the playoffs, (but) it wasn't all in vain, though, because of a great experience to be a part of a team -- and this group was a team for the last six weeks of the season, for sure. The chemistry and the belief that they developed was definitely unique to being successful and that was a good lesson for all of us to learn.


"I've got to tell you that I'm awful pleased with the way the players came out, the way they prepared for this game and the way they came up here and played in the game. Most of the other teams that didn't have anything to play for didn't play as well as this bunch did."


Sunday's game had a few elements of problems that will keep the Dolphins from the postseason. They couldn't finish drives, having to settle for three Olindo Mare field goals, and they committed nine penalties to run their franchise-record total to 132.


They were also nearly pushed to overtime when New England backup quarterback Matt Cassel hit tight end Benjamin Watson with a 9-yard touchdown pass on the final play of regulation. After a timeout, though, Cassel overthrew receiver Bam Childress on the two-point conversion try.


But if a bad-hop single still looks like a line drive in the boxscore, beating a team that was playing a lot of backups is still a win in the standings -- especially when that team is the defending Super Bowl champion.


And instead of moping about what could have been, this team will spend the offseason talking about what could be.


"We've built a ton of momentum for next season, a ton of swagger," Chambers said. "We've got great team chemistry. We're already talking about working out and getting better already. When you hear that stuff, it's a good feeling."


Saban wouldn't go into detail about his offseason plans. But it's a virtual certainty not all of the players who walked out of the locker room Sunday will be Dolphins again next season.


"That's the nature of the business," defensive end Kevin Carter said. "Obviously, we know this team's going to go through some adjustments in the offseason. It's a good group of guys.


"From a chemistry standpoint, the last half of the season, I don't think there's been anybody that's been playing more consistently, better football than us. I'm very proud to have been a part of this group."


While the team definitely could use more help on both lines and in the secondary, plus a young quarterback to groom, the one thing Saban doesn't want to tinker with is the chemistry of his core players.


"Speaking for the offense, I think we're pretty much set for the most part," Chambers said. "Guys are just going to get better. I don't see no reason to go in and get some big-time receivers, or whatever. We've got guys that can play.


"Myself, I'm going to get better. Marty (Booker) is going to get better. Wes (Welker) is going to get better. You can just build from that."



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