1972 Dolphins avoid any letdown, go on the road to throttle the Patriots 37-21

DOLPHINS 37, PATRIOTS 21 (Dec. 3, 1972)

Don Shula probably spent much of the week leading up to a Week 12 trip by his 11-0 Dolphins to Foxboro’s Shaefer Stadium reminding his team of what happened exactly one year earlier.

Following a big Monday night win over Chicago and Miami on a long winning streak, the Dolphins traveled to take on the last-place New England Patriots only to be thoroughly throttled in a 34-13 upset loss.

So here they were again, on a short week following a Monday night win over St. Louis, traveling to the same place to take on a team with the worst record (2-9) in the AFC.

But history would not repeat itself on this day — not even close.

Perfect Memories: 50th anniversary of the perfect season
Perfect Memories: 50th anniversary of the perfect season

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The Dolphins wound up racking up a then-team record 501 yards of total offense (304 rushing, 197 passing) pulling away from a six-point halftime advantage to turn the game into a rout. By the time the game was three minutes into the fourth quarter, Miami led 37-7 and only two garbage-time touchdowns by the Pats made the game look much closer than it was.

All of that said, New England still had Miami’s attention at halftime. That’s because, leading 13-0 and basically running out the clock before halftime, Mercury Morris fumbled giving the Pats the ball on the Miami 36 with 28 seconds left. It took New England quarterback Jim Plunkett just one play to connect with wide receiver Tom Reynolds for a 36-yard score.

Just like that, it was 13-7 at the break and Dolphin fans, who also had endured an upset loss by the Patriots two years earlier up there, might have been holding their collective breaths thinking “here we go with these pesky Patriots again.”

But all of that quickly dissipated when defensive end Vern Den Herder reached up and picked off a Plunkett pass on the third play of the second half, returning it 24 yards to the Miami 11. Three plays later, quarterback Earl Morrall found tight end Jim Mandich in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard score and 20-7 lead.

A quick three and out by the Miami defense set up another long drive leading to a Garo Yepremian field goal that made it 23-7 before linebacker Doug Swift picked off another Plunkett pass on the next series setting the Dolphins up at the New England 35. Four plays later, Morrall hooked up with Marlin Briscoe for a 14-yard score to make it 30-7 with 1:22 left in the third and Shula began emptying the bench.

“We let the Patriots out of the hole with that late score just before halftime so we knew we needed to quickly grab the momentum back when we came out in the second half,” Shula said. “Vern Den Herder saw to that with his big play that led to a quick touchdown and things were okay after that.”