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The Miami Dolphins couldn't extend their unbeaten start through one primetime AFC East showdown, but they won't have to wait long for another key divisional matchup.

Their newest offensive weapon may be especially excited for this one.

Brandon Marshall hopes to build on his breakout game with Miami and exploit the New England Patriots' struggling defense Monday night at Sun Life Stadium, where each team will be trying to enter its bye week with at least a share of the division lead.

The last two AFC East champions comprise two-thirds of a three-way tie atop the division, although each has already lost to the New York Jets.

Miami (2-1) dropped its home opener to the Jets on Sunday night, getting 10 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown from Marshall but faltering defensively in a 31-23 defeat.

The Dolphins had allowed a total of 20 points while winning their first two on the road but couldn't slow down the Jets, who racked up three passing touchdowns and didn't turn the ball over.

"We didn't do what we needed to do to win the game," linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "Gave up a lot of points, didn't make a lot of plays, and didn't make any turnovers. We have to go back to the drawing board, come back next week a little more hungry."

Miami was still able to build some momentum offensively after struggling to move the ball the first two weeks.

Chad Henne threw for a career-high 363 yards - much of it to Marshall, who was acquired from Denver in the offseason - and Dolphins coach Tony Sparano believes a chemistry is developing between the duo.

"I think there is a little something there," Sparano said. "I think there starts to become something where the guy kind of looks for him in critical situations."

Miami had relied more on its ground game behind Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams the first two weeks before attempting 45 passes against the Jets.

"We're the type of offense where we're going to take what defenses give us," Marshall said. "We just take advantage of whatever is there."

For New England's opponents, that has been plenty. The Patriots (2-1) have been trying to replace defensive lineman Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden, with shaky results in each injured starter's spot.

Even sputtering Buffalo moved the ball easily at times during New England's 38-30 win last Sunday. The Patriots rank 27th in total defense, and their 82 points allowed are more than all but four other teams.

"It isn't anything where we're going to panic or anything. We're not playing complete team defense," linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said. "The line sometimes plays well, linebackers play well, the secondary, but it's not consistently doing it at the same time."

Twice, New England's prolific offense has done enough to compensate. Tom Brady was 21 of 27 for 252 yards and three touchdowns against the Bills, while unheralded running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead anchored a 200-yard effort on the ground.

Rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski also continued to contribute. Hernandez has a team-high 211 receiving yards, while Gronkowski has caught a pair of touchdowns.

"They do a good job of changing up their tendencies," Buffalo linebacker Keith Ellison said, "running when you think they will pass and passing when you think they will run."

Miami will surely be wary of wide receiver Wes Welker, whom the Dolphins traded to New England for a pair of draft picks in 2007. Welker leads the NFL in receptions since the trade, including 27 catches for 425 yards in three return visits to Miami.

Despite 10 catches for 167 yards from Welker, the Patriots couldn't win there Dec. 6, blowing an 11-point third-quarter lead in a 22-21 defeat while falling to 3-5 at Miami with Brady. They lost 21-0 in 2006 and Brady was intercepted four times as New England blew a late lead in 2004.

"It's always tough to play down there," coach Bill Belichick said. "They do a good job. They give you a lot to get ready for."

Two years ago, the Dolphins surprised New England with the wildcat formation, racking up 461 total yards in a 38-13 win at Foxborough on Sept. 21, 2008.

But Henne did most of the damage last season, going 29 for 52 for 335 yards and two touchdowns in Miami's home victory.

The Dolphins have rarely enjoyed much early success lately. They're seeking their first 3-1 start since 2003.

Tagged: Dolphins, Patriots, Tom Brady, Ty Warren, Wes Welker, Brandon Marshall

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