MIAMI -- They tried and tried, but they just couldn't do it. The Miami Dolphins' offense simply could not give away a football game last night at Joe Robbie Stadium.
Certainly not the New England Patriots.
The Dolphins gave away five turnovers -- four in a frightful first quarter -- but the Pats kept treating the gifts like ugly neckties and the Dolphins escaped with a homely 17-10 victory over their AFC East brothers before 62,630.
Miami improved to 5-1, its best start since 1984, and is assured of another week's tie or better atop the division race. New England, its season going about like the neighboring Red Sox did in the AL playoffs, is 1-5.
The Dolphins -- now 4-0 against the AFC East -- don't play again until Oct. 28 in Indianapolis.
Miami played last night following an unusual 10-day layoff because of last week's bye, and few doubted the raggedness was a result. The defense didn't seem bothered, but their offensive counterparts played as though the date were mistaken for another off day.
"Obviously I think it took away our sharpness," said running back Sammie Smith, who managed only 16 yards on 14 carries after gaining 159 against New England in the opener.
"The way we played offensively is about as bad as you can play and still survive," coach Don Shula said. "We couldn't get any kind of running game going."
The self-destructing Dolphins netted only 50 ground yards and 279 total, but won because they budgeted New England to 197 total, and only three points off turnovers on Miami's first four possessions.
The Dolphins had to rally to whip these Pats, 27-24, in this season's opener. The rematch was not much of one, in part because of all those early Miami mistakes.
After the teams swapped Jason Staurovsky's 41-yard field goal for Dolphin Pete Stoyanovich's 47-yarder, Miami got its go-ahead score on little Mark Higgs' big 19-yard touchdown return of a blocked punt in the second quarter -- then got the winning points on Smith's 2-yard run late in the third quarter.
The Patriots made it interesting by closing within seven points with 6:18 to play, on George Adams' 4-yard swing pass score from Marc Wilson.
Then the visitors got it right back after a punt, and moved to a fourth-and-one at the Dolphins' 35 -- when T.J. Turner snuffed a sneak by Wilson for no gain to end the threat with 3 1/2 minutes left.