"Coach," Atkins said, "I didn't know. I swear."
"Gene," Johnson said, smiling and hugging Atkins awkwardly, "52 people knew they had to be here for the team meal. Why are you the only one who didn't?"
"Coach, I never heard about it. And I don't eat at night."
Johnson let go. He stared at Atkins, wondering if he should believe him. "O.K.," Johnson said. "Half."
"No, Coach!" Atkins said. "Don't fine me. Let me make it up to you."
"Tell you what," Johnson said. "You make some great plays tomorrow, and I'll think about it. Think about it, I said."
They both grinned. "O.K.," Atkins said. "You see that big grin on your face? That's what you'll have on your face after you see how I play. I'll make big plays. You'll see."
"They'd better be really big plays," Johnson said.
The Dolphins wouldn't need many big plays to win on Sunday. New England was coming off a 3-1 preseason that Johnson, ever the psychologist, publicly called the best summer showing in the NFL, but early on the Patriots reverted to their 10-loss form of 1995. On New England's first possession Miami safety Louis Oliver intercepted a Bledsoe pass and returned it 60 yards before fumbling. Cornerback Sean Hill scooped up the loose ball and ran the final 10 yards for a score. For the Patriots the turnover would be a harbinger of things to come. Bledsoe looked out of sync. Martin had nowhere to run. The pass rush was almost nonexistent. "If that's our best effort," said Patriots coach Bill Parcells afterward, "then we're in trouble."