The Dolphins had something to do with New England's ineffectiveness. Thomas and Abdul-Jabbar, in particular, justified Johnson's faith. Thomas made two early stops of Martin near the goal line. He knocked wideout Shawn Jefferson unconscious with a vicious tackle. And with the Patriots down by 14 early in the fourth quarter and facing a fourth-and-two at the Miami 29, he pressured Bledsoe into an incompletion. "It's been an incredible year," Thomas said later. "I didn't even think I'd be drafted, but once I got here, I knew I had a chance. Jimmy likes guys who work. That's me."
Abdul-Jabbar, a third-round pick, is a slasher. He has emerged from Johnson's midsummer doghouse—Johnson thought Abdul-Jabbar wasn't practicing through pain—to emerge as Miami's back of the future. "I understand why Jimmy got on me," Abdul-Jabbar said after the game. "I've learned that in pro football, nobody is completely healthy."
For now the Dolphins are as mentally healthy as they can be. "Tell you what I liked about today," Johnson said as he sat in a stadium office, sipping a beer in front of a TV showing the Sunday-night game. "Last year our two safeties, Oliver and Atkins [who in the fourth quarter deflected a pass that led to an interception and wasn't lined], were fighting with each other. Now they're teammates pulling for the same thing. Marino throws seven passes in the first half, and he's happy as can be. We've got everybody pulling for one thing now."