MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Dolphins' tendency to blow late leads has cost them three games this season, so coach Tony Sparano created fourth quarter situations for his team's midday workouts this week.
He was ready to go into overtime on the practice field if necessary.
"The message was that we had lights out there," Sparano said. "Whatever it took for us to get it right, we were going to get it right."
Sparano ordered several plays repeated because of flawed execution and said his players eventually got them right. He's hoping improvement will be evident Sunday when the Dolphins (5-6) play AFC East leader New England (7-4).
The Dolphins are on the brink of elimination from the playoff race because they've been awful at finishing. They've given up the most points of any NFL team in the final period, when they've been outscored 134-74.
The 134 points — a franchise season record, with five games still to play — are almost as many points as Miami has allowed in the first three quarters combined.
And the problem seems to be getting worse. The Dolphins were outscored 24-0 in the fourth quarter of last week's 31-14 loss at last-place Buffalo.
"We know the fourth quarter has been our nemesis," guard Justin Smiley said. "You have to look at yourself and say, 'What does that say about you.'"
The Patriots have done their worst work late in games, too, especially on the road. They're 0-4 in opposing stadiums, in large part because they've been outscored in those games 41-10 after the third period. They did win a road game, but it was in London against Tampa Bay.
"If we could put a finger on it, we'd be doing a great job of solving that problem," running back Kevin Faulk said. "But right now we're still in the process of trying to figure out what's going on."
At Denver and Indianapolis, the Patriots failed to hold fourth-quarter leads. In the past eight games, Tom Brady has thrown only one fourth-quarter touchdown pass.
"We're not trying to go out there to give the ball back or turn the ball over," Brady said. "We're trying to go out there and score points and when we don't, it's frustrating for everybody. Part of being mentally tough and moving forward is to not worry and understand that mistakes happen, but you've got to correct the mistakes and try and go out there and do a better job."
While the Patriots' problem has been a collective effort, defense is mostly to blame for the Dolphins' fourth-quarter woes. Miami is allowing 4.6 yards per play in the first three quarters and 8.9 per play in the final period.
"It's big plays," linebacker Reggie Torbor said. "It's not like methodical drives. It's 60 yards here and 40 yards there. You can't recover from that."
Last year, the Dolphins won a succession of close games en route to the AFC East title, and this year's fourth-quarter failures could cost them a return to the postseason. Most galling were blown late leads in losses to Indianapolis and New Orleans, both still unbeaten.
"When you have a chance to put your foot on somebody, you have to be able to do it," Smiley said. "That has kind of been the problem the whole season."
It persisted last week at Buffalo. Miami led 14-7 before the defense gave up 135 yards and three TDs in the fourth quarter, and Chad Henne threw three interceptions in the final three minutes.
By the end, the demoralized Dolphins were playing so poorly Torbor said it appeared they gave up.
"We could have played a little harder," teammate Joey Porter said. "Their will was a little stronger than ours."
Tactics may also be an issue. Linebacker Jason Taylor said opponents are making better mid-game adjustments than the Dolphins.
"We've played so well at times, particularly in the first half of a lot of games," Taylor said. "We haven't finished the games as well as we need to."
Time's running out for fixing the problem. The Patriots lost two of their past three games, but still hold a two-game lead over the New York Jets and Miami in the loss column.
The Dolphins could run the table and miss the playoffs anyway. Another lousy fourth quarter would virtually eliminate them.
"It's a very big game for us," Sparano said. "We know that we're running out of chances here, but we still have a chance."