For much of the past decade, the Miami Dolphins have relied on Dan Marino for victories. Now they're winning the way championship teams do _ with defense.
Dolphin defenders defused the NFL's most potent attack Sunday for a 37-10 victory at Buffalo. Miami intercepted four passes, recovered a fumble and limited Thurman Thomas to 33 yards rushing.
"I feel a lot better about our defense today than I did going into the game," coach Don Shula said Monday. "We've really had problems against Buffalo trying to slow them down. It was frustrating. Now we come out of this game with a feeling of accomplishment."
And with a 4-0 record, good for sole possession of first place in the AFC East. The Dolphins are seeking their first division title since 1985.
Sunday's showing confirmed defensive improvement that had been suggested by the first three games. Now, at the one-quarter point in the season, Miami's young unit has given up only four touchdown drives of more than 25 yards.
Marino, meanwhile, looks as good as ever. And with the additions of tight end Keith Jackson and running back Bobby Humphrey, the Miami attack figures to be tough.
"We have a chance to be much better than we've been offensively," Shula said.
But it's defense that has kept the Dolphins out of title contention in recent years, and that's where stark improvement is evident. The Dolphins rank sixth in the NFL in points and rushing yards allowed per game. Last year they ranked 24th and 27th, respectively, giving up 76 points and 1,015 yards in two losses to the Bills.
A new defensive scheme helped to contain Buffalo on Sunday. The Dolphins used two down linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs on most plays.
"The idea was to get our best athletes on the field," Shula said. "We felt we had to force Buffalo into making errors, and we did."
There was one defensive setback as reserve cornerback Chris Green was lost for the rest of the year after tearing ligaments in his right knee against the Bills and will require surgery.
Jets sack Patriots
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. _ The Jets' first victory of the season was set in motion early by four sacks of the New England quarterback in the first nine minutes. New York wound up with seven sacks overall for 59 yards in its 30-21 victory Sunday night.
With seven sacks, New York exceeded its total for the first four weeks. The Jets might have had more if they'd had their two best pass-rushers, Dennis Byrd and Jeff Lageman, who are injured.
"The coaches did a good job of keeping everybody fresh," Paul Frase said Monday. "Whenever we needed a blow, they got somebody else in there."
Frase, a backup tackle and end for most of his four NFL seasons _ he missed 1990 while battling Graves' Disease _ had two sacks.
Nose tackle Scott Mersereau, who had a sack and received a game ball for his work, was the only regular up front who started.