Pain lingers in Troy Vincent's surgically-repaired right knee. There's nothing he can do about it, and he knows it.
But this week, Vincent winces from something else _ the painful memory of the Dolphin secondary's Week One futility against New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
Like the soreness in his knee, Vincent gets a daily reminder via game films, time and again watching Bledsoe carve up the secondary for almost 500 yards.
"That was about as bad as we could play," said Vincent, whose 5-2 Dolphins face the 3-4 Patriots Sunday in Foxboro. "We made a lot of mistakes, we let guys get open and he (Bledsoe) made some incredible throws. He could become one of the very best in the league."
Vincent lays some of the blame for the season-opening performance on his knee, which was so sore afterward that he missed the next four games. And part of the problem was a reworked Miami secondary, which includes two new starters and ranks 26th of the 28 teams in pass defense.
Hence, Bledsoe and the Patriots will be an unwelcome sight Sunday.
"We know exactly what they're going to do. Bill Parcells likes to run, but with that offense and Bledsoe out there, New England's going to throw a lot," Vincent said. "We know that the game's going to be on (the secondary). We've got to step up or we'll be in another shootout."
Vincent's return wasn't expected until midseason because of the severity of his injury. He tore ligaments and cartilage in his knee running a reverse on a punt return in the 13th game against Pittsburgh last season.
The loss of Vincent was considered a key reason for Miami's late-season slump, losing five straight games and missing the playoffs.
"We just lost too many players and it started to show late," Miami coach Don Shula said. "We didn't have replacements for some of the guys like Vincent. His loss really left us short. He's one of the top cornerbacks in the league and our best cover guy."
The Dolphins tried three players at Vincent's left corner and failed to find a solid replacement.
Miami faced a similar dilemma when Vincent's knee was too sore for him to play in Games 2-4 this season. His replacement, Frankie Smith, was injured, then Smith's replacement, Muhammad Oliver, was lost for the season with a knee injury.
At one point, Miami turned to Calvin Jackson, who left Auburn after his sophomore season and was just promoted from the practice squad.
"I wanted to play so bad, but the pain was too great to be effective," Vincent said. "If I could've been effective, I would have played, but I was just risking another setback."
The pain ebbed and Vincent returned.
"We've got a team that could go all the way," Vincent said. "I feel like I need to be in there, contributing if that's going to happen. I've got to play through the pain that's still there."