Dolphins fire special teams coordinator

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DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — The prime-time meltdown by the Miami Dolphins’ special teams cost an assistant coach his job.

Only 12 hours after a calamitous performance against the New England Patriots, the Dolphins fired special teams coordinator John Bonamego on Tuesday.

Special teams cost Miami 21 points in a 41-14 loss Monday night. Two blocked kicks led to touchdowns, and the Patriots returned a kickoff 103 yards for another score.

The Dolphins (2-2) also had a punt blocked a week earlier in a loss to the New York Jets. The back-to-back divisional defeats dropped Miami to third place in the AFC East.

Assistant special teams coach Darren Rizzi will replace Bonamego, coach Tony Sparano said. Bonamego was in his 12th NFL season and had been with the Dolphins since Sparano became head coach in 2008.

“It’s a hard decision to make,” Sparano said. “I know how hard this guy works. Nobody works harder than him at what he does.”

Unlike Bonamego, quarterback Chad Henne won’t lose his job. Sparano said he’ll stick with Henne despite an erratic three-interception performance that accelerated the Dolphins’ self-destruction.

While the turnovers hurt, the lapses by Bonamego’s units doomed the Dolphins. The Patriots trailed 7-6 before Brandon Tate returned the second-half kickoff untouched for a score. Pat Chung blocked a punt to set up a touchdown, then blocked a field goal that Kyle Arrington returned 35 yards for a TD and a 34-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Miami cornerback Jason Allen said. “You can’t expect to win when you’re playing a team like — actually, any team. I don’t care who you’re playing, when we do the things we did.”

Linebacker Tim Dobbins plays on special teams and said he was embarrassed.

“We all should be,” he said. “We let the whole team down.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn’t seem surprised to hear of Bonamego’s firing.

“I don’t think probably much of anything that happens in the league these days is a surprise or unheard of,” Belichick said. “It’s unfortunate. … I’m sure those decisions aren’t easy.”

The Dolphins rank last in the NFL in punting, last in kickoff coverage and 25th in kickoff returns. Continual turnover at the bottom of the roster may contribute to the Dolphins’ special teams woes — in the past month, they’ve made 19 roster moves.

“That’s part of the special teams challenge, when you bring new players in and you get them involved,” Sparano said.

The succession of breakdowns against New England resulted in the Dolphins’ most lopsided defeat since 2007, when they went 1-15. They lost even though they outgained the Patriots by 135 yards, limited them to 146 yards passing and held Randy Moss without a catch.

The Dolphins have a bye this week, then resume a rugged stretch in the schedule. Their next six opponents are a combined 16-8.

Sparano said he expects the Dolphins to bounce back from the drubbing. Belichick does, too.

“Miami is a good team,” Belichick said. “I am sure we haven’t heard the last of them.”

But the Dolphins need to figure out quickly how to block for kicks and cover them better. That responsibility now rests with Rizzi, a former college head coach at New Haven who took his first NFL job when Sparano hired him last year.

“He’s very smart guy who has his own way of doing things,” Sparano said. “He’ll have his own spin on the special teams area. It’s important that we have some continuity there and fix the problems.”

The fix might mean more players in the offensive and defensive rotations contributing. Defensive regulars Dobbins, Cameron Wake and Chris Clemons already have roles on kicking units.

“I want my core players to play better on special teams,” Sparano said. “If we need to put some starters out there, then we will.”


AP Sports Writer Howard Ulman in Boston contributed to this report.