Dowling foiled them both times, helping the New England Patriots win their season opener 38-24.
A rookie cornerback from the University of Virginia and Chesapeake’s Deep Creek High, Dowling missed much of preseason with undisclosed injuries. Yet the second-round draft pick started alongside second-year pro Devin McCourty, giving the Patriots the NFL’s youngest corners.
Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne exploited them at times, passing for 416 yards, but when it mattered most, Dowling responded.
With New England leading 21-14 late in the third quarter, Miami faced third-and-goal at the 2. The Dolphins isolated veteran Brandon Marshall on Dowling, but Dowling blanketed him, forcing a low throw from Henne that bounced near the goal line.
Miami settled for a field goal and trailed 31-17 when it faced fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the fourth quarter. Henne threw a fade to Brian Hartline in the left corner of the end zone, but again Dowling’s tight coverage caused an incompletion.
Dowling was credited with two tackles as the Patriots stopped the Dolphins on 12 of 14 third downs. Not bad for a rookie who played in only one preseason game, the finale against the New York Giants.
But Dowling is accustomed to overcoming injury. After an All-ACC junior year, he bypassed the draft and returned to Virginia, only to have his season curtailed by hamstring, knee and ankle ailments. Still, he impressed New England brass in pre-draft meetings and workouts, and they selected him with the first pick of the second round, No. 33 overall.
Dowling is the Patriots’ second Hampton Roads connection. Pro Bowl linebacker Jerod Mayo from Kecoughtan High had five tackles Monday, a slow night compared to last season, when he led the NFL with 175.
``We definitely still have to figure each other out,” Mayo told the Boston Globe of the team’s new defensive looks, which include lineman Albert Haynesworth. ``Just get out there with the group and figure out how each other plays. Playing games is what gets us there. Hopefully we'll continue to improve throughout the season. …
``At this point, it's getting everybody lined up in the right spot and making sure everybody's on the same page. That's my main objective.”