There is great news for the Dolphins, but as usual its in the History Division. It is that in the NFL today only three unbeaten teams remain, fewest ever three weeks in, and so the unique distinction of Miamis 1972 Perfect Season the franchise hallmark on merit, and because nothing lately has even remotely challenged seems safer than ever.
The old Perfectos have never prepared to celebrate sooner. Heck, Mercury Morris, who has led the league in cocky for 41 consecutive years, might already have the champagne chilling and be working on his (toast) reply to media inquiries.
The bad news for the Dolphins is as usual in the Current Division. It is that one of those three unbeaten teams left, Arizona, is Miamis next stop on the 2012 Growing Pains tour. The Cardinals have beaten a pretty good Seattle team, won at New England, and on Sunday routed Philadelphia. These results are bona fide. And Id remind stubborn non-believers that Arizona is 10-2 dating to last midseason, tied for the best in the league.
That the Cards are somehow managing this with the lightweight quarterback quiniela of Kevin Kolb and/or John Skelton would be dumbfounding, except that what isnt this season in the NFL.
Trying to figure out this strangest of seasons is as hopeless as trying to build a sand castle underwater.
This year is proof that the (apparently) mightiest opponents can be beaten, but also that even the (apparently) softest opponents offer no assurances.
Its enough to fill a team of modest expectations, like Miami, with equal parts hope and dread.
I have said in print I thought the Dolphins have a chance to compete for playoff contention, to a reaction of howling laughter, mostly. I have not stopped thinking that, even after Sundays overtime heartbreak of a home loss to the Stinkin Jets.
Can Miami beat Arizona on Sunday? Sure. Beat New England in December? Yep. I thought San Francisco was the best team left on Miamis schedule. Those would be the same Niners who just got handled by (supposedly) lowly Minnesota.
Conversely, though, Miami could also lose to the lambs on its schedule.
These Dolphins, like this season, are impossible to predict.
There are such extremes of good and bad here.
The run defense has been terrific, shrinking every featured back presented: Arian Foster, then Darren McFadden, then Shonn Greene. The run offense has been even better. Reggie Bush is performing like a premier back (with his knee injury not being serious a huge break for Miami). The offensive line has been stout, good enough to win with.
The bad? Start with the pass defense, which has been inconsistent if Im being generous, and smacked-around if Im being real. When you allow 945 passing yards in three games, you have major problems. The pass rush hasnt been good enough. And the receiving corps isnt good enough. Brian Hartline or Davone Bess alternating decent games once or twice a month isnt enough to disguise Miamis glaring lack of a premier, playmaking wide receiver.
Miamis NFL ranks in run offense and defense are fourth and third. In pass offense and defense, its 24th and 29th. Thats a team out of balance.
I like something coach Joe Philbin said Monday in his Jets postmortem. Yes, maybe Miami should be 2-1 because surely kicker Dan Carpenter should have made that winning 48-yard field goal in OT.
But even if he makes that kick and a glow is buoying Dolfans today, We still have all the same problems that occurred as Philbin put it. Weve got a lot of work to do, and we would have had a lot of work to do if the kick went through.
I like that because it is measured. It conveys an understanding that all is not well after a win, and all is not hell after a loss.
Running effectively and stopping the run consistently will give Miami a chance to win most every game, as it did Sunday.
To get over that hump, though, well need to see something of a fast-forward on the metamorphosis of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, on his path from raw and learning to comfortable and arrived. He is severely hamstrung by the lack of an outstanding deep-threat receiver. Nevertheless, the imperative on him to be a playmaker will grow by the week.
Philbin was asked Monday how hed like his offense to be seen.
After he mentioned no turnovers, the first thing he said was, Wed love to be an explosive offense that can make big plays.
Well, you need a quarterback for that one you trust.
You need Tannehill to be more accurate, and you need his receivers to give him more opens looks, but it starts with a commitment and creativity by Philbin and offensive chief Mike Sherman to give Tannehill an expanded role.
As Miami continues to run well, play-action passes will increasingly blossom for Tannehill. As defenses stack up to limit that run, the kid will see more and more one-on-one coverage. If defenses smell anxiety, theyll blitz and dare him to beat them.
All of those situations present a pulsing opportunity, and Tannehills readiness and ability to take advantage will ultimately define a Dolphins season that is still finding its shape.