In My Opinion | Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero: Miami Dolphins winning despite poor play a good sign

 

asalguero@MiamiHerald.com

The evidence of a great victory was everywhere after this one. There was ice in the middle of the winning locker room where coach Joe Philbin got a Gatorade shower. There were players dressing a little slower, taking this one in a little longer because it was so sweet.

There was general manager Jeff Ireland accepting congratulations for his role in putting this team together.

There was that exit out of the locker room earlier by team owner Stephen Ross when he confidently announced, “We got a damn good football team.”

This stirring 27-23 victory for the Dolphins over Atlanta even made waves on social media as Miko Grimes, the wife of Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes, a former Falcons player, tweeted a picture of herself shooting the Birds the — how to put this delicately — the bird.

“[Bleep] you very much Atlanta!” she wrote. “Ya’ll get home safe.”

Yes, it’s a time for great confidence and joy in the new Perfectville, where the 2013 Dolphins are undefeated after three games.

But …

If you understand what really happened at Sun Life Sunday you might just enjoy this one even more than you realized you should.

The narrative following this game is the Dolphins responded in the face of great adversity. They beat a good team after losing starters Paul Soliai and Dimitri Patterson before the game and Cameron Wake, Koa Misi and Phillip Wheeler at times during the game — with Wake representing the worst of those as he sat out three quarters with a knee injury.

The story, you’ll be told, is that despite being down in personnel and down on the scoreboard the Dolphins responded with a heroic 75-yard late-game drive that wrestled victory from defeat’s tight grip.

And, sure enough, all that is true. All that happened.

All that is legitimate.

But, look deeper. If you recall everything that happened before that last drive you’ll realize the Dolphins won while playing poorly much of the afternoon.

The Dolphins showed they could somehow stink in a game against a fine and experienced opponent and, amazingly, still win.

Think about that.

The Dolphins won this game even though quarterback Ryan Tannehill had very little time to throw most of the game and was sacked five times. They won this game even though Matt Ryan, the opposing quarterback, had entirely too much time to throw.

They won this game even though the Falcons rushed for a gaudy 146 yards while churning 4.9 yards per rush attempt. The Dolphins won this one even though they had the ball only 23 minutes and Atlanta kept it for 37 minutes.

The Dolphins showed they could win a game the statistics scream they should have lost.

That’s not a good thing. That’s a great thing.

Because if this team is good enough when it’s bad, how good will it become when it actually improves and matures?

Then, this team will be special.

None of that seemed to resonate in the Miami locker room afterward, however. Players were happy with winning this day and this way. Receiver Brian Hartline said the Dolphins are already “special.”

But if players come to work feeling special on Monday morning, I guarantee Philbin will bring them down to Earth.

It is a virtual certainty the coach will pick out the stuff that needs attention when he addressed the players because he knows the Dolphins, while good enough Sunday, can’t play like this all year and get away with it.

“It’s getting repetitive and you’re probably getting tired of hearing me say it,” Philbin said, “but the starting point in any passing game is protection.”

Philbin said he’d grade the protection as, “Not very good. Not good.”

So right there he was previewing what he’s probably going to tell his offense once the giddiness wears off. That’s what a good coach is supposed to do.

And that’s what Philbin must do.

He knows if the Dolphins, young and still largely inexperienced, can perform a little more like they did in the second half at Cleveland, in the second half at Indianapolis and in the second half against Atlanta, the ceiling for the team is high.

Remember, the Dolphins were losing in two of their first three games and tied against the Colts. They weren’t impressive in any of those first 30 minutes.

So what happens when this team starts to play a full 60 minutes? What happens when Sunday’s winning 75-yard drive happens two or three times a game?

What happens when this team arrives?

Obviously, the question that lingers is whether the Dolphins can indeed get progressively better. It might be argued the team will remain what it has shown itself to be — good enough to win but still not great.

I don’t think that’s likely. I don’t see stagnation in this team’s future. If Tannehill and Mike Wallace can connect so well in one game, we have to believe it can happen in many more games to come. If the defense can play good run defense with a full complement of players, as it did in Cleveland, it suggests better days ahead when Soliai returns.

If the offense can suddenly protect Tannehill and move down the field on Sunday’s defining drive, it suggests it can do that more often in the weeks ahead.

“We can play with anybody now,” center Mike Pouncey said Sunday.

That’s true. But will other teams be able to play with the Dolphins once they actually get good?

Read more Miami Dolphins stories from the Miami Herald

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