The biggest difference for the Dolphins in 2013 isn’t their 3-1 record, their improved quarterback play or their chronic inability to pass protect.
It’s how angry they stay, days after a loss.
A year ago, the locker room on Wednesdays was loose, whether they had just beaten the Seahawks or lost to the Jets.
But 48 hours after the Dolphins’ three-touchdown loss to the Saints, there was still simmering rage in Davie.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, usually as polite as a British caddie, had an edge during his weekly media availability. Richie Incognito said he’s sick of answering questions every week about the number of sacks the team has allowed.
“We were real [ticked] off about that,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said of the way the Dolphins lost to the Saints. “It lingered with us for a little bit. We really couldn’t believe it.
“We never took something to heart like that before. Most times, we’d be like, ‘We got beat, oh well. So what?’ Our mind-set is different this year. Now, we want to win the division. We want to go to the playoffs. We want to do those things. For us, we can’t do the type of things we did on Monday night.”
The Dolphins would be well suited to carry that fire onto the field Sunday. It might be Week 5, but their game against the Super Bowl champion Ravens is enormous.
A win would put them at 4-1, and 71 percent of teams with such a start make the playoffs, according to Stats LLC.
However, the AFC is far stronger than expected this year, with upstart teams such as Kansas City (4-0), Tennessee (3-1) and Cleveland (3-2) all in the early running for playoff spots.
With a loss to Baltimore, both teams would have the same record, but the Ravens would own the tiebreaker. And with a bye next week, the Dolphins would go an entire month without a win — undoing much of the progress made in the first three weeks.
“Obviously, we’re coming off a tough loss,” Incognito said. “We made a lot of mistakes. If we continue making a lot of mistakes, continue the bad play, then it will seem undone. I don’t foresee us doing that.”
Now, some perspective is in order. Given the team’s brutal start to the year — Miami has played the league’s seventh-toughest schedule through four weeks — most fans would have been happy if the team reached its bye with a winning record.
Plus, three of the Dolphins’ first four games have been on the road. That changes now. Only one of their next seven will be played outside of Florida, and they have the AFC’s easiest schedule the rest of the season.
Finally, they’ve been the NFL’s best red-zone offense, scoring a touchdown on 82 percent of their trips.
But, there’s plenty of cause for concern, too.
The only other major categories in which they lead the league come on special teams (punting average and field-goal percentage).
They rank 25th in total offense, 26th in total defense, and last in sacks allowed per pass play.
In short, the Dolphins are like most every other NFL team: flawed. And the Ravens are no different. Baltimore’s offense has been even worse than Miami’s this fall, explaining the team’s 2-2 start.
Teams overcome these imperfections by having a quarterback make them irrelevant. The Ravens had that with Joe Flacco last year; the Dolphins had the same with Ryan Tannehill through this season’s first three weeks.
But both regressed in their games last week. Tannehill turned the ball over four times; Flacco threw five interceptions.
No doubt, both are angry about it.
“You wouldn’t want it any other way,” Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said of the team’s tough opening stretch. “You wouldn’t want an easy schedule. People talk about the schedule that you have.
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. This weekend, we’ve got the best team from last year coming in. To get to where we want to be, we have to beat them.”