The calendar says it’s still October. For the Dolphins, it feels like December.
And if Miami is going to turn its season around, Cameron Wake needs to start playing again like it’s early September.
Losers of four in a row, the Dolphins understand Thursday night’s rare Halloween game against the Cincinnati Bengals is essentially a must-win.
Although only a game out of the wild card, a fifth consecutive defeat essentially would doom the Dolphins to a fifth consecutive year out of the playoffs.
So if there ever was a time for their best player to start playing like it again, this is it.
But like his team in general, something hasn’t been right with Wake for more than a month. The 2012 All-Pro hasn’t had a sack in his past five games — the longest drought of his career.
So is he ready to finally get back to the quarterback?
“I’ve been ready for that for quite a while,” Wake said this week.
The mind might be willing — but is the body?
Wake’s effectiveness and opportunities have nosedived since spraining his knee in the season’s third week.
Although he technically has missed only one game, Wake’s reps the past three haven’t even added up to four full quarters.
He was on the field for just half of Miami’s defensive plays against the Patriots on Sunday — and that was his most extensive work since getting injured.
“He’s still getting stronger every week,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “He’s getting better, he’s getting stronger even though the statistics may not indicate that he’s having as big an impact as he usually does.
“I feel good that we’re on the verge of Cam getting back to his old self, and we’re going to see some great things here as we move on throughout the rest of the season.”
Indeed, Wake did hurry Tom Brady twice Sunday, but never could actually get him to the ground.
That needs to change immediately. The quarterback the Dolphins face next — Andy Dalton — is playing as well as anybody in the league, Brady included.
He torched the Jets for five touchdown passes in a romp Sunday and has 11 in total this month.
The Bengals are prone to a team with a good pass rush, however; Dalton has been sacked three or more times in three of the team’s eight games.
In other words, Thursday sets up perfectly for a Wake revival.
“When you come back from a knee like he is, it takes some time,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “I think every time you go out there you play with more confidence and that’s probably more of the thing and every time out there that’s what’s going to happen.
Added Lewis: “He’s such a good player and an explosive rusher, so I hope he gets well down the stretch but he doesn’t have to get well this week.”
Geno Atkins, the Bengals’ star defensive tackle, played through a posterior cruciate ligament tear his rookie year and agreed that the mental hurdle is the toughest part of recovery. He said it took him four weeks before he felt back to his old self.
Wake sustained a sprain of his medial collateral ligament Sept. 22 — nearly six weeks ago.
“I feel like I’m playing at my highest level every time I step out on the field,” Wake said.
“I give it my all. I give it 110 percent every time I get out on the field. If you do that, you can’t look back and ever have regrets.”
Added Wake: “I’m never satisfied.”