The Miami Dolphins have been in this type of situation before – just last year, in fact – when they followed an uplifting win against a quality team (Cincinnati on Halloween), with an inexplicable loss to a dreadful 0-8 opponent (Tampa Bay).
At least that 2013 Dolphins team had the toxic bullying scandal as something of an excuse.
These Dolphins would have no such excuse if they follow Sunday’s impressive 27-14 win at Chicago with a dud on the road against a 1-6 Jacksonville team that ranks 31st in the NFL in offense and 27th in defense.
Coach Joe Philbin has warned his team of the landmines here, reminding his players after Sunday’s win that they haven’t won consecutive games all season. The Dolphins also have lost several games under Philbin that they had no business losing – at Tampa and at home last season against both the Bills (and quarterback Thad Lewis) and the Jets.
Philbin will try to convince his players that the Jaguars are worthy of the same type of attention and respect that the Dolphins gave the Bears.
“They beat a good Cleveland team, 24-6,” Philbin said of the Jaguars’ only win, achieved Sunday. “They are averaging giving up in their last three games 13 points a game on defense. [Quarterback] Blake Bortles, I remember watching the first preseason game that he played, and I thought, ‘Wow.’”
As for his own team, there’s a lot for Philbin to like at the moment, and Miami’s depth will improve with Tuesday’s expected return of Dion Jordan from a six-game suspension for two violations of the league’s drug policy.
The Dolphins, who will need to make room for Jordan on the 53-man roster, haven’t been able to interact with him since training camp, per league rules.
“We will have to get him on the field and start working with him, see where he’s at,” Philbin said. “It’s great to have him back.”
Will incorporating him be difficult because the Dolphins are deep at defensive end?
“It won’t be tough,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “You have good players, you find ways to utilize them. He’s a very talented guy.”
Coyle expects Jordan will be “in good shape. Dion can run all day. We’ve never had issues with him being in shape.”
The Dolphins’ overall depth has improved to the point that the team on Sunday deactivated two players who began the season as starters: receiver Brandon Gibson and guard Shelley Smith. Philbin suggested previous injuries were not the reason for their removal from the game-day active roster.
Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill’s good work has the Dolphins encouraged.
Over his past three games, Tannehill has completed 72 percent of his passes (68 for 94) for 799 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions – equating to an excellent 105.7 passer rating. He also has 132 yards rushing over those three games.
On Sunday, Tannehill set a career high in passer rating at 123.6, barely eclipsing his 123.2 against Jacksonville as a rookie.
“There are some specific signs of him getting better,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “There are some specific signs of him maybe not taking the next step. I saw anticipation improve. I saw some good pocket presence. I think the guy is getting better. I’m excited about where he can go.”
The read option continues to be an asset for Miami’s offense, with Tannehill gaining 48 yards on six carries against Chicago.
“Every single day, he gets better at it,” Lazor said. “He’s confident in it. It helped us win the game.”
According to NFL.com, Tannehill became the third player in history with at least 275 passing yards, at least 45 rushing yards and a completion percentage of 78 percent or higher in a single game.
Even though the Dolphins scored 27 points – Philbin has said he wants to average at least 25 a game this season – neither Philbin nor Lazor was especially pleased.
Philbin said the Dolphins should have scored more points, and he “didn’t feel like it had to be that close at the end of the game. There are explosive plays on offense we have to make more of.”
Lazor said: “I was very disappointed with a lot of the play [Sunday].”
Nevertheless, the Dolphins’ offense has risen to 12th in the league in yardage: fifth in rushing and 22nd in passing, and Miami has produced the sixth-most first downs in the NFL.
Defensively, the Dolphins are fourth in yardage allowed per game (10th rushing, fourth passing) and are permitting the fewest yards per play in the league.
Against Chicago, “our little guys did a good job against their big guys,” Coyle said, referring to how well cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan played despite a significant size disadvantage against Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Also, “having Reshad Jones back there has been a boost,” Coyle said. “He broke on the football, made plays on the ball, had an interception. He brings a real confidence to the group back there. He’s back to playing as good as he’s played since we’ve been here.”
▪ Grimes (thigh) was the Dolphins’ only reported injury Sunday.