Armando Salguero: Once NFL laughingstock, Miami Dolphins now playoff contender
12/09/2013 12:01 AM
12/09/2013 7:27 PM
Before this Dolphins season sets off on its final three weeks of heart-stopping, mind-bending craziness, let us pause here and understand what we know. We know:
If you watched Sunday’s 34-28 Miami victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the hint that all the accrued knowledge about this team is faulty came in the fourth quarter.
That’s when the Dolphins scored an offensive touchdown, which we thought was not possible because the team hadn’t scored a fourth-quarter offensive touchdown in the past eight games.
That’s the quarter the Dolphins eclipsed the 27-point mark, again something that we thought not possible because Miami had failed to score that many points in the previous 23 consecutive regular-season games dating back to last season.
Near the end of Sunday’s fourth quarter, with three seconds to play, you thought you knew the Dolphins were victorious because Pittsburgh had the ball at its own 26-yard-line and no one was giving up a 74-yard TD toss.
A zany play involving a 20-yard pass and five laterals tested what we accepted as fact when Antonio Brown, having a clear path to the end zone, seemed headed toward an inviting score and a Steelers victory.
Then, of course, he inadvertently stepped out of bounds at the 12-yard line.
So this game was ultimately saved by the fact a football field is 531/3-yards wide and not 54.
That’s how it is with these Dolphins and their chase for a playoff spot now. Everything we thought we knew, everything we accepted, has to be reconsidered because the facts are changing by the week.
I’m taking my own advice, by the way, because on Nov.11, after the Dolphins lost to previously winless Tampa Bay amid a seemingly horrible NFL scandal, I wrote that if Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was going to fire some people he should clean house completely.
I wrote that if Ross was going to fire general manager Jeff Ireland — as it seemed by the way the owner was talking that night — then the right thing to do was get rid of the entire coaching staff that was simply not getting enough out of the roster.
Well, the Dolphins are 3-1 since that low point.
Despite an NFL investigation that has been intrusive for coaches, personnel people and players — which will continue to be if reports that more interviews are coming this week are true — the Dolphins have rallied.
The offensive line that was a giant revolving door to the quarterback is actually playing better without Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.
The locker room that was supposed to be so broken has grown closer together.
And coaches — particularly offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, head coach Joe Philbin and offensive line coach Jim Turner — who raised so many eyebrows by failing in games against Buffalo, Baltimore and Tampa Bay, have their players performing at a high level now.
Give me rewrite!
And the narrative doesn’t end at the coaching staff.
The man Dolphins fans see as the most likely casualty from the NFL scandal and poor performances earlier this season, Ireland, also is getting a new life.
According to an NFL source, he has received assurances from Ross that his job is safe.
And based on what we are seeing lately, that would be the right way for Ross to proceed.
Sunday, for example, that was Daniel Thomas rushing for 105 yards on a season-high 16 carries.
Thomas did this after some South Florida media outlets reported he was done playing for the season because of an ankle injury.
Thomas did this after so many fans and pundits (me included) decided he simply wasn’t worth the second-round pick Ireland spent on him several years ago.
Indeed, every time I looked up on Sunday, an Ireland personnel move was paying dividends:
Charles Clay, having a breakout season, scored two touchdowns.
Nolan Carroll, often criticized but having his best NFL season, had another good game, while Brent Grimes, a free agent acquisition last offseason, continued to play at a Pro Bowl level.
Climbing the hill
The Dolphins also continue to get increasingly fine play from Ryan Tannehill, who has started carrying the offense in December. Miami’s quarterback threw three TD passes and one interception against the Steelers.
He has completed 48 of 76 passes (63.1 percent completion) for 531 yards with five touchdown passes and two interceptions in two December games played in swirling winds last week and snow on Sunday.
If Tannehill continues that arc, who’s going to advocate the team fire the GM who drafted him?
These Dolphins have reached a milestone moment. They have changed course from the one they were traveling a month ago. They are on a roll. They have turned themselves away from scandal and embarrassment and are pointing toward the playoffs.
It is time to reconsider everything we thought we knew about this team.
About Armando Salguero
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