Armando Salguero: These Miami Dolphins should deliver
12/22/2013 12:01 AM
12/22/2013 2:56 PM
The Dolphins cannot possibly blow this, can they?
They cannot be this hot, on a three-game win streak, be on the cusp of their first playoff berth in four seasons, get as many breaks as they’ve gotten (Thad Lewis in, EJ Manuel and Stevie Johnson out) and not deliver … right?
I believe this team — hardened by difficulty — can finish this season as strong as they finished last week against the New England Patriots. I believe they can beat the Bills on Sunday and the New York Jets in the regular-season finale and get into the postseason for the first time since 2008.
I believe this team can break the late-season cycle of failing, flopping and folding.
And, I believe, once the Dolphins go into the playoffs, they can, as offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said last week, “make some noise.”
It won’t seem easy at any point the next few weeks — except maybe if the Jets decide they’re not showing up and playing hard in the regular-season finale because they have nothing to play for and their coach might get fired.
Maybe even then, the Dolphins are bound to give you heart palpitations along the way because that’s how this team plays practically every game and has authored this entire season.
But that will only make the end result seem more fitting.
This last-possession team that plays to the level of its competition — no matter how high or low — has waited until the season’s last month to show its mettle.
The next few weeks should be fun.
“The games, really our season, guys, have really come down to the fourth quarter,” coach Joe Philbin said last week. “The fourth quarter of virtually every game, if you look at our season, literally we’ve had about 10 games that have almost come down to the last play.
“We talked to the guys on Dec. 1 and said, ‘Hey, it’s December. We have five games left. There’s nothing to wait for. We’ve got to start playing our best football of the year.’ Hopefully we can continue to do that.”
I understand the naysayers and skeptics because all they have to do is merely point at history and their argument against the Dolphins completing a successful run to the playoffs is made.
These Dolphins, 8-6 and just two victories against unimpressive teams shy of that certain playoff spot, are in the same position previous Miami teams were in just before they broke the hearts and trust of their fans.
The 2009 Dolphins were 7-6 and needed three wins to clinch a playoff spot. They lost all three games, including two at home.
The 2010 Dolphins were 7-6 and had outside hopes for the playoffs with three games to play. They also lost their final three games, including two at home.
So I get it.
The franchise has conditioned you to expect a disaster.
Even some people within the Dolphins organization last week were privately taking a seeing-is-believing attitude about the grand possibilities ahead. That’s safe thinking. That’s the smart approach.
But who said I’m smart?
Rather than point at history, it’s better to point at the present to better understand Joe Philbin’s and Jeff Ireland’s Dolphins.
First, they seem impervious to adversity and have actually responded to every difficult situation by adapting and overcoming and seemingly coming out better than when they went in.
They lost veteran tight end Dustin Keller, who had already become quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s go-to receiver, in the preseason. Well, Charles Clay, who had averaged 17 catches his first two seasons, stepped in and has delivered a 61-catch season.
Clay’s growth has come so far that last week in trying to shut down Miami’s best weapon in the pass game, New England coach Bill Belichick’s game plan concentrated on neither Brian Hartline nor Mike Wallace.
The Patriots deployed their defense primarily to stop Clay, who had scored two touchdowns the previous week against Pittsburgh.
The Dolphins then lost slot receiver Brandon Gibson for the season and that was a blow because he had begun developing great chemistry with Tannehill.
Well, new slot receiver Rishard Matthews has caught 28 passes in the seven games since Gibson was injured, which is two more than Gibson caught in the first seven games he was healthy.
And the Gibson loss seems to have forced Tannehill to look more to Wallace, which is as it should be since the Dolphins signed him to a $60 million contract. Wallace caught 29 passes and one touchdown the first seven games. He has caught 34 passes and three touchdowns the past seven games.
That snapshot of how the Dolphins handle season-ending injuries is only part of this team’s family portrait.
The team had a scandal that reverberated throughout the NFL and still might bring suspensions or firings when the report is completed and released after the Super Bowl. And yes, the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation shook the team, ownership, everyone’s schedule, and the depth chart.
But out of that scandal involving two offensive linemen, the offensive line has improved. With starters Incognito and Martin gone, the Dolphins are allowing an average of just over 2 1/2 sacks per game.
They were allowing 4.4 sacks per game — a franchise record pace — with Martin and Incognito around.
Yes, it helped that Ireland traded for Bryant McKinnie, and Tyson Clabo, once benched, has recovered and played as well as he did in Atlanta the past few seasons.
But the recovery speaks to the group’s resilience. And it reflects how the rest of the team is handling this season.
“We’ve had some ups and some downs, but at the end of the day we’ve come together and done our best to make sure that when it’s time to make that play, it’s going to be a win for the Dolphins,” defensive end Cameron Wake said.
“There’s definitely been no dull moments in this season. Every game you have to take your blood-pressure medicine because it’s definitely been a hell of a game. We’ve definitely won the games and made the plays recently that need to be made, so we’ve just got to keep that going.”
About Armando Salguero
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