This is a dangerous time for Joe Philbin.
His team is floundering during what was supposed to be the easy part of the 2015 schedule. The Miami Dolphins are in last place in the AFC East. A blowout loss to Buffalo might be in the past but still lingers on some people’s minds. And another important and likely difficult game against the New York Jets is here.
But it is what looms just beyond this Jets game that threatens Philbin.
The bye week.
The die week for some coaching careers.
The fact of the matter is if the Dolphins lose to the Jets on Sunday to drop to 1-3, owner Stephen Ross will not necessarily replace Philbin during the bye week. It’s possible the Dolphins could lose and yet show enough encouraging signs of improvement to save the coach.
If the Dolphins start this game poorly again, suggesting their preparation is lacking … if the Dolphins show little fight again — as they did at times in the second half of the Buffalo game … if the Dolphins are dealt a loss this week similar in size and scope to the one they suffered in that 41-14 thrashing by the Bills …
Then Philbin’s job will definitely be in jeopardy during the bye week.
If another complete and calamitous defeat befalls the Dolphins for a second consecutive Sunday, Ross will consider making a coaching change.
How do I know this? I know.
Ross doesn’t want anything to do with this topic. He declined to answer multiple questions on the matter last week. He hasn’t even discussed it with some of the most powerful employees within the Dolphins organization. But he has thought about it privately.
Publicly, the owner sees no need for this discussion now because even as his Dolphins were mired in the doldrums of this season’s first three games, one of which was a victory, Ross went to England believing Philbin could still get the team turned toward a playoff berth by year’s end.
Add to that the fact Ross likes Philbin and has a lot invested in Philbin and it becomes obvious that ownership is hoping to avoid the ugliness of an in-season coaching change.
Ross is instead hoping for the kind of turnaround the team enjoyed last season at this time.
Last season the Dolphins were 1-2 before traveling to London to play the Raiders. There was controversy surrounding Philbin and the team then because the coach inexplicably declined to endorse Ryan Tannehill as his starting quarterback publicly even though he had done so with the player privately.
But Tannehill played well against the Raiders. The team won a convincing 38-14 decision. And although the loss resulted in Oakland coach Dennis Allen being fired during the bye week, a victorious Philbin and the Dolphins freed themselves from controversy.
That’s what a victory over the Jets would do again for this Miami team. It would provide breathing room for a team that has been choking on difficulty.
But a debacle for a second consecutive week could wreck Ross’ optimism and confidence and strong belief in the current coach to the extent he goes looking within the organization for an interim replacement during the bye.
So although the Dolphins aren’t necessarily playing to save their coach’s job and Philbin isn’t coaching for his job Sunday, the Dolphins cannot lay another egg like last week without making room for the possibility a major change could be made.
Of course, Dolphins players and Philbin are feeling like their owner now. They have no expectation that a repeat of last week is coming. They’re looking for a repeat of last season’s London trip more than last week’s Buffalo debacle.
“We’ve talked a lot about playing a 60-minute football game, which we haven’t yet done at this point in time,” Philbin said. “We’ve talked a lot about making first downs and having balance and rhythm on offense. We’ve talked a lot about getting off the field on defense. We’ve talked about playing with better discipline overall as a team. We’ve certainly had a lot of discussions and want to keep it relatively simple, but we want to make plays.
“And it’s our job to put them in position to make plays.”
The Dolphins haven’t done much of what Philbin says needs to be done so far this season. He and his coaching staff have identified problems the team faces. But no one has delivered solutions consistently.
Making matters seem worse is the fact the rest of the teams in the AFC East have started the season well.
The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are playing as if they want to take their frustration over the Deflategate controversy out on their opponents. Last week against Jacksonville, the Patriots' possession chart was scary good. It read:
Kneel-down to end the game.
The Patriots made the Jaguars seem like unworthy opponents. That’s the same Jaguars team that beat Miami one week earlier.
The Patriots also beat Buffalo decisively — the same Buffalo that is 2-1 and blew out Miami.
The Jets have gotten off to a 2-1 start, and although they have troubles at quarterback they also have what one opponent described as “the best defense in the NFL.”
So it is imperative for Miami to quickly fix whatever has been wrong. That’s not just to save Philbin, but to save the season.
“I think we feel the urgency and understand that we’re at a critical point in our season,” Tannehill said. “Obviously, we haven’t performed up to par or even close to it the past two weeks. It’s a division opponent, on the road and overseas, so it’s a huge game for us not only for the fact that it’s a division game and just the way we’ve played the past two weeks, we need to come out and respond, and play up to our standards.”