Late in this convincing and uplifting blowout victory over the Houston Texans, fans started serenading Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell with a repeated chorus of “Dan, Dan, Dan.”
And taking it in stride because he’s got a sense of humor and humility, Campbell quipped, “I thought Marino walked out again,” when he was asked about it after the game.
That’s the tone to set right now for the Dolphins even following this 44-26 victory because, despite the outstanding play, the newfound energy, and obvious transformation they've undergone from their early-season selves, it’s still a little too early for chest pounding, folks.
OK, some chest pounding is acceptable.
And the Dolphins did some of that.
“That’s the best I’ve seen us play in the two years I’ve been here,” linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said.
And there’s no arguing the Dolphins delivered a championship performance. But as they say in my country, slow your roll. That wasn't a championship opponent any more than the Titans last week were.
(Yes, I'm going to be that guy).
What the Dolphins have done the past two weeks in salvaging what seemed to be a catastrophic season in the making is give themselves a chance to be relevant the next two months.
But being relevant was never the goal for this year. Remember the talk of going 5-1or 6-0 the first six games? What the Dolphins have done since the firing of Joe Philbin is to get back to 3-3 and give themselves a chance for something better.
Now the tough part of the schedule begins, folks.
The New England Patriots are next. The Buffalo Bills, who beat the Dolphins, 41-14 less than a month ago, will follow after that.
Those two games will determine to a great degree whether what we’re seeing is the stuff of fairy tales the crafting of another 8-8 season.
And so before we start to make grand proclamations about this team and start checking travel sites for playoff tickets, let’s do the prudent thing and see what happens when the revived Dolphins play opponents who aren’t already on the draft clock.
OK, end of lecture.
This also needs to be said:
The Dolphins are showing at least one obvious and very encouraging sign that maybe they are not like Joe Philbin’s perpetually mediocre bunch.
Remember that Philbin’s team typically played up to the opposition, sometimes beating teams like New England, as in the opener in 2014 and late in 2013, and going to the final minute with teams like Green Bay and Denver.
But the Philbins also played frustratingly down to the opposition. They looked terrible against Jacksonville last year and lost to them this year. The Philbins lost to Thad Lewis twice and let Geno Smith beat them in consecutive season-finales when the Jets were either barely mediocre or about to fire their head coach.
Dan Campbell’s Dolphins so far don’t look anything like that.
True enough, they’ve played two bad teams. But they’ve pounded those teams. They’ve dominated those teams.
That’s typically a sign a team is better than average.
And so is this: When a team starts fast.
The Dolphins had done that both games under Campbell. They scored on both their opening possessions. They’ve shut out the opponent on both their first possessions.
On Sunday, Houston punted on six of its first seven possessions and the only reason it wasn’t seven is because Reshad Jones intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown for the second consecutive week.
The offense, meanwhile, is so balanced, it is turning in big plays with the run and pass. A resurgent Lamar Miller was the embodiment of that Sunday. He scored on an 85-yard run. He also scored on a 54-yard screen pass.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill missed on one whole pass. He connected on 18 of 19 throws, and four of those completions went for touchdowns.
And on the second of those scoring passes — one to Jarvis Landry — the wide receiver got a block at the goal line from center Mike Pouncey, who was 50 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage.
Something else that was impressive?
The Dolphins led 41-0 with 1:03 to play in the first half. And they had the ball at their own 20 yard line.
So they came out and ran their two-minute drill out of the shotgun to try to get more. They tried to drive their cleats into the Texans’ comeback chances.
“You tell them at halftime, ‘You cannot let them have any hope. You have to go out there and stop them in their tracks. Don’t even let them breathe,’” Campbell said.
They didn’t do that. The Texans fought back. But the outcome was never in question. And that should give hope for the days ahead.
So are the Dolphins capable of being the same team against the Patriots on Thursday that we’ve seen the past two weeks against middling opponents?
“That’s us. I do believe that,” Campbell said. “I believe that’s not some fluke. I believe that’s who we are.”
We’ll see. If they are, then we can celebrate that this franchise is really onto something.