Armando Salguero: No matter the opponent, Miami Dolphins victory over Jacksonville Jaguars was key

If there’s a temptation to yawn and dismiss this Dolphins victory against a hapless Jacksonville team — because the Jaguars are truly terrible and perhaps headed to the first pick in next year draft — please consider the alternative.

What would happen if the Dolphins hadn’t whipped the Jaguars, 24-3?

What would fans be thinking or saying about their Dolphins today if this otherwise nondescript day at Sun Life would have set with a loss to arguably the worst team in the NFL?

The very idea would be just as painful as that long-ago 62-7 loss to the Jaguars. No, this wasn’t the playoffs so the stakes weren’t the same. But the fallout might have had a significant impact.

If the Dolphins had lost to Jacksonville on Sunday, Monday in South Florida would have included a general revolt of fans, a call for the firing of the general manager, a loss of confidence in the quarterback, and harsh criticism of the head coach.

We’d be reassessing everything about the franchise and liking none of the evaluation.

If the Dolphins had lost to Jacksonville, the bottom would be practically falling out of fans’ already waning confidence and interest level. Those fans are not exactly supporting the team with zeal these days.

The 53,667 paid attendance announced at the game was more wishful thinking than factual counting, because the actual crowd seemed closer to 43,000-46,000.

So if the Dolphins had lost for the sixth time in seven games and the lowly Jaguars had flown north with a win, how many people would have shown up to next week’s home-finale against Buffalo?

I say the Dolphins avoided a huge fan protest in the form of empty seats next week. No, beating the Jaguars doesn’t mean 10,000 more people will rush to the ticket office this week.

But it also means 10,000 more people won’t lose hope and refuse to show up next week.

This game was also a very important day for coach Joe Philbin.

The rookie coach has been largely insulated from criticism this year, because his time here still hasn’t shown him to be either a winner or a loser. The jury is still out and will likely remain so for some time.

The coach is still and rightly enjoying his honeymoon.

But that honeymoon would have come to an unceremonious end if Philbin had not gotten his team ready enough and motivated enough to beat the inferior Jaguars at home.

The truth is Philbin has pretty much milked about as much out of the Dolphins as anyone could have expected and perhaps even more. Yes, the team has played poorly at times. And they’ve lost plenty.

But the team has laid an egg in a game it should have won only once, that against Tennessee in November. The Dolphins seemed neither ready nor motivated that day. But that one goes down as a mulligan for Philbin and his coaching staff because anyone can have a bad week.

Put two such home performances on the résumé and the narrative changes. People would wonder why the Dolphins played down to the opposition or failed to kick a team that’s been down pretty much all season. Folks would start looking sideways at Philbin.

No such glares today.

The Dolphins did what they had to do. They did what they were supposed to do.

This game also was a victory for Miami’s rookie quarterback and the men closely tying their career to his — the Miami front office.

Tannehill played well in posting his highest quarterback rating of the season at 123.2. He completed 22 of 28 passes for an efficient 220 yards, with two touchdowns without any interceptions.

He smiled a lot after the game.

You know who else had to be relieved if not outright happy?

General Manager Jeff Ireland.

Ireland’s future with the Dolphins does not seem to be jeopardy after this season. Although owner Stephen Ross will not make a final decision on Ireland (or anyone else) until after the season, all signs indicate the GM is safe and will return next year.

But what if Tannehill had not outplayed Chad Henne?

If there were today the least bit of evidence the Dolphins made a mistake in letting Henne go after last season so they could move to Tannehill, the troubling questions for that apparent mistake would go directly to Ireland.

But because Henne was his typically inconsistent self, because Miami’s guy was simply better, Ireland doesn’t have to worry about such backlash.

It is not the popular opinion in town, but Ireland should get credit for some quarterback moves he’s made as much as for drafting Tannehill. He passed on Matt Flynn and Alex Smith and last year passed on Kyle Orton. He should similarly get credit for moving on from Henne.

Of course, none of this suggests the Dolphins should get a parade anytime soon. They enter the final two weeks of the season striving to be 8-8 mediocre. But what they did Sunday in winning a game they were expected to win is still good.

And they have to do what is good before they can do what is great.

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