One of the great narratives in sports journalist is that West Coast teams stink when playing at 1 p.m. Eastern.
Whether or not that’s true is a matter of debate.
But here’s something that is not debatable:
The Dolphins struggle when they go the other direction. They haven’t won on the West Coast since 2010, losing their last four trips out there.
And guess where they’ll be spending 11 days, beginning Thursday?
Yup, the Golden State. More specifically: San Diego and Los Angeles, as the NFL agreed to schedule Miami’s two California games in consecutive weeks to cut down on travel.
So just as the Dolphins defied history to get back into the playoff hunt after a 1-4 start, they’ll have to do so again to stay in it.
And while focus on the next two Sundays won’t be an issue, it’ll be up to Gase keep his team engaged during one of the longest road trips in franchise history.
“Everybody's just got to be a man,” Gase said. “We're there to do a job. They're not on a bowl trip. We're there to do one thing: We're there to work, find a way to win a game, and go to work for an entire week, and try to win another game. We've got to handle business on the first leg of the trip, and when we hit that second part, then that's got the week we have to buckle up and really be pros.”
If not, all the Dolphins’ work during their three-game winning streak will have been for naught.
The Dolphins haven’t lost since Oct. 9, largely because they discovered a throwback identity: Smash-mash football and aggressive defense.
Gase might use that same old-school approach in the San Diego area, where the team will practice ahead of both games.
The 38-year-old first-year coach is even considering instituting a curfew.
“See how Sunday goes,” Gase quipped Monday.
In truth, Gase has reason to trust his players. For the most part, they’ve been drama-free off the field since he got the job. He treats them like grown-ups, with few rules; by and large, they have acted like ones.
“We’re not on vacation,” said Dolphins tackle Branden Albert. “We’re here for business. Guys got to get that in their heads that we’re there for business; we’re not there for pleasure."
The Dolphins have taken particular pleasure in smashing teams with Jay Ajayi behind Albert and Laremy Tunsil.
Ajayi wasn’t with the Dolphins in their Week 1 loss in Seattle; Gase left him home because of attitude reasons. But Ajayi was with the team last December, when the Dolphins were spanked by the Chargers 30-14 in what many believed would be the franchise’s last game in San Diego.
The Chargers were threatening to bolt the city over their crumbling stadium. They ultimately didn’t, and the fate of a new stadium deal will be decided by voters Tuesday. If the measure fails, this truly could be the last time the Dolphins play in San Diego.
“I think we're a whole different team this year than we were last year,” Ajayi said. “I think we're excited about this opportunity to go out to California for a two-week period. We know the challenge, what's in front of us. It's not going to be easy going coast-to-coast.”
At least they only have to get on a plane twice. The Dolphins are expected to travel by land to Los Angeles, which the Dolphins haven’t visited since 1988, when they faced the Raiders. They haven’t faced the Rams in L.A. since 1986.
Miami finished 8-8 this year. That record would be a disappointment in 2016 after the last three weeks.
“I feel like people are starting to believe in us,” Albert said. “We’re starting to fill those seats back up. About four weeks, there was nobody in them seats, but I think we’re starting to make people believers.”