Armando Salguero

Christmas gifts: A playoff berth for the Dolphins and a ‘chunk of coal’ for Rex Ryan

Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore looks to pass against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. on Dec. 17, 2016.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore looks to pass against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. on Dec. 17, 2016. AP

For the Miami Dolphins and their fans, the holiday season is still about celebrating good health, prosperity and good tidings like every other year. But this Christmas has the potential to be particularly gloomy or exceedingly bright based by another standard — and, no, we’re not talking about whether a pack of hounds steal your turkey like they did Ralphie’s or whether the Noche Buena paleta is seasoned just right.

For the Dolphins, a victory over the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 24 will bring Christmas Eve cheer that definitely will spill into Christmas Day.

But if the Dolphins lose, wasting an opportunity to seize control of their playoff destiny, some folks will be wiping away Christmas Eve tears.

No pressure, Dolphins. Your fan base’s Christmas spirit is in your hands.

“Yeah, we’re focused on the game,” new starting quarterback Scrooge, rather, Matt Moore said this week. “It works out that Christmas is Sunday, which is nice. Hopefully, we’re doing that with a victory.”

Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore talks with the media about being nervous on his first start to replace injured Ryan Tannehill Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. Moore had a career-high four touchdown passes to lead the Dolphins to a 34-13 victory over

The truth of the matter is most NFL players and coaches spend so much time studying tape, practicing, getting their sore bodies treated by trainers, and of course playing, that they don’t have tons of time to invest in cheery holiday things like mixing an egg nog cocktail or roasting chestnuts or fighting other shoppers for help at the Apple Store.

“We’re [in the] NFL, we’re pros, man,” Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard said. “When I was little, I was watching players play on Christmas. It’s exciting. Even though we have family back at home, we’re handling business.”

Ah yes, the business of Dolphins football. This year is different than most because the Dolphins are chasing a playoff berth.

Think of that as the greatest gift a franchise can deliver to a beleaguered fan base that hasn’t seen their team in the postseason since 2008.

And a victory over the Bills combined with a Denver loss to Kansas City on Christmas night in a nationally televised game would send the Dolphins barreling into the playoffs. A great gift, to be sure.

Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins running back, has back-to-back 200-yard games to join an elite class of three other NFL running backs.

So why are so many Dolphins fans feeling like the Grinch is about to steal their fun?

Consider Tom Torchio of Rochester, New York, and his view of the world this holiday:

“In my life as a Dolphin fan, I have done everything from pray to God to using voodoo dolls to try and get Miami to win,” he wrote to me. “We have been heartbroken so many times though, that we know those things do not work. So, I am asking you honestly, what do you think will happen? My guess is that Miami will lose both of their last two games and miss out on the playoffs, while Buffalo could win their last two easily and get into the playoffs.

“I wish I could be more optimistic, but even the football world seems to think so too because Buffalo is favored by four points. To be honest, I think Buffalo will blow Miami out. I don’t see Matt Moore having another good game, and I see Buffalo running all over Miami with [LeSean] McCoy and [Tyrod] Taylor and [Mike] Gillislee having HUGE games.”

This is not an isolated opinion. Dolphins fans, you see, have been conditioned to think their team is on the precipice of failure every weekend. And why do Dolphins fans think this way?

Because the Dolphins have been on the precipice of failure every weekend this entire century.

That 2008 team that won the AFC East with an 11-5 record was a mirage. We all know that. That team took giant leaps forward only to tumble awkwardly back to reality the following year. Eventually everyone responsible for that season got fired amid the ensuing years of failure.

But there is hope, Tiny Tom from Rochester.

Adam Gase’s team is not the most talented. It might not be the more talented team in Saturday’s game. The team is also kind of beat up — as injuries to starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, starting center Mike Pouncey, starting safety Reshad Jones and the entire linebacker corps attest.

But these Dolphins play as a team. When Kenny Stills catches a touchdown pass, Jarvis Landry celebrates. When Landry gets into a scuffle (which happens almost every game) all his teammates come to his aid. Think of this group as Santa’s reindeer towing that sleigh — all their hooves beating in perfect unison.

That work?

If not, then how about we look at history? The Dolphins have a storied past and surely that suggests success on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, right?

Sort of.

The Dolphins to this day lay claim to winning the longest game in NFL history — an 82-minute, double-overtime victory over Kansas City in 1971. A dozen future Hall of Famers played in that game for the two teams. It was the Dolphins’ first playoff win in franchise history.

And it happened on Christmas Day.

The Dolphins have played three games on Christmas in their 51 seasons. They have a 2-1 record in those games. They’ve played seven Christmas Eve games, the last one coming in 2011 at New England, and have a 4-3 record in those games.

You see, the Dolphins dominate on Christmas and Christmas Eve!

Fine, so maybe they’re barely above .500 around Christmas. But the team is great during the eight nights of Hanukkah. And this century, great on Hanukkah is defined as having a 9-10 record.

Don’t let any of this get you down. History doesn’t matter. Odds don’t matter. All that matters is these Dolphins have a chance to gift their fans a playoff berth this Christmas. The mere opportunity should make everyone joyful because this season started 1-4 with no playoffs on the horizon.

As for the Buffalo Bills, I leave you with this thought: Last season then-Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams bought all his defensive line mates a television. Williams was considering doing something similar with his current teammates, but that won’t be known until after Christmas.

Did Buffalo coach Rex Ryan get a TV set from Williams last year?

“I think his position coaches did, if I’m not mistaken,” Ryan said. “I don’t get anything from anybody. A chunk of coal, I think.”

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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