The Miami Dolphins returned to practice for the first time in three days on Thursday, feeling good about themselves, because they played well in their last game and they have a chance to continue that momentum in a Monday Night Football meeting with the New England Patriots.
So the Dolphins get a chance to put on a good show on prime time (finally), and they also can avenge a 35-17 loss to the Patriots two weeks ago.
End of good news.
The problem with all this is the facts become ugly upon closer inspection.
Yes, the Dolphins played perhaps their only complete game of the season in a 35-9 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday. The defense was so overwhelming that defensive coordinator Matt Burke, a stickler about details, was in a good mood afterward. The offense scored the most points it had all season.
It was such a convincing victory that some people were asking if the Dolphins were running up the score on the Broncos because they tried an onside kick with 10 minutes left in the game.
Except that, unfortunately for the eternal optimists, the Broncos stink.
It would be awesome to say that was a signature win, a season-defining win. But that win came against a team that had lost seven consecutive games and has no good answer at quarterback.
Fine, so how about that game against New England the week before?
The Patriots are a legitimate Super Bowl contender again. And they didn’t play all that well against Miami. And obviously the Dolphins had a lot to do with New England’s struggles because they intercepted Tom Brady once. And the defense scored when Reshad Jones picked up a botched snap. And Brady got hit a lot. And the Miami offense moved the ball between the 20s.
So the Dolphins had success against New England they can seemingly build on for this coming game.
“They’re a good football team,” New England coach Bill Belichick said of the Dolphins. “They have a lot of talent. ... It was an 11-point game in the fourth quarter and they had the ball. So, I thought the first game was really a lot closer than the score indicated.”
Belichick, who admittedly is complimentary of all opponents, calls the Dolphins “a good team,” and “explosive.”
He says the Dolphins “play hard.”
The problem with all that? The Patriots weren’t at the top of their game. They Dolphins are a good team in Belichick’s mind. And still New England scored 35 points.
And the Patriots won by 18 points.
So is it good news or bad news that the Dolphins forced the Patriots to look vulnerable and still got blown out?
“Well, it was bad news because we didn’t come through on the other side of the ball,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “We turned the ball over when we were down in the red area. We didn’t score touchdowns. When we get our opportunities, we’ve got to make it count, and we didn’t do it last time, for sure.
“We didn’t play very good complementary football. All three phases, we were, ‘one side of the ball did well, then the other side stalled out.’ We were kind of hit and miss. To have a chance to win this game in the fourth quarter, we have to be on it in all three phases. If we get a short field, we’ve got to take advantage of it. If we get them backed up, we’ve got to try to hold them back there and flip the field position to our advantage. Until we do that, it’s always going to be difficult against these guys. We need to put one together.”
The Dolphins have not really put one game together against the Patriots during Gase’s tenure in Miami. The Dolphins have had success against their other division rivals. They’ve had success against other teams.
But not the darn Patriots.
And the narrative for all those losses seems to be similar: The Dolphins play well in spurts while the Patriots seemingly start fast and do just enough to stay in control the rest of the way — particularly at the end.
The same thing happened two weeks ago.
“I think there were some stretches we did a good job of executing things where we made it difficult for them offensively or we moved the ball on a few series that we were looking to move the ball,” Gase said. “The mistakes we made ... for us it’s about not duplicating those. And not putting ourselves in a bad position, which we’ve done all three times the last two years — where we get behind and it’s the wrong team to get behind as much as we have.”
Belichick believes his team will start over fresh Monday night. He’s going to see a different Dolphins team, with a different game plan, a different quarterback, a different running back and some other changes on defense.
The question is what Dolphins team will show up?
The team that looked great against Denver? Or the team that got blown out the previous week by an underachieving opponent?
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero