When the game-deciding play went in the Miami Dolphins favor because Indianapolis Colts tight Eric Ebron ran his fourth-down route two yards too short, Dolphins coach Brian Flores ran down his sideline, smiling broadly, applauding the moment, and generally acting as if he’d just won the lottery.
He’d won the game. The Dolphins had won the game.
And it was the second victory in as many weeks for this team, which is good. But the reaction across the landscape of Dolphins nation was absolutely, positively, all wrong.
Because fans that invest their hearts and emotions in the Dolphins have similarly bought into the Dolphins losing in 2019. They want their team to fail. So they didn’t love this ...
That’s sad emoji faces for too many Dolphins fans to number. Because, they argue, winning now is shortsighted and injures Miami’s chances to have the first, second or maybe even third overall selection in next spring’s NFL draft. All which possibly ruins Miami’s chances of getting Tua Tagovailoa or Joe Burrow or some other quarterback who will turn the Dolphins into champions.
It’s what these folks call the long view of winning and losing.
Except that supposed long view is itself not only shortsighted but actually altogether blind.
Because what Dolphins fans should be seeing is a rookie head coach and his staff of assistants growing up before their very eyes. They’re seeing Flores and his guys taking a roster specifically built to stink and making it competitive the past five games.
Fans are seeing great work from the same office where Dave Wannstedt, Tony Sparano and Adam Gase often struggled and they’re not appreciating it. They’re seeing a guy develop a team that includes 14 waiver wire pickups into a group teams with playoff aspirations, such as the Colts, can no longer overlook.
And they’re upset that guy isn’t getting the kind of results Joe Philbin and Cam Cameron got as they failed miserably?
It has to be said right here that Flores knows you’re out there. And Dolphins players know you’re out there. And they don’t care you’re wringing hands and gnashing teeth that #TankforTua or #BustforBurrow might get derailed.
“We’re going out to win every game. Period,” Flores said after the victory, cutting off a reporter’s tanking line of questioning.
I asked Flores, the spokesman for the organization on practically every day during the season, how the Miami Dolphins as an organization felt after this victory. Was it a positive accomplishment?
“Yeah, it’s an excited group in there,” Flores responded. “Tough game. That’s a very good opponent, well coached teams, a lot of good players, on the road, tough environment. It’s hard to win on the road in this league. I’m proud of this team. I really am.
“There were some plays we came back from, some adversity we dealt with, that I would say, earlier in the year it would have been hard. But this is something we’ve gotten a lot better at from that standpoint.”
And you’re not loving that?
Consider the coach’s words a little better because they mean the Dolphins are moving forward. They’re not stagnating. Players that generally have been considered not good enough or been discarded by other teams are coming to Miami and prospering.
And a team that has lost starters Preston Williams (injury), Xavien Howard (injury), Mark Walton (suspension), Laremy Tunsil (trade), Kenyan Drake (trade) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (trade) has not quit but actually is playing better than it has all season.
This is an accomplishment, friends. And it’s one that will be lasting because the coaching staff that is making it happen is going to be around as surely as that quarterback everyone is pining for.
That’s important because it would serve no purpose the Dolphins being terrible this year, perhaps losing every game, getting that first pick for that great young quarterback ... and having him fail miserably under a horrible head coach and staff.
Does that make sense? The truth is people who believe the Dolphins are a great quarterback from relevance don’t see the full picture of what really needs to happen. Because for the kind of success everyone wants, the Dolphins need that outstanding quarterback, and an outstanding coaching staff, not to mention a seriously gifted personnel department that picks that QB and then supplies him and Flores with other players to make the team complete.
This rebuild has to be a team effort. And while the Dolphins playing better now might hurt their draft order, if general manager Chris Grier and the quarterback he chooses do work as laudable as what Flores is doing right now, everything should be just fine.
So the 2019 Dolphins improving is a good thing.
“I mean, that’s the goal,” Flores said. “We’ve been talking about that since we first met. And again, if this team is a reflection of me, we’re going to improve every day. At everything -- blocking, tackling, study habits, preparation, walk-thru, practice, third down, red area, run game. We’re going to try to improve in every area.”
Now let me answer the naysayers that will predictably complain that no coach can win without a franchise quarterback. On a consistent and big-time basis, that is absolutely true.
But it is also true that no one -- not me, you, anyone on the Dolphins or in the NFL -- knows who the next draft’s absolute can’t-miss quarterback will be. Smart NFL people admit it’s often a 50-50 proposition even at the very top of the draft.
So we have no idea if Burrow or Tagovailoa will be raising that 22-inch Vince Lombardi Trophy someday or not. But I know this as a certainty: No NFL quarterback, elite or otherwise, raises that trophy while playing for a bad coach.
So I celebrate the idea that Flores is finding success. I celebrate that he’s doing what he said he’d do when he was hired, which was to make the Dolphins progressively better.
“I felt like the last four or five weeks, we are starting to come together, across the board from an execution standpoint, from a communication standpoint, from a practice standpoint, from a confidence standpoint,” Flores said. “Being able to overcome adversity is part of playing in the National Football League. We had a lot of that earlier in the year. But we’re starting to handle it at a higher level now.”
One final thing: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was at the LSU victory over Alabama so it cannot be overstated how important that game was to the Dolphins. But when the Dolphins clinched Sunday’s win, Ross was there, too. He was on the sideline as Flores celebrated with his coaches and players.
And, yes, that was a smile on the Ross’ face.