The Miami Dolphins are a little bit like my golf game. Hear me out. Perhaps some of you can relate.
I’m a mediocre golfer who shoots in the 90s and does cartwheels over his monthly birdie. It’s the inconsistency that defines my game. If you saw a video of my three best swings from any one round you’d think I was good. You’d see the 140-yard approach shot nestling softly onto the green. But if you saw my day’s three worst shots you’d think I had just been introduced to the sport. You’d see a shanked drive caroming violently off Mrs. McGillicutty’s condo.
Dolphins fans, even non-golfers, should be able to relate.
Who are these guys?
Which version of the bipolar Dolphins will appear at the next game?
We saw the Dolphins very nearly winning in Seattle. Roaring back with 21 unanswered points in Foxborough. Then dominating — dominating — the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
We also saw these guys in the same uniforms lucky to beat winless Cleveland. Hardly showing up in Cincinnati. And getting crushed at home by the lowly Titans.
And so quarterback Ryan Tannehill was as accurate in his assessment of Sunday’s win as he was with his passes when he called the victory ”an indication” of how good the team can be, not proof.
“Now we have to show up like this every week,” as he put it.
There isn’t a team in the NFL that can look as helpless one week and as strong the next. That’s a symptom of a team still adjusting to a new coach, and of a youthful squad, but that also is the recent DNA of a franchise that has been inconsistent for years. And so Dolfans along for the turbulent ride are, even with a 2-4 record, emboldened today to imagine a rally to playoff contention — just one week after shaking heads and pondering how high the team’s 2017 first-round draft pick might be.
Jay Ajayi looked like a morph of Mercury Morris and Ricky Williams in Sunday’s 204-yard romp. The maligned offensive line, now healthy, played like five impenetrable earthmovers. The defensive line turned Ben Roethlisberger mortal. Byron Maxwell contained Antonio Brown — and how’s that for the the NFL’s biggest pinch-me statement of Week 6.
Overriding everything, we saw a Tannehill who looked like the answer, not the question. We saw, in Adam Gase, a bright young coach who looked like just the right hire, and in command after slapping the team awake by firing four players early in the week.
And yet ...
The Dolphins, along with their collegiate brethren the Hurricanes, share an erratic trait that suggests fans of each team should be what fans are not at all prone to be: moderate, even-keeled … wary.
I mean, the Canes were unbeaten and ranked No. 10 in the nation and two sobering losses later UM isn’t ranked at all. We were talking about the program being “back.” Now, if oddsmakers are right, The U will fall to 4-3 Thursday in the prime-time cauldron of Blacksburg, at which time the ceremonial Mark Richt honeymoon would have officially ended.
Oppositely, Dolphins fans were singing the same ol’ blues a week ago, now, suddenly, stock in Gase shoots up like fireworks and we love Tannehill again (with the caveat, of course, that love is a mystery that can be fleeting).
There is a lesson here that applies to both of Miami’s major football teams as the season nears its midsection.
Prove it, prove it, both of y’all, and we’re going to be skeptical ’til you do. Because neither team’s recent past has earned benefit of doubt. We have been misled by sporadic highs before, only to be ultimately let down.
The Hurricanes haven’t had a 10-win season since 2003, so assumptions of that are dicey. How about you win at Virginia Tech this Thursday for starters, Canes, and then at Notre Dame. Then let’s talk.
The Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 or won in them since 2000, so the bar on hope needs to be set higher than one buoyant afternoon against Pittsburgh. How about this, Fins: Beat the Bills at home this coming Sunday, then beat the Jets at home following a bye. Win two AFC East games in a row to climb to 4-4. Then let’s talk.
Sunday showed the Dolphins “what we possibly could be,” Gase said, but he added, “This league’s week to week. Once we hit next Sunday, nobody’s going to care what we did last week.”
We have seen this before from the Dolphins, just as I’ve lived it on a golf course. The exhilarating highs giving way to the dispiriting lows. It’s faulty to judge any football team by the best or worst it has looked. It is best to gauge a team by what it shows you consistently, reliably, every week.
The team we saw on Sunday looked good enough to beat anybody — anybody. But forget that. It is instantly irrelevant. Nothing matters now but this:
Which Dolphins team shows up next?