Everything can change for the Miami Dolphins this week. It is a fulcrum moment for a football franchise reduced to regional size but now so close to going national again, so close to making the one statement fans have longed for seemingly forever.
“The AFC East is ours now. Miami is in charge, not New England.”
This is not hyperbole. Neither is it certain to happen. But there is a chance, and it is real in a way we have not seen or felt since Dan Marino left and the Fins mostly stopped mattering beyond South Florida.
Stephen King wrote a novel once called “Everything’s Eventual.” Lousy title for a book, I thought, but no denying the truth of those two words. Eventually Tom Brady will be rendered mortal by age. Eventually the keys to the division will change hands.
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It feels like we’re right there in the middle of it
It could happen on Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, Massachusetts, where Miami is 0-14 in games Brady has started in his career. The Dolphins must do what has never been done — beat Brady on the road — to stake their claim. It shouldn’t be any other way, any less daunting.
Nobody believes yet in Miami, the team ESPN ranked a dead last 32nd in its preseason power rankings. Wins over the Titans, Jets and Raiders have opened eyes, but not convinced skeptics. New England is favored by seven points Sunday.
Some of that is habit. Rote faith in Bill Belichick and Brady.
Some of that is habit on the other end. Times the Dolphins have teased us like they might be teasing us now.
Miami was last 3-0 in 2013. And promptly lost four games in a row.
Just last season the Fins were 4-2. Then lost five in a row.
That causes a fragility to the current 3-0. The record is porcelain. It could easily break. Miami has not been 4-0 since 1995, Marino’s final Pro Bowl season.
NFL fans, maybe even some Dolfans burned too often by misplaced hope, are ready to sigh, “Same ol’ Dolphins” if Sunday goes wrong.
This season feels different, though. It does.
If feels like everybody was wrong about this team. About its criticized offseason moves.
Receivers Jakeem Grant and Albert Wilson bring speed few defenses can match. Coach Adam Gase’s penchant for trick plays is gusts of fresh air. There are playmaklers on defense. Miami’s big-play, quick-strike capability with the ball is something Dolfans haven’t really had since Marino’s prime. Deficits don’t seem as daunting as they once did.
“We’re just having fun,” said Wilson.
Miami has put up 75 points, the team’s most through the first three games since 2002.
Early, yes, but right now, Gase is the NFL coach of the year.
Right now, only Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes is a more obvious league MVP front-runner than Ryan Tannehill, who has a 121.8 passer rating and looks better than ever, looks Pro Bowl-good. He is 10-1 in his past 11 starts. At 30 he has suddenly come of age and set aside all of the old “is he good enough” narrative.
Still, from Gase on down, Miami is aware it must earn respect, a work in progress. A franchise coming off a 6-10 season, one that last won a playoff game on Dec. 30,. 2000, is not entitled to any presumption it has turned a major corner. That is where Sunday comes in. Why Sunday feels like a such a turning-point moment.
Winning Sunday would not complete the turnarorund.
It would start it.
Meantime the talk at Dolphins camp is micro, not macro. It is about finding a way to win a game Sunday on the road. It is not about dethroning anybody or bugling any statement.
“Nothing. Zero,” Gase answered when asked the significance of going to New England with a two-game division lead.
The confidence is there, though. It is an intangible that almost feels palpable.
“We have a good idea what kind of team we have as far as character and effort and just the want-to to be there for each other,” Gase said this week. “The accountability is awesome to see. The fight for each other. That locker room is tight.”
Think about the most attention this Dolphins franchise has gotten in recent years.
Was it the Bullygate mess in 2013? Was it the offensive line coach caught snorting cocaine last year?
When was the last time “Dolphins” and “winning” were a word-association answer nationally?
It could happen Sunday.