Leodis McKelvin is nothing special in the NFL. He’s just another cornerback. Hasn’t made a Pro Bowl in his seven seasons. Isn’t much known outside of Buffalo. But he got his 15 minutes in the national sports cycle this week by sort of guaranteeing a win over the Dolphins in Thursday night’s game in Miami.
“We’re going to go out and beat [their butt], point-blank, period,” he boasted.
Did I mention he said that just after the Bills had lost at home last Sunday due largely to his own fourth-quarter fumble on a punt return?
Did I mention Leodis plays for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999?
For those reasons some folks found his braggadocio infuriating. For the same reasons I found it funny. As in ridiculous.
The thing is, his confidence is understandable. The way the Bills-Dolphins rivalry has gone recently puts the burden on Miami to prove him wrong. To tell him, “Shh.”
And they’d better, because all that’s riding on this AFC East grudge match is just about everything.
Miami, at 5-4, will see its playoff hopes loom into view again with a win. But sinking to .500 with a second straight loss – and facing Peyton Manning in Denver next – will make the postseason look more like the speck on the horizon it takes binoculars to see.
Call Thursday the early kickoff to one of the greatest weekends we’ve seen in a while for Miami sports. They call us an “event” town? Well, we have three in a row upon us, all of them big, noisy, significant.
The Dolphins (and Dolfans) have their first prime-time game of the season to prove themselves worthy of the national stage.
In the same stadium two nights later the Miami Hurricanes host No. 2-ranked Florida State, looking for a signature win that would catapult UM into the national polls.
Then the decibels reach a Sunday crescendo when Homestead-Miami Speedway hosts NASCAR’s champion-crowning season finale.
Gearheads and Canes fans would disagree, but Dolphins-Bills stands up to the other two events at least in terms of its weight on this season and the playoff outlook.
If the Fins are going to prove they are playoff-caliber, they first must prove they can overcome their division nemesis. In the Joe Philbin/Ryan Tannehill era, that hasn’t been the mighty Patriots or the hated Jets. Oddly, that has been the Bills.
Philbin and Tannehill are 1-4 vs. Buffalo, with three losses in a row. That includes a crushing 19-0 loss at Buffalo late last season that denied Miami a playoff berth. And that includes a 29-10 spanking up there in Week 2 this season.
“This is a chance for us to redeem ourselves at home,” as Tannehill put it.
That better start with the quarterback himself, who has a lousy 67.0 passer rating in his young career vs. the Bills and has been sacked 18 times in five games. Now, without injured left tackle Branden Albert, Tannehill faces a Bills blitzing-inclined defense that leads the NFL with 34 sacks.
“A formidable challenge,” Philbin rightly called it.
The coach, asked about the challenge of readying for a Thursday game, said, “The preparation aspect kind of shifts to the mental preparation as opposed to the physical. Players really have to do a great job mentally preparing.”
I found that interesting because recent failures against the Bills, reflected in McKelvin’s boast, suggest the mental edge in this rivalry may not be Miami’s to claim at the moment. They must prove differently.
Dolphins players mostly ignored McKelvin’s “guarantee,” although Tannehill acknowledged, “We’re aware of what’s been said.” Receiver Mike Wallace called it “lightweight.” Running back Lamar Miller said, “We do the talking on the field.”
OK, then. Let’s see that. Do it, Dolphins, if you can.
Shut up McKelvin, shed the Bills yoke and tell the rest of the NFL you’re ready for a fight – all at the same time.
Extra motivation in what an opponent said should hardly be required in a home game, in prime time, against your division rival, when playoff hopes teeter – but you take all that’s given you in times like this.
I’m not a big believer in “statement games.” NFL seasons are comprised of 16 of those that, together, declare who and what you are.
Some games unquestionably are bigger than others, though, for various reasons – heavier, more compelling, decorated with urgency – and for the Dolphins this absolutely is one of those.