You know what I think is great about spectator sports? I don’t have to suffer the physical pain of the torn Achilles tendon that ruined the Dolphin’s chances at salvaging their season; just the emotional anguish.
Going into last Thursday’s game, I had high expectations for the Dolphins, justifiably so. The team that under He Who Must Not Be Named ranked near the bottom of virtually every offensive and defensive statistical category hadn’t just been revitalized; they had been reborn. Under that alleged head coach, oft maligned QB Ryan Tanneyhill had just come off two successive games with QBRs of 59.7 and 53.0. In those same two games against the average Buffalo Bills and the average New York Jets, Lamar Miller had rushed a total of 14 times for 64 yards. The offensive line couldn’t pass block or run block. They did a pretty good impression of the turnstiles at the MetroRail station, though, I’ll give them that.
And the defense. Yikes, the one-sack-through-four-games-producing defense. The less said about them, the better.
And then Dan Campbell happened, and all was right with the Dolphins’ world. Ryan Tannehill set an NFL record – that’s right, a league record, not a team record – with 25 consecutive completions. Lamar Miller went off for 175 yards, not just in one game, but in one half. And the defense – six sacks against the Titans, four more against the Texans. As I had previously written, Coach Dan Campbell had his team playing as if MD stood for Mad Dogs, not Miami Dolphins. They were poised to be the team we expected.
Then they went to Gillette.
Let me preface this by making it clear I didn’t expect the Dolphins to win this game. They had only won against two bad teams, after all, they’d be facing the Patriots on the road. The Pats were going into the game undefeated and with Tom Brady clearly on a mission. I hoped for a win, of course, but I reasoned they’d have a tough loss, maybe 27-17. New England has been playing with an absolute patchwork of an offensive line, and the Dolphin’s line had been getting a great push in the last two games. If you can rush Brady, you can limit the damage. I still expected the loss, just a fairly close game.
Unfortunately, that patchwork line only yielded two sacks, Rob Gronkowski enjoyed his usual snack of NFL linebacker for lunch, and, to rip off a phrase, Tom Brady was who we thought he was. 356 yards and four touchdowns later, the Fins’ D was shredded. Ryan Tannehill was hurried all game, taking five sacks and throwing two picks. Lamar Miller followed up his 175 yard explosion with exactly 160 fewer yards. The Dolphins got away from the run game, true, with Miller only getting nine chances, but with just fifteen yards and the game rapidly getting out of hand, the situation dictated the pass. The Dolphins couldn’t compete that day, and the Patriots are the team we thought they were. (As for those Patriots, I think they just lose two games this year. We’ll look at that another time.)
The loss of Cameron Wake is certainly by far the bigger story. Most fans thought the Dolphins would lose the game (at least, the ones who aren’t insane), but losing Wake kills any slim chance this team had of a winning season. After seeing the passion Campbell has brought back to the team, I expected them to rebound with ten wins this season. Thanks to the complete lack of coaching ability of the previous regime, the 1-3 start gave them no shot at the playoffs, but I fully believed the new look, new effort Fins would go 9-3 under Campbell. Without Wake the road is obviously tougher. The road games in the division, the Tony Romo-healed Cowboys, San Diego on the road, and of course the home closer against these same Patriots, are all tough games made tougher without your star defensive end. I think at this point, Miami will do well to finish 8 – 8.
But I have faith in this team for the first time in years. They didn’t quit against the Pats; they didn’t just walk through like zombies, waiting for the gun. They were overmatched that night, but they competed. They’ll compete in Ralph Wilson this Sunday, and I expect them to win as well. Tyrod Taylor should be back for the Bills, but their defense has been shredded the past two weeks. The newly motivated Dolphins will do a much better job of keeping Taylor in check, and Lamar Miller will get the run game back on track. I see the Fins getting back to Campbell’s hard-nosed game plan, taking this one 27 – 17, and continuing the Dolphin’s move back to respectability.