Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Turning Point

I'm back and I know all three of you missed me.

After the Miami Dolphins shocked the Patriots in Week 3 (the greatest upset in Dolphins history), one of the team’s radio announcers said we might look back on this game some day as the longed-for turning point for the franchise. Nodding in agreement (at least in spirit) and caught up in the hype of the huge win I was sorely tempted to write a subsequent post about “The Turning Point”. Then I remembered that, however impressive, it was just one win. There’s no law that said the Dolphins couldn’t go back-to-back 1-15. And I’d refrained from making any predictions after all of my 2007 ones bombed like The Love Guru. Remember? Miami’d go 8-8. Favre was washed up. So was Jamal Lewis. John Beck might be good. That didn’t happen? Actually I didn’t refrain from making predictions, I retired out of embarrassment. So no predicting a Turning Point. I needed definitive proof. When Miami followed up the big upset with a nice win over the Chargers, a preseason Super Bowl fave after all, I was on the verge of writing about “The Turning Point” but I decided to wait one more week first. After Miami came back late to take the lead on the road against the Texans my typing fingers were warming up but they let it slip away, blowing a chance for a third straight win and a winning record. Back into hibernation went The Turning Point. Still the team was at least competitive; two of their three losses had been close. However, the next loss wasn’t. Baltimore came to town and handed Miami their lunch. The Dolphins looked listless and overmatched against the lone team they beat one year earlier. Goodbye Turning Point.

And hello again Turning Point. Yes, after four straight wins and a 6-4 record we can safely say this Dolphins team is far better than it was last year and there’s no reason to think the improvement’s a fluke or that it can’t be built upon. Of course I’m so slow I couldn’t finish this post before Miami’s win streak ended at the hands of, who else, the Patriots. Still, the improvement is clearly real so what can we say accounts for this great leap forward? I’d go with these things:

1) New Talent: The passing game is by far the team’s best unit right now and most of the credit must go to Chad Pennington. What a huge upgrade he’s turned out to be over last year’s terrible trio of Green, Lemon and Beck. And he cost the team virtually nothing. The Dolphins are a run-first team this year but when Pennington drops back to pass he’s not throwing many interceptions and he’s averaging eight yards an attempt. Free-agent pickup Anthony Fasano and undrafted Davone Bess have been reliable weapons for Pennington. And number one pick Jake Long looks very good so far.

2) Old Talent. Specifically, getting more out of it. Joey Porter’s having a career year. Ted Ginn (who we feared a bust), Greg Camarillo (before he got hurt) and David Martin (who?) have all played much better this year, no doubt helped by better quarterbacking. The Dolphins now appear to have the makings of a solid receiving corps. Even Ricky Williams is contributing. Who knew? Ronnie Brown’s back to his pre-torn ACL self.

3) Coaching: Fasano’s brought the Wildcat back to the NFL! Need I say more? Ok, it’s not single-handedly responsible for all the wins but it gave the team a huge edge when first introduced, it helped instill confidence in the players that the coach has some idea what he’s doing (an element sorely lacking last year!) and it’s gotten more playmakers involved in the offense. The whole thing was brilliant. I also can’t recall any games this year where Fasano seemed overmatched or panicked or butchered the clock or made stupid replay challenges. And the great years Miami’s gotten from guys who’d been disappointments before (Porter, Ginn) is also to Fasano’s credit. Give him his due.

4) Management. Parcells. Someone in charge who knows what he’s doing. It’s been awhile. And it can’t hurt that everyone in the organization must fear the Tuna’s wrath. At least Huizenga’s last big decision before getting out of Dodge was a good one (finally).

Miami’s still got a good shot at making the playoffs, something nobody but the team’s most deluded fan could have expected. As 4 of the last 5 games are on the road I wouldn’t count on it but just finishing with 7 or 8 wins would be a huge accomplishment. Last year Miami looked on the way to becoming this decade’s Detroit Lions. Of course the Lions decided they were still this decade’s Detroit Lions leaving the Dolphins no choice but to make giant strides seemingly overnight. After the misery of last season, this year’s been a lot of fun so far.

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