Past Interference has been less than diligent in chronicling the weekly struggles of the 2010 Miami Dolphins. In my partial defense, the team’s performance was so uninspiring, so tedious and dull, that even had I felt like writing something about something, the subject would not have been the 2010 Miami Dolphins. But I do write about the team from time to time and seemingly overnight the Dolphins have ceased being tedious and dull. Well, at least ownership and management aren’t dull. They are…what’s the word? Pathetic? Inept? I mean I thought Huizenga’s mismanagement couldn’t be topped but wow, the Harbaugh/Sparano clown show Steven Ross premiered might have just raised the bar. I’m going to wait a little longer to process it though. Let me just say this. While the whole debacle was going on I was fully engaged and frantically seeking the latest Dolphins news at all hours, something I was most definitely not doing during the season. So at least you gotta give Ross some credit for creating some excitement around the team.
Alright. They say you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been right? Well it’s something like that anyway. So how did the team get here? Where did it all go wrong? Let’s cast our minds back to the beginning of the season. It all began so promisingly remember? Yeah, I know. It seems like a million years ago. But Miami actually came out of the blocks 2-0. Two road wins, each against teams that made the playoffs the year before. And that turned out to be their longest winning streak of the season. Their only winning streak of the season. Two games. Two losses at home followed and after that it was a frustrating pattern where every subsequent win was followed by a loss. Every time, until the late season collapse of course. They were good enough to win 6 of 8 road games, but bad enough to notch just a single home victory.
After a particularly atrocious loss, a bad beatdown by Ravens in week 8, the season’s key moment arrived. Chad Henne had played horribly in defeat. Miami was 4-4 and winless at home. So prior to the week 9 game against Tennessee Coach Sparano announced he was benching Henne. Replacing Henne would be the hero of 2007, Chad Pennington. This communicated two things to Dolphin fans: (1) After 21 starts Sparano (and presumably GM Jeff Ireland) had lost complete confidence in Henne; and (2) Sparano (and presumably GM Jeff Ireland) was now more worried about his own job security than about the team’s long-term future. So it was a panic move. Word had already gotten out that Bill Parcells (more on him soon) was no longer part of the organization in any capacity but informal advisor. And without the Tuna’s protection his protégés felt they had to win some games right now to keep their jobs. Not what you want. And of course it didn’t work anyway. Pennington predictably got hurt (though I don’t think anybody in the pool picked the second play of the game) and Henne was back in the saddle again. Before Henne too went down with a knee injury he responded with a fine performance, helping to lead the Dolphins to a comeback win. Henne’s injury wasn’t that serious but he had to miss the next game. So enter third-string QB Tyler Thigpen.
Given Henne’s prior benching and Pennington’s season-ending injury, everyone understood that week 10 was Thigpen’s audition for the starting job. And previous flashes of mobility and big play ability had some predicting success for the new QB. Those people somehow ignored the fact that Thigpen hadn’t ever been able to actually win a game in any of his previous game action. But we all hoped for the best. And we got the worst. Thigpen played about as badly as a quarterback could play. I believe “crapped the bed” would be the appropriate expression. It was Ray Lewis all over again. Except I don’t think Lewis ever presided over a shutout at home. So back to Henne in week 11 at the home of the hated Raiders. And Henne was great! He and the team played their best game of the season: a 33-17 thrashing of the Raiders. Clearly the benching lit a fire under Henne and he stepped up his game in response like a true competitor. At 6-5 and with three home games left against the Brown, Bills and Lions, a winning season seemed likely. And if Miami could steal a road win against either the Jets or Patriots, a 10-6 record and a wild card spot wasn’t out of the question. Things were looking up.
Haha. Sure they were. Oh, Miami stole a win from the Jets alright, but that was no thanks to Henne. He was awful. Luckily Mark Sanchez matched Henne awful throw for awful throw and the defense pulled it out. But they couldn’t pull out wins in any of the home games. All hree winnable games, all games Miami gave away because Henne couldn’t make a play. I do not know what happened to the guy. What happened to the guy who led the Dolphins to a comeback win in that Monday Night games versus the Jets in 2009. The guy who wasn’t afraid to take a shot downfield? Now Henne just robotically proceeded through his reads and checked down time after time. He never tried to make anything happen. Even in desperation time. Both the Bills and the Lions games ended when Henne threw short checkdowns that guaranteed the clock would run out instead of passes into the end zone that at least would have given Miami a shot at a victory.
Did the coaching staff screw up Henne’s development? Dan LeBatard makes a convincing argument they did they did. Maybe Henne was never going to be on the fast-track to greatness but benching your starter before he even has two full seasons under his belt is never a good idea. I've been watching football long enough now to see a number of guys need several years to develop into great QB's (Griese, Bradshaw and Brees among others). And you know what else is never a good idea? When your worthless offensive coordinator (yes, you Dan Henning) calls play-action pass after play-action pass even though his QB is on record as hating play-action, and the worthless OC continues to call play-action even on the most obvious of passing downs where no defense is biting on the fake for even a second. Sparano, Henne, and QB coach David Lee have to take some blame here. I’m not saying Henne’s going to have a better career than Mark Sanchez, but LeBatard is absolutely correct to note that Henne's stats for his first two seasons are actually a little better than Sanchez and while Sparano undermined Henne’s confidence, the Jets organization was patient with Sanchez and surrounded him with playmakers. Unlike Miami, a team with no deep threat, no offensive skill players with speed, and a running game that’s just a shell of what it used to be. Henne never had a fair chance.
On the other hand the team managed to construct a very good defense. Wake, Dansby, Misi, Smith. These are good players; the team’s actually not far from having a great defense if they keep making solid personnel moves (never a sure thing with this franchise). They were good enough this to win some games on their own and put the Dolphins in position to win a few others. But the incredibly weak passing game just killed this team time after time. Henne led a few comebacks in 2009, but in 2010 we stopped expecting anything out of the guy. Except turnovers and useless checkdowns. We’ve been here before, for the better part of a decade now. A good but not great defense. An offense tasked with simply not losing the game. And they proceed to do so anyway because you can’t win that way! You need to be able to throw the ball and score and you can only do that with a good quarterback. For the ninth time in the last ten years, Miami didn’t have one.
The Dolphins were at least competitive in the games they lost down the stretch. Competitive until the Week 17 finale that is. The team rolled over and got rolled by the Patriots. One of the all-time franchise embarrassments. After that game team owner Steve Ross, previously inclined to stick with Sparano, suddenly changed his mind and Dolphin fans just had to wait out the coaching search to find out who the new head man was going to be. Right?