I was browsing the various South Florida newspapers on Monday and wasn't very sure what I was going to write about today. I wasn't exactly in a "statistical" mood and we've beaten the AFC playoff picture to death already. But then I read an article written by the Palm Beach Post's Dave George - who always seems to find a way to crap on our parade - and I was suddenly inspired.
George closes his article by writing:
All I'm asking for is a little clarity. Is Miami a playoff team, and if so, are we just being set up for a clocking by somebody that really knows what they're doing, somebody like the Indianapolis Colts?
What's amazing to me is how somebody who has been covering South Florida sports since the late 70s can not realize what the 2009 version of the Miami Dolphins have become. Are they a playoff team? We'll find out in the coming weeks. But that's not what this is about. What it is about is what the Dolphins are right now - a shining example of toughness (both mental and physical) and resiliency.
The Dolphins came into the 2009 season with one of the toughest schedules in the league. They lost their first three games of the season. They lost their starting quarterback and halfback. They lost one of their starting cornerbacks. They lost their starting nose tackle. And they lost a "Mr. Do-Everything" player who was their third running back, special teams standout, and one of the coaching staff's favorite guys. Despite all that, the Dolphins sit here having won seven of their last ten and are right in the thick of the playoff chase.
If anything, Sunday's road win in Jacksonville not only "clarified" what this team is - it solidified it. This is one group of tough SOBs. This is a team that refuses to give up. And this is a team that refuses to let the 2009 season slip away.
We saw numerous mistakes committed by this team on Sunday. It was downright ugly at times and it's likely that every Dolphins fan watching that game had that "oh no, not again" feeling in the pit of their stomachs as the game entered the fourth quarter. It was a game that had no right being as close as it was.
Despite all that, the Dolphins did what they had to do. In what was essentially a "must win" game, the Dolphins refused to just collapse like we've seen past Dolphin teams - even more talented Dolphin teams - do. Instead, when the game could have easily swung in the other direction, these players made plays. Yeremiah Bell broke up a pass attempt. Randy Starks collapsed the line and took down David Garrard. Cameron Wake hustled back into the play and tackled Garrard from behind to end the game.
As great as the "Zach Thomas/Jason Taylor" era of Dolphin defenses were, one of the knocks on them was that they sometimes failed to make those critical stops when they absolutely had to have them. For all of the current defense's faults, this group has gotten better week in and week out and have done an excellent job of getting those critical stops in the past two weeks.
After Sunday's win, Jason Taylor - who wasn't a part of the great late-season run last year by the Dolphins - told the media:
"It's been a long time for me to have meaningful games in December. It's great. This is why I play the game, and I like the pressure to be on. We realize every week is so important. It keeps you focused. It keeps you grinding late in the year. Having something to play for late in the year is awesome."
Taylor's exactly right. It sure is awesome.
If I had told you entering the season that this team would be 0-3, be without Chad Pennington for the final 13 games, be without Will Allen for the final 10 games, be without Ronnie Brown for the final 7 games, and be without Jason Ferguson for the final 6 games, what would you have said? Whatever it is, it's highly unlikely you would have believed that this team would not only be in contention for a wildcard spot with three games to play but also for the division title.
So enjoy it. There's only one thing better than meaningful December football - and that's meaningful January/February football. And the fact that the Dolphins even have as good of a shot as they do is thanks in large part to two things.