There isn't much left to say about tonight's big AFC East matchup between the Dolphins and Patriots tonight that hasn't already been said. For both teams, it's as important a week four game as you can ever have. For the Dolphins, it's the difference between being in a tie for first place in the division and essentially being two games behind the division leaders with late-season trips to the Meadowlands and to Foxborough remaining.
Two weeks ago, I wrote that this two-game stretch of prime time games against division rivals would define the Dolphins 2010 season. Following that loss to the Jets last week, I then highlighted exactly what was at stake for the Dolphins this week - essentially pointing out how all of the progress made by this team by winning their first two games on the road would be undone by losing these next two against division foes:
Here's what at stake on Monday. Remember that warm, fuzzy feeling we all had about our Dolphins after their 2-0 start? Remember how great it felt to win those first two road games? Well back-to-back home losses to division rivals would be a great way to completely forget about those positive feelings. Instead, that would be how you instantly waste a great start and would make us all start contemplating what might have been.
Worse yet, those feelings would then be the ones we'd have to carry with us through the bye week that follows Monday night's game - before heading up to Lambeau Field in week six to take on the Packers.
Leave it to Armando Salguero, though, to write a column on Sunday telling us all what we all already know and have discussed at length - declaring that tonight's game is a season defining game for the Dolphins. Clearly, Armando thinks he is making some kind of ground-breaking declaration here. But all of us here already know this realization of the importance of tonight's game is nothing new at all - we've been saying this all week long.
With how Sunday's games played out, the Dolphins can really make a statement tonight. A win over the Patriots would get this team to 3-1 and in a tie with four other team for the best record in the conference (sorry, but I'm not buying KC and their 3-0 record). That would be a great situation to head into the bye week in, wouldn't it?
One angle Armando takes up in his column, though, that is relevant is how the players and coaches would feel heading into the bye. As fans, we all know it absolutely sucks to head into the off week coming off of a loss. But what about the guys on the team? How important is a win heading into the bye from a coach's perspective?
"When you're going in there off of a win, I think that things happen a lot faster,'' Tony Sparano said. "The bye week, it's a little bit easier to get work out of your players that way when you're going in there off of a win. I think they're a little bit more excited about things that are going on."
What about a player's perspective?
"It's huge," Karlos Dansby said. "[With a victory] team morale would be there. Guys want to be around each other when you win. That's how it happens."
More practically, 3-1 simply looks and feels far better than 2-2 - especially with a trip to Lambeau Field looming when this team returns to action. Under Tony Sparano, though, the Dolphins have played well coming off the bye. Back in 2008, the Dolphins made a big statement by knocking off the favored Chargers. Last year, the Dolphins played an outstanding two and a half quarters before the defense collapsed against New Orleans.
Both games, though, saw the Dolphins coaches come up with excellent game plans. If the execution was there, the Dolphins would have defeated the eventual Super Bowl champs last year.
That's why the Dolphins need to win tonight and get to 3-1. Then you give the coaches and this team a week to rest and two weeks to prepare for Green Bay.
A win tonight is the difference between optimism and pessimism; between excitement and dejection. Not just for us fans, but for everyone within the Miami Dolphin organization.