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Winning Ugly, But Still Winning

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Dolphins' Stay On West Coast Pays Off With Second Straight Road Win, Fifth In A Row Overall

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles - The L.A. Memorial Coliseum, prior to this season,  home to the Rams from 1946-79 and the Raiders from 1982-94, has seen its share of epic football games, from both NFL teams as well as hundreds of NCAA squads, but if you didn't catch Sunday's contest between the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Rams, don't worry -- this one has little likelihood of being designated as 'Inside The NFL's feature game of the week anytime soon. A sloppy affair played on an uncharacteristically (for Southern California) rainy afternoon, this was a game that featured sixteen accepted penalties between the two teams and through the first 56 minutes of play, only ten points on the scoreboard, all by the Rams. Of course, the road warriors from Miami twice marched down the field for touchdowns in the game's remaining four minutes to pull out a fourth quarter victory for the second week in a row, and put the finishing touches on what is now a five game winning streak. That ugly home loss to the Tennessee Titans now seems like an eternity ago.

There are several things we can take away from Miami's recent success: firstly, Adam Gase looks to be the most talented coach the Dolphins since had since at least Jimmy Johnson, only without Johnson's irksome tendency for blind stubbornness, in terms of play calling, during the course of games.  That a rookie coach, youngest in the league, could accomplish something like this with an offensive line that has rarely been healthy, two of his three starting linebackers injured for much of the season and a secondary that remains in a constant state of flux is nothing short of miraculous. Even with the resurgence of Jack Del Rio's Oakland Raiders, Gase is now a more than viable candidate for coach of the year.

It would also be fair to say that the Dolphins have had some good fortune during their winning streak, particularly the past two games. Last week, in San Diego, had Phillip Rivers completed just one more pass, the Chargers would have been in range of being able to kick a game winning field goal, before Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso's late heroics provided the script for a different ending. Against the Rams, two Los Angeles defensive players charitably gave the Dolphins an extra thirty yards' worth of penalties, extending drives  for Miami to continue to march down the field and score. Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff was making his first NFL start, which historically, rookie QB's generally lose.  Still, if we want to talk about good fortune, the Seahawks caught a gigantic break in week one, when Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills effectively cost Miami that game, dropping a sure touchdown pass from seventy yards out that QB Ryan Tannehill put right into his outstretched hands. Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana was 4-0 in Super Bowls, but today, not many people remember that,  of probably any QB to ever play in the big game, Montana threw the football to players in the wrong colored jerseys more times than anyone else; it's not his fault that all those defensive backs and linebackers dropped the ball every single time he threw it to them. During the 1980's, the Chicago Bears had the good fortune of being able to play six relatively easy divisional games every year,  against the Buccaneers, Lions and Packers, all of whom were abysmally bad football teams during that era. When asked about his team's perennially favorable schedule at a press conference, Bears coach Mike Ditka retorted, "Well what are we supposed to do, lose to 'em ?"  No matter how good, no matter how talented, your favorite team may be, no organization in professional sports can win without at least some element of good fortune.  There are teams like the Cleveland Browns who are not only lousy organizations, they also can't buy a lucky break for all the gold in Fort Knox -- that's why they're going to finish 0-16 this season, even though two months ago, they arguably should have beaten the Dolphins. How many NFL teams have a kicker miss three field goals in a single game ?  The Dolphins have had some good luck this season, but they've also worked hard to earn their good fortune.  Good teams find a way to win, even when they don't play their best game. Good teams find a way to keep the game close, so that when they catch a break, or the other team makes a mistake, they'll be able to take advantage of it.

Finally, after seven consecutive non winning seasons, many, including here at this column, believed there was little chance of the Dolphins breaking that streak. Now, however, it would seem that the worst Miami could finish would be 9-7, with 10-6 being the most likely finish for the team, in our estimation, since the only two truly daunting games left would seem to be at Buffalo and against New England.  Unlike many Dolphin fans, we remain unenthused about the playoffs, simply because, in our opinion, even if Miami manages to slip into the postseason somehow, they would have to play on the road against the top seeded team in the conference. Do you know why so many teams that the Dolphins have beaten in recent weeks have gone on to lose virtually every single game they played after playing Miami (although Buffalo did win at Cincinnati on Sunday, to remain a game behind Miami in the playoff picture)  ?  Because those teams weren't as good as everyone thought they were when the Dolphins played them, which is why, in part, Miami was able to beat them in the first place.  The Dolphins are much improved from a year ago, but they have also benefited greatly from a fourth place schedule. We're very pleased that the Dolphins are apparently going to finish the 2016 season with a winning record, but that's as far as it goes. We could care less about them making the playoffs because history tells us that it would be difficult for them to win even one game. This isn't Cleveland, or Buffalo, where their team hasn't made the playoffs in forever, so we're consequently not as desperate as their fans are for a whiff of the postseason. We want to make the playoffs in a year when the team has a chance to make some real noise in the playoffs, and no matter how vehemently we want to argue to the contrary, this is not that year.  Still, like everyone else, we're enjoying the team's success and we look forward to seeing even more of it in the future.   People around the country can no longer take the Dolphins for losers.