This is part of my ongoing series where I trace how Brian Flores' career has compared to the two previous Dolphins permanent head coaches, game by game, and how I felt about each.
Recap of Game 41
Back in 2014 during Joe Philbin's third season, Ol' Joe's Dolphins went into Detroit with their 5-3 record, and came home with a loss. Hard to remember, but this was actually a pretty good Lions team. Still, the loss not only dropped the Fins to 5-4, but it also affirmed the notion that Joe Philbin's team could not consistently beat decent competition.
Four years later, Adam Gase's crew hosted a really bad New York Jets team and trudged out a 13-6 win that got the team to 5-4 on the year, but didn't really teach us anything other than to be worried that our third year coach's team was always under threat of losing to any opponent, including markedly bad ones.
Here in the near-present, we saw the previously 1-7 Dolphins get it together just enough to not be as bad as a truly awful Houston Texans team. With Tua riding the bench while his middle finger heals, the Fins won, 17-9, and scratched out their second win of the season. The race to have a better record than the San Francisco 49ers (whose 1st round draft pick we swapped with) took a step in the right direction. Oh, and the defense put together its second consecutive strong performance.
Game 42 (Season 3, game 10)
It was a real battle of the mediocre back in 2014 at Sun Life Stadium, where the 5-4 Bills rolled into town. The division rivals put on quite the display of dull football, with the defenses limiting both offenses to a few field goals nearly all the way through the third quarter. The 9-3 score with a few minutes left in the 3rd would have done Tony Sparano proud. Eventually, though, the Dolphins got it together for a few minutes on both sides of the ball. Ryan Tannehill connected with Brandon Gibson for a 7-yard TD catch with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter. On the following defensive series, the Fins D sacked Bills quarterback Kyle Orton for a safety. Feeling like playing complimentary football for once, the offense kept the vibe rolling by putting together another TD drive, ending with an 8-yard pass to Jarvis Landry. The defense kept Buffalo's offense stifled, and Caleb Sturgis tacked on an insurance field goal with 3:01 left in the game. Dolphins win, 22-9, and up their record to 6-4.
In Adam Gase's 42nd game back in 2018, the squad headed up to the chilly climes of Green Bay, Wisconsin to face Aaron Rodgers and a Packers team that was actually struggling to find its footing for once. Well, what is a Brock Osweiler/Adam Gase-led team if not the perfect "get right" opponent? This game shaped up as a textbook "trading field goals for touchdowns" affair. The Packers were up 7-3 at the end of the 1st quarter and 14-9 at halftime. The game was sort of intriguing for a few minutes into the second half after yet another Jason Sanders field goal put the score at 14-12. Then the Packers offense shook off the rust, adjusted, and got to work. Seventeen unanswered points later, the Dolphins take a clear loss to fall back to .500 on the season, sitting at 5-5.
I write this the morning after the Dolphins squared off against the Baltimore Ravens - the team that for a full decade has owned Miami the way the Harlem Globetrotters own the Washington Generals. I normally don't give much detail with these most recent games, but this one is too good to pass up. It was a war of attrition for three full quarters, as the Dolphins defense actually managed to keep a lid on the barrel of TNT that is Lamar Jackson. To the surprise of no one, however, the Jacoby Brissett-led offense had no idea what to do with this gift, stumbling around with little clue as to how to move a football in the right direction. When the second half kicked off with the score a snooze-inducing 6-3, a portentous event happened. On third down, Jacoby Brissett was injured while getting sacked, tweaking his knee a bit. Despite looking healthy enough to return to the field on the next drive, Brian Flores gave Tua the nod. This made sense, seeing as how Brissett looked pretty horrible prior to the injury. The defense continued to hold Baltimore, and Tua's first two series looked like a young guy trying to shake off a little bit of rust. But in his third series, things started cooking a bit. The Fin put together a solid 7-play, 53-yard drive that ended with a field goal to put Miami up 9-3 with 12:34 left in the game. Not to be outdone, on the third play of the ensuing Ravens drive, Xavien Howard strips the receiver, recovers the fumble, and runs it back 49 yards for a TD to put the Fins up 15-3. Baltimore next benefited from a few highly questionable calls (and one or two legitimate penalties) to engineer at TD drive, putting the score at 15-10. With 4:12 left and a chance to ice the game, the Dolphins offense pulled off a rarity - a game-sealing drive, the most electric play in which was a brilliant 64-yard pass play to Albert Wilson. Down 22-10, the Ravens pushed down the field and got into Miami's red zone, only to have an end zone pass intercepted by Justin Coleman to officially put the win on the books. The Dolphins pull off the upset and get their record to 3-7.
That 2014 win over the Bills was yet another "cool, I guess" win from the Philbin era. As I watched at my buddy's house, I recall us being only mildly impressed by an offense that wasn't showing any real strides at this point. It was good that they found their stride in crunch time over a division opponent, for sure, but it didn't feel like the team was moving the needle in any meaningful way. But hey - back to two games over .500, and that was rarified air for that time period.
The 2018 game against the Packers was a mixed bag. It was a clear, uninspiring loss for sure. However, my buddy Clint and I had made the trip up to Green Bay to watch the game at Lambeau Field, and that was absolutely priceless. We made sure to embrace the gameday experience, walking the two miles or so from our hotel, joining the herd of mostly Cheeseheads and being treated to the Midwest hospitality that you've probably heard of. It's real. The people were so nice, greeting us warmly and throwing some beers our way, despite our being fully decked out in our Dolphins gear. And as a person who lived in the Philadelphia area for many years, let me assure you that such generosity towards visiting fans is far from guaranteed around NFL arenas. The weather was cold and a bit snowy, but in a charming way, and the fans around us at our bench seats were just as nice as those outside of the stadium. Watching our team lose in fairly unentertaining fashion was no fun, but the experience outside of that was a full five stars. It took most of the sting out of seeing our team drop to 5-5.
As for this season, I think many of us Dolphins fans have been in the same head space in recent weeks. You adjust your expectations and redefine your goals as a fan. For me, I was going to be happy if we saw the defense build on their solid performances of the previous two weeks, Tua get a chance to play meaningful snaps, and for the team to just not get humiliated on national television yet again by a team that has absolutely owned them in recent years. I've been visiting my fellow Dolphin faithful fan friend at his home in Rhode Island, and we had a blast in his living room for this one. Granted, we were both scratching our heads as to why Tua wasn't starting from the jump and why he didn't replace a struggling Brissett well before the injury, but this ultimately became a minor consideration. Seeing the defense look the way we thought it would at the start of the season and fully exorcise the Bogeyman that has haunted us for years was a true delight. So now the team sits at 3-7, still well out of the playoff picture, but with a slew of four low-tier opponents coming up on the schedule. I won't dare to hope, even wildly, for at least another two weeks. It's still all about evaluation and seeing if Flores is able to keep righting the ship.
Looking Ahead to Game 43
In Philbin's 2014 season, the 5-5 team would go into Denver to see how they would fare against a Payton Manning-led Broncos team that was looking quite strong. Four years after their loss in Green Bay, Adam Gase would get a bye week to regroup and prepare to head into Indianapolis. Our current Dolphins team now has a mini bye week on the heels of the Thursday Night Football win, giving them a few extra days to prepare to go into New Jersey for this season's first tilt against the Jets.
So, any fun or furious recollections about the 42nd games recounted here? Throw 'em out there in the comments section. We have some spare time this Sunday, so use it wisely!