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Then and Now: Flores v Gase v Philbin, Game 43

This is part of my ongoing series where I track Brian Flores' head coaching career and compare it to the Dolphins' previous two permanent HCs, Adam Gase and Joe Philbin. I also recall my general feelings about the direction of the team at the same point in each HCs careers.

Recap of Game 42

Back in 2014, Joe Philbin's Dolphins hosted an especially bland Buffalo Bills team with Kyle Orton at QB and beat them 22-9. This upped that Miami squad's record to 6-4, keeping fans' hopes alive that maybe - just maybe - Joe Philbin might break past the doldrums that his regime had settled into.

Four years later, in 2018, Adam Gase's crew flew up to "The Frozen Tundra" of Green Bay and took a pretty steady beating at the hands of the Packers, losing 31-12, and dropping the Fins' record back to .500 at 5-5. I was actually at this game with my fellow Dolphin fan buddy, and we loved the experience. What we didn't love is how clear it had become that Adam Gase's Dolphins just couldn't hang at all with good teams.

In the current era, two Thursdays ago we Dolphins fans were treated to a very rare thing, indeed. Not just a win. And not just a win in prime time. But a prime-time win against the Baltimore Ravens. That's right. The team that has owned Miami like no other team has owned them for the past decade (no, not even the Patriots) actually fell victim to a Dolphins defense that played by far its best game of the season. This only got the team's record up to 3-7, but it felt fantastic to have something to celebrate, even if it wasn't momentous in the grander scheme of things.

Game 43 (Season 3, game 11)

In 2014, Joe Philbin's 6-4 Dolphins would once again get a chance to prove what they hadn't really proven during his nearly three-year tenure: that they could beat a real contender. They headed into Denver to face a Broncos team with Peyton Manning at QB, were the Superbowl runners up the year before, and were 7-3 coming in. Things actually went well for a while, with the Fins getting to a 14-3 lead early in the 2nd quarter, and then up 21-10 with less than two minutes left in the first half. But then the ultimate theme of the game started to emerge. Manning took all of about 90 seconds to march down the field for a TD, making the halftime score 21-17. In the second half, the Dolphins kept pulling ahead, only to have the Broncos quickly retaliate with a score, then eventually surpass them midway through the 4th quarter. Once up 28-17 with 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the offense sputtered and the team ultimately lost, 39-36. Philbin's Fins drop to 6-5.

Four years later, Gase's team went into Indianapolis to see if they could get right and get back up over .500. There was some reason to be optimistic, since Ryan Tannehill was finally returning from the injury suffered in the humiliating Cincinnati loss six games prior. Add to that the fact that the team was coming off a bye week, and optimism wasn't crazy. The game was a pretty tight affair, with Tannehill having a fairly efficient 210 yards passing with two TDs (including a 74-yard TD bomb to Leonte Carroo - remember him?). The Fins actually went up 24-14 with just over 12 minutes left in the game on a Kenyan Drake TD run. The game was there for the winning. So what happens? The offense completely sputters, not scoring a single point the rest of the game. Meanwhile, the defense starts leaking enough to let Andrew Luck lead the Colts to 13 unanswered 4th quarter points, including the game-winning 32-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri as the clock expired. Dolphins drop to 5-6.

Here in 2021, we saw Flores' 3-7 Dolphins try to keep their two-game "mini" win streak alive against the 2-7 Jets of New York. Deciding to pull out all the stops (so to speak), the Jets threw a curve ball earlier in the week by announcing that barely-there veteran Joe Flacco would get the start at QB, after just being signed to the team less than a week earlier. It almost worked, actually. Sticking to their usual 2021 script, the Dolphins' opening offensive drive looked great, capped by the little TD run by Jalen Waddle. But the Jets answered not long after with a TD drive of their own. The score stayed at 7-7 until the half. Our guys also started the second half well, shutting down the Jets and using the ensuing drive to score a TD on a tremendous 65-yard bomb from a scrambling Tua. Alas, the Jets responded roughly six minutes later with a 62-yard TD pass of their own from Flacco to Elijah Moore. With 10:15 left in the game, Tua and the offense capped another solid drive with another TD on a short pass to Myles Gaskin to go up 21-14. The defense then kept a lid on the Jets offense, allowing the offense to tack on an insurance field goal with just under two minutes left. The Jets did march down the field for a late field goal, but that was essentially it after the on-sides kick attempt failed. Fins win 24-17 and inch close to respectability by improving their record to 4-7.

Comparative Emotions

I remember watching that 2014 loss to the Broncos at a Buffalo Wild Wings with a few buddies of mine. It sucked. I think we were all still naive enough to actually get pretty excited when they were up 28-17 as the 3rd quarter wound down. But once Peyton Manning and that Broncos offense started moving on that next drive, we all remembered how this script goes. In hindsight, I think we unconsciously knew it. Over two decades of Dolphins fandom and two-plus years of watching Joe Philbin's teams had informed us enough. So when they ultimately lost, we weren't as surprised or angry as we might have been several years prior. That really nice win over the Patriots back in Week 1 was a distant memory, and it just felt like this team would never truly get over the hump.

The 2018 loss to the Colts also had a very familiar feel by that point in the Adam Gase era. Ryan Tannehill's stat line is telling: 17-25 for 204 yards, 2 TDs and no INTs. It's a really efficient line, and there was that 74-yard strike to Carroo. But mostly it was all short, dump-off stuff and screens that gained little to no yardage. This was Gase's hallmark by then, and once again it failed to stack up against a legitimately potent offense with consistent big strike capabilities. I watched this one not far from my apartment at a sports bar in downtown San Antonio, while trying to fend off chatty tourists oblivious to my sadness and pain. Like the 2014 loss to the Broncos, it sucked. Just in a different way.

Brian Flores snapped the jinx this past week by actually winning his 43rd game. My feeling about this one is slightly better than ambivalent. The real knock here is that the team had to fight fairly hard just to pull away from a really bad Jets team in the fourth quarter. A win is a win, but this wasn't exactly one that you would call a bright feather in the team's cap. That said, there are some things that I feel OK about. Tua did actually look pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. The offensive line wasn't all that good, but they did actually allow the running game to rack up 115 yards - their 3rd highest total all season - against a formidable Jets defensive line. I'll also say that Joe Flacco surprised me by being exactly what the Jets hoped - a steady hand that would be able to deal to a degree with the Dolphins defense's cover zero blitz strategy. He wasn't great, but he kept them in the game by reading the defense pretty well and taking what was given. I credit the defense for staying with it and helping put them away in the fourth quarter. So I'm currently feeling OK about Flores. I still shake my head at why this offense completely goes to sleep for long stretches of games, and I wonder just what's gone wrong with Jason Sanders. But this Dolphins team continues to play hard, and I look forward to seeing if they can build on it enough to beat a Panthers team that is solidly middle tier. This team still has a way to go before I can be truly optimistic again, but it's still headed back in the right direction after that dreadful seven-game losing streak.

Looking Ahead to Game 44

After taking yet another gut-punch loss at the hands of a Peyton Manning-led team, Joe Philbin's 6-5 bunch would go into the Meadowlands for a tilt against the division rival Jets. Gase's 2018 group would host a rebuilding Buffalo down in South Beach. As for today's group, we start a welcome three-game homestand against the Carolina Panthers, who recently welcomed back one Cam Newton into the fold.

Any memories, thoughts, or feelings about these games from the recent or more ancient past? Throw them out there in the comments section!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Phinsider's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of The Phinsider writers or editors.