This is part of my series where I look at where the Dolphins are now and compare them to the same spot in the careers of the previous two permanent head coaches - Adam Gase and Joe Philbin.
Recap of Games 40:
Back in in game 8 of the 2014 season, we got to witness a rarity: an actual one-sided beatdown of an opponent. Joe Philbin's usually-mediocre/disappointing squad actually put it all together on the same day and deliver a 37-0 thrashing to the San Diego Chargers, putting their record at a decent 5-3.
In the eight game of their 2018 season, Adam Gase's squad ran out of gas in the fourth quarter against the Texans, turning what was a semi-competitive game into a no-doubt-about-it loss. Thanks to Deshaun Watson's ever-more-apparent arm talent, that year's Phins were now a ho-hum 4-4.
In modern times, two Sundays ago we saw a Dolphins defense finally come out of hibernation to actually make life difficult for a Bills team that had absolutely owned them in recent history. Alas, the offense still looked like it was being run by Homer Simpson suffering from brain trauma, and "operating" with an offensive line that put up only a hair more resistance than one of those big paper sheets that team run through at pep rallies. Miami loses, 26-11 and the team descends to 1-7 - right where they were at the same time in the "scorched earth restart" of 2019.
Games 41 (Season 3, game 9)
In 2014, Joe Philbin's team took its 5-3 record up to Detroit. Now, I know this may be really hard to remember or believe, but the Lions were actually a good team that year. Jim Caldwell was doing a very nice coaching job, and Stafford had prime targets to throw to in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate (in one of Tate's few really good seasons). Detroit struck first with a field goal in the middle of the first quarter, then added a 49-yard TD strike to Megatron a few minutes later. The struggling Dolphins' offense's only first half response was a lone Caleb Sturgis field goal, making the halftime score 10-3, Lions. The Fins tacked on another field goal in the middle of the 3rd, then finally got into the end zone with a short TD pass to Mike Wallace towards the end of the 3rd quarter. Fins up, 13-10. Detroit hit a tying field goal with 12 minutes left, with Sturgis hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:19 left in the game. Then, guess what? The defense actually held, forcing a three-and-out and Detroit to punt. Only needing a a few first downs to ice the game, the offense managed a paltry 5 yards on a single Daniel Thomas run before going 3-and-out themselves, punting back to the Lions. With 3:27 left, Stafford mostly went with his go-guys, Megatron and Tate, getting all the way inside the Dolphins' red zone. A, 11-yard pass to Theo Riddick was good for the go-ahead touchdown with 0:36 left. The Fins only mustered a 20-yard pass in the time remaining, taking the L, 20-16. The team record was back into Philbin range: one game over .500 at 5-4.
Four years later, Gase's 4-4 team hosted a typically bad New York Jets crew with Todd Bowles as head coach during his doomed tenure. This game was total slop. The Dolphins offense put up a total of 282 yards of offense. Not to be outdone, the Jets mustered an even more pathetic tally of 168 yards, thanks in large part to four- that's right four - interceptions by rookie Sam Darnold. The details are hardly worth recounting. It was a field goal fiesta that would make the late, great Tony Sparano proud through the first three quarters, with the Dolphins leading 6-3. Presumably tired of nobody getting into the end zone, Miami linebacker Jerome Baker decided to make a difference and took one of Darnold's many errant passes back for a pick-6. The Jets squeaked out one more field goal with a little under six minutes left, and that's where the score stayed until the final whistle: 13-6, Dolphins. Record was now at 5-4.
This past Sunday's tilt lived down to pretty much everyone's expectations, though perhaps not in exactly the ways we had predicted heading into the game. The Fins won the game 17-9, but it was a classic "who wants it less?" kind of affair. The two teams combined for nine turnovers, which you might expect on a cold, rainy day. But no, the weather was fine. This was nearly all on the gross incompetence of the two offenses, neither of which totaled more than 272 yards. Tyrod Taylor was finally healthy enough to resume starting QB duties for the lowly Texans, while the Dolphins went the other direction by starting Jacoby Brissett due to Tua Tagovailoa's fractured finger on his throwing hand. Taylor bore little resemblance to the guy who routinely torched the Dolphins while with Buffalo, while Brissett bore a lot of resemblance to the "clear backup" guy we saw earlier this season while he spelled an injured Tua. Ultimately, the Dolphins defense and the Texan's lack of discipline (60 yards of penalties to the Dolphins 13) resulted in our guys coming out on top, getting the record to 2-7.
That loss to the Lions back in 2014 felt very familiar by that point in the Philbin era. Yes, the team could beat bad opponents pretty routinely, and even beat some other mediocre teams a little more than half the time. But beating good teams - not even "great," but just "good" - especially on the road, was just something that I had little faith that Philbin could do at that point. That loss to Detroit just reinforced that feeling. I remember watching this one at my usual place back then - my buddy's house. We were both just shaking out heads as, yet again, we saw a Philbin team fritter away a nice bit of momentum from a good win by losing what could have been another stepping stone game.
Frankly, I don't even remember if I watched that win over the Jets three years ago. I had moved to San Antonio, Texas just a few weeks prior, and I may have opted to just go house/apartment hunting rather than watch a game that I suspected would be trash. Or, I may very well have watched it at whatever sports bar I could find, and I've just done a Men In Black mind wipe of myself, just to spare my brain. It was a typical shoulder shrug win, where you take the W but don't take an ounce of inspiration or hope from it. Speaking of...
This recent win over the Texans was another shoulder shrug win, though I will say that there was one potential positive to take from it. The defense is actually starting to look more like it did in 2020. Yes, it was against a wretched Texans offense, but still. They did hold that offense to even less than their anemic per game average, and that's with a clearly better quarterback in Tyrod Taylor under center. That aside, though, there wasn't much to change my current feeling about this team. Not being able to see Tua is a major damper, since a big part of the rest of the season is just seeing what we have in him, if anything. Even that may have been moot, though, as the offensive line seemed to regress yet again, only mustering a laughable 47 yards on the ground against a defense that came in allowing nearly 150 yards per game - the 2nd worst mark in the NFL. I've also now seen enough of Brissett to hope that they just cut him lose at the end of the year and bring in someone else. He's just bad. He'll have his moments here and there, but he doesn't seem to see the field very well or make great decisions, and his accuracy is all over the place at times. He and the O line seemed to be in some sort of game of "anything you can do, I can make worse" pact. And yet thanks mostly to Mike Gesicki and Jalen Waddle, the offense did enough to find the end zone a couple of times and get the win. I still think there will need to be a pretty thorough cleansing of this team's front office and coaching staff at season's end, though. I would say that I'd love to see a complete overhaul of the offensive coaching staff right now, but that just isn't going to happen at this point.
Looking Ahead: Game 42
The 2014 Dolphins would sit on their 5-4 record and stay in Miami to host an equally mediocre Bills team, which also sat at 5-4. Four years later, Gase's own 5-4 group would go up to Green Bay to face a strong Packers team in a game that actually managed to go to with my friend. As for the present, our current 2-7 box of misfit toys will play host to the 6-2 Ravens - a franchise that has had the Dolphins' number more firmly in hand than any franchise of the last twelve years. Since 2008, the Fins are 1-9 against Baltimore, including several horrific decapitations in full public view. Brian Flores's current bunch is currently just trying to find some sort of footing, but it's going to be tough against a good Ravens team that handed them a 59-10 shellacking when last they met on opening day of 2019.
Let me know if you have any recollections of any of the Game 40s recapped here, or your feelings about them, including this past Sunday's "win" over Houston.