This is part of my ongoing series where I compare current Dolphins head coach Brian Flores' career to the previous two Fins HCs at the same point in their careers. I recap the specific game, as well as my reactions at the time. This week, I look at the 44th game in the three coaches' tenures in Miami.
Recap of Game 43
Back in 2014, Joe Philbin's Dolphins team went into Denver to face a really strong Broncos team still headed up by Peyton Manning, the year before his arm completely disintegrated. The Dolphins actually made a good go at it, building solid leads at a couple of different moments in the game, before succumbing to an offensive hibernation and a Manning-led comeback. Miami loses 39-36, dropping their record to 6-5 and sending me right back to thinking that Philbin's team would never be able to consistently beat good teams.
Four years later, Adam Gase's 5-5 crew traveled to Indianapolis to square off against Andrew Luck and the Colts. In a fashion similar to Philbin's 43rd game, Gase's crew had a 10-point lead with 12 minutes left, only to blow it by getting shut down and allowing the Colts to fire off 13 unanswered points. Fins lose and drop to 5-6. Hope was all but gone at this point.
Two Sundays ago, B-Flo's Dolphins continued to scratch their way out of the massive hole they dug themselves, edging out a bad New York Jets squad in the Meadowlands. It wasn't an especially pretty victory, but the team did pull it together and pulled away towards the end. This was their third straight win, getting them up to 4-7.
Game 44 (or Season 3, game 12)
In early December of 2014, Joe Philbin's Dolphins rolled up into New Jersey to do battle yet again with Rex Ryan and the Jets. The tone was a bit different now, though, as Rex Ryan was pretty much a dead man walking, with his Jets holding a 2-9 record and suffering through the Geno Smith experiment. In keeping with that entire theme of misery, the Jets decided to go with a strategy right out of the 1920s playbook. Namely: deny your quarterback the merest thought of making an impact with his arm. The Jets proceeded to run the ball 49 times for 277 yards. Forty. Nine. Times. For. Two. Hundred. Seventy. Seven. Yards. That Jets team had Chris Ivory and a fast-fading Chris Johnson on it. Those two, with a smattering of other runners, pounded away all game, while Geno Smith threw a paltry 13 passes and gained a laughable 65 yards on his 7 completions. The thing is - this strategy almost worked. The Jets were up 13-6 heading into the 4th quarter. The Fins got it together enough to take a short field and punch in a TD run from Lamar Miller. A Caleb Sturgis field goal with under two minutes left sealed the 16-13 win, upping the team's record to 7-5.
In 2018, Gase was starting to feel the pressure as they hosted the Bills with their questionable rookie QB, Josh Allen. It was a fairly tight contest throughout. The Fins were up at the end of the 1st quarter 7-0, thanks to a TD pass from Tannehill to DeVante Parker. The Bills eventually got a touchdown of their own (with a missed PAT) in the 2nd, only to have the Fins tack on another TD right before the half, thanks to a short pass to Kenyan Drake, putting the score at 14-6 Dolphins. The teams continued to jostle through the 3rd quarter, with the only score being a Bills field goal. The Bills then took the lead on a 25-yard TD pass from Josh Allen to Zay Jones, but the Fins responsed about four minutes later with a 13-yard TD pass to Kenny Stills. And that's where the score stayed. Fins win, 21-17, and improve their record to 6-6. Right back at .500.
This past Sunday, we got a rare treat, especially for the 2021 season. Through a combination of solid play in all three phases of the game, our Dolphins put together a really nice, solid win over a decent team in the Carolina Panthers. With Cam Newton under center for most of the contest, the Dolphins defense put the squeeze on, forcing plenty of punts and allowing some solid field position for the offense. That offense, guided by Tua, showed some real ability to move the ball effectively against one of the better defenses in the NFL. Mix in some really nice special teams plays, and we ended up with a 33-10 victory that built the winning streak to four games and improved the record to 5-7.
My Comparative Emotions
The 2014 win over the Jets is barely a memory for me, but the massive ground yards that the Jets put up does ring a bell. That year's Jets were flaming out hilariously, and that year was the official end of the Rex Ryan era in New York. That game inspired zero hope in me, seeing as how any true playoff hopeful team should have been able to thrash that Jets team unmercifully. A struggle to get a 16-13 win was just more of what we had seen aplenty from Philbin's teams. Sure, the 7-5 record and shot at the playoffs were nice, but deep down I knew that this team wasn't yet ready for prime time.
The 2018 win over the Bills was a weird one. I recall watching this one at a sports bar where they only had the game on one tiny little TV tucked into a dark corner. I totally understood this move by the bar, and the game itself pretty much justified their decision. It was a win for the Fins, but it was once again underwhelming. The Bills were clearly a struggling team, with a very green kid at QB - one who was prone to massive mistakes. A good team beats those 2018 Bills decisively. The 2018 Dolphins barely squeaked by them to get right back to .500 and on the outskirts of "In the Hunt" territory, an all-too familiar place heading into the final 4 games of a season.
This most recent win over the Panthers gave me way more hope than I thought was capable just four weeks ago. I'm not delusional enough to be having any realistic dreams of the playoffs, but it was the biggest step in a series of positive steps during this four-game win streak. The defense looked excellent. The offense looked capable against one of the better defenses in the NFL (still without their two highest paid receivers, no less). Jason Sanders still looks inexplicably shaky, but every other facet of the special teams was great. Hell, even the offensive line stepped it up from "awful" to "kind of bad." For the first time since mid-September, I have hope in Brian Flores again, and think that if they can continue to work out more of the offensive bugs, we may just be witnessing a real revival of a head coach.
In 2014, Joe Philbin's 7-5 Dolphins would host the equal 7-5 Baltimore Ravens - a team that at that time had had our number for a while - in a game with some building playoff implications. Four years later, Adam Gase's lukewarm squad would host the Patriots, who were coming in with a 9-3 record and looking once again like they were primed for a deep playoff run. Here in 2021, B-Flo's resurgent crew will host the New York Giants to see if they can keep building momentum and eke their way just a tad closer to the Wildcard discussion.
Have any memories or feelings about these games from the past? Chat it up!