It's six days after the Bills loss, and I'm still in a mood. Normally, I have these posts drafted a good week in advance, and then joyfully finish and revise them over the course of the week. After what happened Sunday, though, I just wanted to distance myself from the Miami Dolphins for a while. I've recovered enough to write this post, but it will be an abbreviated version.
Anyways, this is the latest in my series of posts comparing the last 3 permanent Dolphins head coaches at the same points in their careers. This past week was game 34, or the second game of each coach's third season.
Game 33 Recaps
Amazingly, all three coaches actually opened their third seasons with wins. In 2014, Joe Philbin oversaw a really fun victory over a strong Patriots team, thanks to a defense that woke up and some great running by Knowshon Moreno. Four years later, Adam Gase's Fins topped a scrappy Titans team in a game that took over 7 hours due to lightning storms. And this season, Brian Flores led his team to a narrow victory over the Patriots up in Foxborough, thanks to some timely defense and a "just enough" offensive performance. Different methods, but all the same result: all three HCs kick off their third seasons at 1-0.
Game 34 (or, Season 3, Game 2)
Philbin's 34th: In a game that bore all the sad similarities to the Dolphins/Bills non-rivalry in the last decade, this one was a pathetic display up in Orchard Park. The first half was basically a snooze-fest where former Dolphins kicker Dan "Kid Rock" Carpenter put up the only points for either team, hitting three field goals to put the Bills up 9-0 by the half. Then EJ Manuel solidified his place in the Dolphins ever growing Hall of Fame of "We got beat by that guy??!!" by playing a very competent game. The game was sort of interesting for all of 3 minutes towards the end of the 3rd quarter, when our guys got to within 6 points, 16-10. But Manuel connected with Sammy Watkins shortly after to put the Bills back up by 13. They never looked back, and the Dolphins never scored again. Dolphins go back to 1-1.
Gase's 34th: The 2018 Dolphins took their 1-0 record into the Meadowlands to face the Jets, a team that was assumed to be pretty bad. Well, that assumption proved correct. Our guys strode to a 20-0 lead by halftime against a Jets squad that just had nothing of note on either side of the ball. The Fins then seemed to just want to get back to Miami, as the offense put up zero points in the second half, daring the Jets to catch them. Well, they didn't. Todd Bowles' hapless group muster a TD and tacked on a couple of fourth quarter field goals to make the final score 20-12. Dolphins get to 2-0.
Flores's 34th: I'm not going over this one with any detail. The Bills drop-kicked the Dolphins yet again, for the second time in three regular season games. The defense took two series to actually wake up, but not before the Bills put up 14 points on them. If the offense had been able to get out of its own way, maybe this could have been an interesting contest. Instead, we had receivers dropping balls all over the place, an offensive line that couldn't block anyone for nearly all of the game, and a coaching staff that looked like it had only had 9 minutes to come up with a game plan instead of the nine months that they had had. We get trounced 35-0 in our home opener, dropping our guys to 1-1.
Philbin's 2014 team dropping to 1-1 felt right in keeping with where we were with Smokin' Joe at that point. However, I was still naive enough to be clinging to hope. In hindsight, I was fooling myself into believing that Philbin could change his ways and turn around a team that had, by this point, developed an identity under him. That identity was "purely mediocre." I recall feeling pretty numb about the team at that point.
Gase's 2018 team getting to 2-0 felt pretty good. Neither win was a "strong win" or anything, with the team showing clear weakness on defense in particular, but 2-0 starts were not something we Dolphins fans were used to seeing. Now that Tannehill was back and healthy, maybe the offense could carry the team for a while, as the defense rounded into form. I was somewhat optimistic at this point.
Last week, my confidence in the Dolphins took its biggest hit since the 40-0 Thursday Night massacre against the Ravens in 2017. I didn't need the Dolphins to beat the Bills, who are still a really good team. But I needed to see that the players and coaches had come up with a plan to show that they can compete with a Buffalo team that absolutely humiliated them in a must-win Week 17 game to end the 2020 season. Instead, we got horrific O-line play, our young QB's ribs cracked all to hell, and a complete lack of focus by nearly every offensive player throughout the game. I am now very skeptical about this current regime and its ability to turn the Dolphins into a legitimate playoff team. They're going to have to pull a pretty dramatic turnaround in the next few weeks for my confidence to be restored at all. We've seen this move too many times in the last 15-odd years - a team that has some talent and will win some games but is hopelessly outclassed by the legitimate conference title contending teams.
Looking Ahead to Game 35
Philbin's 1-1 Dolphins would host the Kansas City Chiefs in Andy Reid's second year as that squad's head coach. Four years later, Adam Gase would also be in Miami, squaring off against the still-Oakland Raiders in Jon Gruden's first year back as the Raiders' head coach after nine full season spent in the broadcast booth. And this week, we see our guys go into Las Vegas to go against that same Jon Gruden's now-Vegas Raiders in an attempt to get right.
As is always the case in September, there's always reason to keep hope alive. Only the truly awful rosters and squads have given up on the season at this point (probably the Jets, Jags, and Giants to this point in 2021), with the vast majority of fanbases telling themselves that their teams can shake off any early losses and get back on track. Of the three Dolphins coaches covered, I was feeling best about Gase at this point, as he boasted the slightly better record and despite some locker-room upheaval, still had a talented group to work with. Let's hope B-Flo can get it together and surpass what his predecessors did in their 35th games.