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5 Years is Long Enough
We know the situation, because we’ve been here before. Every year for 6 years, as Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor can tell you first hand. Through the first half of the season, we’re giddy, confident, and believers that this is finally the year that the winningest franchise in sports finally gets to the promised land. 3 games later, we’re still proud, still bragging to our buddies that we’re in great position to control our destiny and shake off their claims that the December is just around the corner. Have we started to listen more to these people in recent years? In the final 5 games, we’ve choked. I’m not even talking about our sub .500 record in these types of games since 1997. We’ve choked because we’ve given the division away after dominating it for the first 11 games. It’s painful to remember, but lets take a peek...
December 22nd, 1997: New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football.
Thanks to a loss the day before by the Jets that ensured playoff berths for both teams, this game was for the division crown and at least one home playoff game. We led 6-0 at halftime, albeit it should have been more considering we had 2 defensive scores incorrectly called back. The offense could do nothing in the second half and Drew Bledsoe led 65 and 70 yard drives to give the Patriots a 14-6 lead. A Marino-to-Thomas connection brought the score within 2, but the 2-pt conversion attempt failed.
Final Score: Patriots 14, Dolphins 12
Result: Patriots win the division, Dolphins get the #6 seed at 9-7. Dolphins play the Pats 5 days later at Foxboro and get thumped 17-3.
December 13th, 1998: New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins on Sunday Night Football.
A matchup between two 9-4 teams, the winner of this one may as well have been crowned AFC East Champs before the post-game celebration. The Jets led 14-3 at halftime with the ball on the Dolphins 3 yd line. Terrell Buckley came up big, returning a Testaverde lob pass to the Jets 35. A 3 yd McDuffie reception capped off the drive, with the Jets leading 14-10. With 1:51 left in regulation, Marino was stripped by Chad Cascadden, who picked up the ball and ran untouched to the white stripe.
Final Score: Jets 21, Dolphins 16
Result: Jets win their final 2 games and secure a first round bye with a 12-4 record. The Dolphins finish 10-6, defeat Buffalo in the first round, and get thumped 38-3 at Mile High the following week.
December 5th, 1999: Indianapolis Colts @ Miami Dolphins at Noon.
After a 5INT performance against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, Dan Marino responded with a performance that won him AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Yet the only thing offensive was how flat this team came out. 20 minutes into the game, the Phins were down 17-3 and the Colts had the ball on the Miami 15. We were resilient in coming back, no doubt, but even 34 points couldn’t get our team to 9-3. After tying the game at 34 with 25 ticks left, Manning dropped back and hit Marvin Harrison for 16 and 18 yd gains that set up Mike Vanderjagt for a 53 yd attempt. We all know if he made it or not.
Final Score: Colts 37, Dolphins 34
Result: The Colts win their 8th straight and secure a first round bye. The Dolphins free fall to 9-7 and lose to the Jaguars in a squeaker in the 2nd round.
December 17th, 2000: Indianapolis Colts @ Miami Dolphins at 4:00.
Just like the T-Shirt says.. "Same (expletive), different day. 377 days later, to be exact. We came out flat and made a terrific comeback attempt that fell short. Jay Fiedler showed obvious ill-effects of a torn left rotator cuff, going 12-25, 150 yds and an INT that sealed the Dolphins’ fate.
Final Score: Colts 20, Dolphins 13
Result: If not for a comeback victory over the 5-11 Patriots the following week, the Dolphins against would have plummeted to #6 while giving the division to the Indianapolis Colts. The Dolphins won the AFC East. Again, we won in the first round, over these very same horsies. Again, we were a fish out of water in the 2nd round, getting blanked 27-0 by the Oakland Raiders.
December 22nd, 2001: Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots on Saturday afternoon.
Some send flowers or a card; the Dolphins send division titles and a weeks vacation. Flat-Comeback-Loss. Yep, read the T-Shirt. How bad were the Dolphins punked in the first 29 minutes of this game? Consider this: Jay Fiedler was 3-5 for 47 yds when he got the ball with :51 left in the first half with a 20-0 deficit staring him in the face. With 8:00 remaining and down by 14, Lamar Smith fumbled on the 1 yd line that would have brought the game within 7.
Final Score: Patriots 20, Dolphins 13
Result: How important was a win here? Lets see.. ass/u/me the Dolphins still finish the season with home victories over the 5-11 Falcons and 3-13 Bills. Dolphins 12-4, Patriots 10-6. The 2-time AFC East Champions have a first round bye, Patriots stumble into post-season as the #6 seed. No game against the dominant Raven D, no Tuck Rule fiasco, no Super Bowl title for the Patsies. Blah...
One week after a 41-0 loss to the Colts and an hour before the season finale in 1997, Jimmy Johnson offered 5 words of wisdom: "Put up or shut up." The Miami Dolphins chose the latter; the fans have been the only ones "putting up"... with the repeated choking, that is.
Will this year be the same or different?
Will we be able to wear our "2002 AFC East Champions" shirts or the ones previously mentioned?
Well, lets get a few things straight first. There is an ongoing debate over which team is the best in the AFC with very little separating the Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, Raiders, Broncos, Chargers, Steelers, Titans, and Colts. Had Fiedler remained on the field or had Lucas played the first 3 games with the firepower he did in the last 2, there would not be a debate. The Dolphins would be 8-3 or 9-2 and in complete control of the AFC. Then again, the "shoulda, woulda, coulda" game could be played with any of those teams.
Secondly, this is a better and more determined Dolphins squad than in previous years. In ‘97, we had nothing. ‘98? How about an Avery-KAJ tandem that averaged a mere 3.5 yds a pop. ‘99? Marino was averaging 3 turnovers a game. ‘00? An already average QB basically playing with one arm behind his back. ‘01? The worst running game in the NFL in terms of YPC and a defense that couldn’t stop the run.
‘02? We’ve beaten the teams currently contending for the AFC crown: Jets, Patriots, Colts, Broncos, Chargers. Our Defense looks better than it ever has--even in ‘00 when Armstrong and Surtain emerged to complete great DE and CB tandems. Our ST’s is impeccable. Our injured QB was playing extremely well and our new one seems re-energized. We have a speedy wideout tandem that should get even better with the eventual return of Cris Carter, and a TE that has shown glimpses of being a Shannon Sharpe-type. We can rush the passer, defend the pass, cause turnovers, play flawless Special Teams, and win chess matches with our braintrust. Oh yeah, and we have #34 in the backfield that is on pace for 1536 yds and 16 TD’s. When you see a glaring weakness, stop me.
The AFC picture seems so complex with only 1 game separating 10 teams. Well, it isn’t. The Bills are done, plain and simple. The Jets must go at least 4-1 in their final 5 games, which is an uphill battle considering they play the Raiders, Broncos, Packers, Patriots. That leaves our friends, the New England Patriots. On Thanksgiving Day, eat at your usual dinner time instead of your planned 3:00 time. On Thanksgiving Day, you’re a Detroit Lions fan. Root for this team like you’ve never rooted for a non-aqua/white team in your life, because if Belichick gets inside Harrington’s head and the Pats come out victorious, little is stopping the defending Super Bowl Champions from going 11-4 heading into Week 17. They face the Jets and Bills at home, who fell to the Pats by a combined 82-14 earlier this season, and a Titans team whom they match up very well with.
One Dolphin loss in late December gave another team a first round bye, and eventually, a Super Bowl title. If history has taught us anything, Week 17 in Gilette Stadium will have the same ramifications.
History has repeated the situation. It’s time for the Dolphins to change the result.