How far are the Miami Dolphins from winning a Super Bowl?
It seems a ridiculous question coming off a 6-10 season, but there is a history of losing teams making the jump to NFL champion in the space of just one year.
New England did it in 2001. The Patriots were 5-11 the previous season and there was
nothing much to recommend them except that they never got shut out. Miami suffered that indignity twice in 2017, and it very nearly happened a third time.
The 1999 St. Louis Rams won a Super Bowl after going 4-12 the previous season and sticking Dick Vermeil with the worst record of his 15-year NFL coaching career.
San Francisco won it all in 1981, just one year removed from a 6-10 clunker that was similar in some ways to what the Dolphins are going through. Bill Walsh, for instance, was in his second year as an NFL head coach and he had no more luck igniting his creative offensive ideas with Steve DeBerg at quarterback than Adam Gase did with Jay Cutler.
So what happened to transform those losers into Super Bowl champs so quickly? Obviously there was improvement throughout the rosters, but the most glaring similarity was a significant upgrade at quarterback.
Tom Brady, Kurt Warner and Joe Montana all were first trusted to handle full-time starting roles in those breakthrough seasons. They got their teams through some tight spots and continued to do so for years thereafter.
So about those Dolphins. Can’t see Ryan Tannehill or even some first-round draft pick suddenly giving Gase all that he needs at quarterback. It’s not impossible, though.
The Philadelphia Eagles were 7-9 a year ago and it’s not impossible that they might become Super Bowl champs on Sunday, even with a supposed downgrade at quarterback.
It’s not the way he would have wanted it, but it’s kind of cool that Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson is headed to the Super Bowl with a backup quarterback, Nick Foles.
In a storyline that you’ll hear much more about in the two weeks before the Eagles face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, Pederson himself was a career backup in the NFL and bounced around in the World League of American Football, too.
He started 17 NFL games in his 10-year career with Green Bay, Philadelphia, Miami and Cleveland but is best remembered for a game he didn’t start.
It was Pederson who came off the bench in 1993 to help Don Shula to his 325th career victory, the one that moved the coach past George Halas and into first-place all time.
The game was in Philadelphia, as if there aren’t enough circular connections to this thing, and the Dolphins already were without Dan Marino because of a torn Achilles. Scott Mitchell had been doing a credible job in his stead for a couple of weeks but then Mitchell, too, was knocked from the Eagles game early in the second half with a separated throwing shoulder.
In came Pederson, whose name Shula sometimes had trouble remembering during the crazy scramble to find viable depth and the race to get the new guy ready for an emergency. Pederson had never thrown a pass in an NFL game and he showed some early nerves, fumbling the ball away at the 1-yard line on the first scoring opportunity that he got.
“He (Shula) just told me to keep my head up,” Pederson said. “He told me to just do the things I knew how to do. Kept giving me support and encouragement.”
In the end the Dolphins had just enough to get by, winning 19-14 on a couple of field-goal drives as Pederson (3-for-6 passing for 34 yards) tried simply to make the basic plays that were required of him.
He wasn’t with the team much longer as Shula, who was carried off the field that day at Philadelphia, turned back to 39-year-old Steve DeBerg and eventually to Mitchell to finish out a 9-7 season. The Dolphins were 7-2 on that magical afternoon, however, and Shula, in his wildest scramble since having to start halfback Tom Matte at quarterback in his Baltimore Colts days, had not given up hope.
“I would love to see this football team continue to win and go all the way to the Super Bowl,” Shula said. “We have to continue to believe in ourselves.”
That’s how Pederson is working this Eagles’ postseason run now in the absence of starting quarterback Carson Wentz, and so far it’s working. Foles, by the way, is far more competent than Pederson was and came make all the plays, as demonstrated in a 38-7 NFC title game win over Minnesota on Sunday.
Adam Gase, still looking for his first win, isn’t doing too well in comparison to the other first-time NFL head coaches in the class of 2016.
Doug Pederson of the Philadelphia Eagles and Ben McAdoo of the New York Giants are each 2-0, making thing look fairly easy. Dirk Koetter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is 1-1, with a 40-7 loss at Arizona last week weighing him down.
Back in July I wrote a blog surmising that Gase had the toughest road among these four in establishing himself right away with winning credentials. That was based largely on being made to open the season at Seattle and New England, an especially cruel welcome to the job.
Now, though, it is time for Gase to win a game, to make that happy locker-room speech, to validate Stephen Ross’ decision to turn his team over to a guy with no head-coaching experience at any level.
Enter the Cleveland Browns, who also are winless and equally desperate with rookie Cody Kessler as their emergency starter at quarterback. In fact, you have to do a little digging to find a September Dolphins game as desperate as Sunday’s will be to both teams.
Only three previous times in franchise history has an 0-2 Miami team been matched against an 0-2 opponent.
In 1988 Don Shula’s Dolphins beat Green Bay 24-17 and went on to finish 6-10. That was one of only two losing records the Hall of Fame coach ever recorded.
Nick started 0-2 as Miami coach in 2006 and squeaked out a 13-10 win over 0-2 Tennessee on a late Olindo Mare field goal. Again, the Dolphins were bound for a 6-10 finish.
The closest parallel to where Gase stands now, however, is the disastrous debut of Cam Cameron in 2007. It’s not fair to compare the two in any other way. Gase presents himself as much more suited to a long and successful career as an NFL head coach. Here, though, are the facts.
Cameron, a first-time head coach, started out with tough games against a couple of eventual playoff teams, the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. The first game was an overtime loss on the road, fairly encouraging overall. The second, a 37-20 loss to the Cowboys, featured some offensive spark by the Dolphins but a ton of wild and unpredictable mood swings, sort of like last week’s loss at New England.
That became the lasting theme, one sad loss after another until Cameron finally broke through with a December upset win over Baltimore. In overtime, of course.
This is the kind of attitudinal avalanche that Gase can’t afford, not because he is in the slightest danger of being a one-and-done Dolphins coach but because 2016 doesn’t need to be a training exercise alone.
Miami fans and Dolphins players want to feel like somebody else’s problem for a change. On top of that, getting the Browns at home is the closest thing to a respite that Gase is going to get.
Without a victory over Cleveland on Sunday, it gets pretty dismal around here, and it might stay that way for a while, especially with a Thursday night trip to Cincinnati coming right up next week.
Should be easy but it won’t be. The Browns are in the same rut. Everybody knows it’s win or go utterly sour now.
Buddy Ryan, one of the toughest cusses ever to barrel through the NFL landscape, died Tuesday at 82.
All you need to know about this guy’s personality is that he wasn’t intimidated by Don Shula. It doesn’t get much bolder, or different, than that.
In 1986 Ryan got his first NFL head-coaching opportunity with the Philadelphia Eagles and brought to it the same boisterous, challenging approach that marked his long career as an innovative defensive assistant. In August of that year, before the regular-season intensity had even kicked in, Buddy blasted Shula for what he perceived as cheating in an exhibition game.
“The rule of the National Football League are that you can only huddle 11 guys,” Ryan said after a 20-15 loss to the Dolphins at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium. “Everybody except Shula. He can huddle 15. That’s ridiculous, what they let him get away with. It’s because he’s on the rules committee.
“Our guys played hard enough to win, made a couple of dumb mistakes, but I hope that we get to play them again. I hope to hell we get to play them again.”
Shula’s reaction was a classic dismissal, neither diving into the pit with Buddy nor flinching at allegations that the Dolphins were running groups of players on and off the field in an illegal manner.
“It seems like Buddy Ryan has got something to say about everything,” Shula said. “Anything he would say would not surprise me too much. He’s said bad things about the guy he worked for in Chicago (Mike Ditka) and some of his draft picks. That tells you a little bit about Buddy Ryan.”
The Eagles and Dolphins did play twice more with Ryan as Philadelphia’s head coach. Miami won each time, at the end of the strike-marred 1987 season and in 1990. Publicly challenging a legend like Shula, however, was emblematic of the attacking style that won the loyalty of his players, particularly on the defensive side.
When the Eagles fired Ryan following a 43-35-1 run as head coach plus an 0-3 record in playoff games, Jerome Brown said “It’s going to be hard. We’re going to have problems. I’m not saying anything against any future head coach, but we’d do things for Buddy that we wouldn’t do for another coach. I’d sell my body for Buddy.”
There were a few more interesting matchups between Ryan and Shula’s teams.
Super Bowl III, the astonishing 16-7 upset of Shula’s Baltimore Colts by the AFL champion New York Jets, is forever remembered as the victory that Joe Namath guaranteed. The MVP award did go to Namath, who passed for 206 yards and no touchdowns, but New York’s defenders did the most damage, forcing five Baltimore turnovers and limiting the Colts to one score, and Ryan was the coach of the Jets’ linebackers and defensive linemen.
Later Ryan gained fame as the inventor of the “46” defense, a scheme that Chicago used to devastating effect in the course of a 15-1 Super Bowl championship season in 1985. That one loss, however, came on a December Monday night game in Miami’s Orange Bowl.
With Chicago trailing 31-10 at halftime, Ditka and Ryan, his defensive coordinator, almost got into a locker-room fight. Several Bears players had to separate the two.
Ryan also cooked up his own feud with the Dallas Cowboys. He was accused by Jimmy Johnson, then the Cowboys’ rookie head coach, of offering a bounty to his players for injuring Troy Aikman.
“I have absolutely no respect for the way they played the game,” Jimmy said after the Eagles’ 27-0 victory at Texas Stadium. “I would have said something to Buddy, but he wouldn’t stand on the field long enough. He put his big, fat rear end into the dressing room.”
Buddy made a joke of that last bit, saying he had been on a diet and actually thought he looked fairly trim.
There are way too many stories about Buddy to fit into one edition of any publication so we’ll stop there. Anytime you see his sons in action, however, or hear them roar, a little bit of the cantankerous old coach will remain on display for the entertainment of NFL fans.
Rex Ryan is head coach of the Buffalo Bills. Rob Ryan, Rex’s fraternal twin, is Buffalo’s assistant head coach, the one with the flowing locks.
Sooner or later Tim Tebow’s NFL dream had to end, but I expected it to end with a whimper, not with an 11-for-17 passing night with two touchdown throws, a 45-yard completion and a 17-yard run included.
Nothing’s ever going to make complete sense with this guy, but why didn’t Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly just cut the guy after three preseason games if his mind already was made up? Instead, he cuts Tebow after a very productive final preseason game against the Jets and after trading Matt Barkley. Then Kelly explains his decision by saying that Tebow just isn’t good enough to be the Eagles’ No. 3 quarterback.
And Stephen Morris, added to the Eagles’ 53-man roster this week, is?
Morris was a pretty good quarterback on a 7-5 University of Miami team but no NFL team thought enough of him to draft him. The Jacksonville Jaguars, a lousy operation from top to bottom, carried him on their practice squad and then cut him. Morris, like a lot of good, young arms, has potential yet there’s nothing at this point to separate him from the pack.
If Kelly had decided to carry two quarterbacks instead of three, if he wanted to sign Morris to the practice squad and begin to work with him as insurance, OK. But now he’s giving a roster spot to a guy he never has worked with and junking Tebow, who has been with the Eagles all offseason, soaking up a series of plays specially designed for him, and who put together some decent preseason stats.
It’s all moot if Sam Bradford stays healthy as Philadelphia’s starter. It’s all moot if Kelly didn’t really think he could use Tebow or anyone else as a run-option gimmick quarterback, good for two-point tries and other specialty situations.
Going this route, however, the conventional, automatic, we’ve always done things this way route, makes Kelly look like every other coach in the league. Think Joe Philbin, for instance.
The Miami Dolphins just added Logan Thomas, unwanted by the Arizona Cardinals, to their 53-man roster. He’s apparently good enough to be a No. 3 even though he has barely played in the NFL and even though at 6-feet-6 and 250 pounds he looks far more like a tight end than a quarterback. Tebow’s actually a little smaller at 6-3 and 245 but people have been trying to get him to change positions since he left Florida.
Oh, and the Cleveland Browns added Austin Davis, thinking him good enough to be a No. 3 quarterback with his 3-5 record as an emergency starter at St. Louis last season and his five pass attempts this preseason. Tebow’s 9-7 career record as an NFL starter, that’s dismissed a fluke, just as he is routinely dismissed as a fluke.
There must be something else going on here, with Kelly and with everyone else who has taken a pass on Tebow. Maybe Tebow’s so slow at reading defenses and running through his progressions that his passing accuracy isn’t even the question anymore. Maybe the coaches who have tried him, really tried him, are doing him a favor by not publicly stating that reason. “Just not good enough” may be the code that Kelly preferred.
Makes no difference now. There’s a whole chapter of plays Kelly can’t use without Tebow, or somebody else with the ability to pass a little and run a lot. To be certain, Bradford and Mark Sanchez won’t be put at inordinate risk.
For that matter, Rex Ryan and the Jets wouldn’t pull the trigger with Tebow at the goal line, where caveman plays are the preferred mode of operation. Now and forever, the question will be why did they bother to pick him up in the first place?
Bottom line, Tebow didn’t do enough to make an NFL team build its future around him but he’s accomplished more than half the other castoffs who keep bouncing around the league, good enough to keep on the rolodex if not on the regular-season roster.
So that’s it. Tebow Time has come to an end, not with a whimper but, typically, with a question mark.
For instance, do touchdowns simply not count for as many points when he scores them, or does Tebow score every one of his touchdowns simply by accident?
He won’t hash this stuff over in public, especially once the SEC Network has him back on the job, but in private it’s got to sting.
2015 Preseason stats
Player Completion pct. TD passes Rating Rush avg. Rush TDs