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.
You know the wonders we all wanted rookie head coach Adam Gase to work last year with Ryan Tannehill, the promising quarterback with several levels of development still to come?
Well, Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in the NFL, is making it happen with Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams.
Of course, any player who goes No. 1 overall in the NFL draft is supposed to succeed. The thing is that Goff didn’t succeed as a rookie in 2016. He rode the bench for the first nine games, even though the Rams weren’t going anywhere. Was he still not ready? Was he just not as good as advertised?
There were no good answers to those questions even after former Rams coach Jeff Fisher finally decided to give the kid a start. That day is memorable only because it featured the Rams against Miami and was part of the Dolphins’ six-game win streak on the way to a playoff berth.
Still not all that memorable? OK, the details are these. Miami scored a couple of fourth-quarter touchdowns to get out of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with a 14-10 victory. Both of those scores came on Tannehill passes, and the winner came with 36 seconds remaining at the end of a rapid 75-yard drive.
Goff, meanwhile, was not particularly dangerous, completing 17 of 31 passes for 134 yards with nothing longer than 21 yards and a total of just 12 first downs for the Rams. Tannehill looked like a veteran quarterback, in other words, and Goff looked like a pup. Overall Goff lost all seven of his starts to close out the season and his lack of development was one of the reasons that Fisher got fired.
Enter McVay, who fired up Kirk Cousins’ stats while working as the Washington Redskins’ offensive coordinator and got the Rams’ top job at the age of 31.
All of a sudden the Rams are 8-3 and Goff has a quarterback rating of 98.6 that ranks eighth in the league, ahead of Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan. Goff has 18 touchdowns and five interceptions and is playing every bit like a first-round quarterback should play.
Tannehill had a good year in his first season with Gase, too, but the numbers (93.5 rating, 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) aren’t quite as sharp and it must be considered that 2016 was his fifth year in the league. In theory, Tannehill should have been more ready for a breakout season than Goff, who skipped his senior year at California and is barely 23.
All of this adds to the perception that Gase no longer is the fresh flavor of the month in NFL coaching. Far from it.
Losing Tannehill for the season in August was beyond Gase’s control, of course, but absolutely everything else about the Dolphins offense has gone wrong, too. If it were Tannehill at quarterback and not Jay Cutler or Matt Moore, it figures the story wouldn’t be much better.
Not saying that Gase is a lousy coach or that his stay in Miami will be short, but clearly his ability to make the Dolphins into a Super Bowl contender on offensive ingenuity and a gigantic reserve of self-confidence no longer sells around here.
There always will be hot new coaches. What’s needed in Miami is a system that consistently works, even when the flame begins to die down.
Fair or not, it’s difficult to say right now that Gase would get the same out of a guy like Goff that McVay is getting. As the weeks go by and the losses pile up, Gase is looking more and more like a coach who is discovering how tough this job really is, and one who isn’t quite sure what to do about it.
Add it to the big bucket of confusion about the 2017 Dolphins. That bucket looks even deeper when a team like the Rams, 4-12 last year, begins to come on strong.
Last question, and it really stings. If the Dolphins wind up with a high 2018 draft pick and decide to go for a quarterback, would Gase be able to make that pay off? You want to say yes, but everything about this franchise is beginning to feel like a wish again.
Adam Gase came on pretty strong the other day with his description of the Miami Dolphins offense as “garbage.” That’s really coming off the top rope, like Bill Parcells might have done.
There’s a deep well of frustration bubbling up here, and it reminds me of how Gase based his choice of Miami as a head coaching destination on the presence of Ryan Tannehill.
Too many NFL coaches are getting by with whatever they’ve got at quarterback. Sometimes it clicks for a week or two but that’s about it. The Dolphins are going to be dealing with that with Jay Cutler this year.
So just how much garbage are we talking about here, based on one lousy performance against the New York Jets and a low-scoring escape against the Los Angeles Chargers?
Well, the Dolphins are ranked 30th in the league in points (12.5 per game) and 27th in total yards (280.5 per game).
Denver led the league in both categories when Gase was the Broncos’ offensive coordinator and Peyton Manning was his quarterback.
The Bears were better, too, in 2015, when Gase was calling plays for Cutler and, in a pinch, Jimmy Clausen. Chicago averaged 20.9 points and 345 yards per game that year.
Then there was the Tim Tebow experience in 2011, with all the sophistication ripped out of the playbook and the Broncos going 8-8 with an offensive style was roundly panned around the league as “unsustainable.” Always confused me that John Elway and his staff could be somehow repulsed by the six-game win streak that Tebow ripped off and eager to rid themselves of the problem, but that’s another story.
The point is that Gase was Denver’s quarterbacks coach back then, and in concert with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy he managed to squeeze 18.7 points per game out of Tebow’s 13 starts, with a couple of playoff games included.
The Dolphins are well below that output now, a level of production that Gase probably figured was the absolute minimum standard for his NFL coaching career, and even more so once he was in complete control of a team.
Not sure how many effective personnel changes are available to him now, but it’s got to get better for Sunday’s London game against the Saints. There are stronger words than garbage. Gase knows them all and he’s not afraid to use them.
So the NFL goes on without the Miami Dolphins this weekend.
It all begins tonight with Kansas City at New England, which provides a handy 7:30 p.m. deadline for getting those houses boarded up and bringing out a football feast of all the food that will spoil without electricity.
Seems like nothing ever gets down without a hard deadline, right?
Am I disappointed that the Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers won’t be playing Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium? Sure, but that’s so far down the list of priorities right now that it’s almost silly.
The Dolphins have already deflated their practice bubble at the practice facility in Davie, folks, and removed everything from the 100 and 300 levels of the stadium that wasn’t bolted down. Tables, chairs, portable vendor carts. Everything.
They’re not thinking football. They’re being smart, and we should be, too.
The storm will pass, though, and fans will begin to blame the rescheduling of the Bucs game for the November bye week as the reason that Miami isn’t having a great season. Oh, and you can be sure there will be grumbling from fans whose power and cable or satellite service get disrupted on Sunday when Irma comes calling and the rest of the NFL schedule goes unwatched around here.
Too bad. Life is not a fantasy and it’s does not revolve around fantasy leaguers.
Just to get ahead of the argument, though, when the sports-talk debate centers around the disadvantage Miami is under for losing the cushion of the bye week, here’s the common sense of it.
The Dolphins will have injuries all season, no matter what, just like every other team. They lost Ryan Tannehill before the first preseason game was played. They lost Raekwon McMillan and Tony Lippett, a couple of vital defenders, before this opening weekend of the regular season. There is no way to plan your way out of problems like this. They will come no matter what the schedule says and coach Adam Gase will have to deal with them when they do.
As it is, with Miami 0-0 and on hold until Sept. 17, there is lesser optimism that the team will challenge the Patriots for the division title or scramble to another wild-card playoff spot. That’s because of the injuries that already have happened, and it would be the same basic outlook even if Miami had gotten the chance to beat the Bucs on Sunday and jump to a 1-0 start.
Meanwhile, remember that the NFL didn’t always allow for a bye week in the 16-game schedule. That started in 1990.
There was a perfect Dolphins season 18 years prior to that, and a sturdy team that played 16 consecutive games in the process. Fourteen regular-season games, two playoff games and than a “bye” before the Super Bowl win that wrapped up a historic 17-0 run.
Bob Griese missed games to injury along the way, and so did others, but Miami proved itself to be the best team in the league just the same.
On Tuesday, before the NFL announced Miami vs. Tampa Bay would be rescheduled from the season opener to Nov. 19, Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry gave an honest answer to a question about the importance of the bye week.
“I think the stretch after our bye week is probably one of the toughest – if you want to be real about it – probably the toughest in the NFL,” Landry said. “That bye week will give us an opportunity to kind of get some guys healthy. In this NFL, in the league, you’re going to get banged up week in, week out. For us, that bye week, it comes at an appropriate time. For us, to keep it there would be huge.”
The post-Nov. 19 schedule truly is a bear, with games against Denver and Kansas City and, of course, two games with New England in the space of three weeks.
Give Landry credit, though, for following up that bye-week assessment with the kind of tough response that is needed in tough situations.
“I would play today if we could,” Landry said on Tuesday. ‘Obviously, again, that’s up to the team, the NFL, both organizations. If it is moved and we’ve got to play 16 weeks in a row, it’s something that we’ve got to do. We’re going to embrace the process, embrace the challenge and we’re going to make it happen.”
Schedules don’t make great seasons, in other words. Great talent combined with great coaching and great chemistry, that’s the only combination that ever works.
Ryan Tannehill is a tough guy or he wouldn’t have started 77 consecutive games while absorbing a total of 213 career sacks.
Of course, that streak is over now, with knee trouble stopping the Miami Dolphins’ quarterback late last season and a training-camp relapse knocking him out for all of 2017.
Still, I wouldn’t bet against his return from a long and difficult rehab to take over again as Miami’s starter in 2018. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they consistently show up for work, and Tannehill would probably be out there right now if he had another chance to delay surgery. Gimpy but game, he was throwing pregame passes in shorts and a T-shirt before the Dolphins’ preseason opener last week.
Dan Marino is the only Dolphins quarterback with more consecutive starts than Tannehill. He had a string of 95 between 1987 and 1993, fourth-longest in team history behind Jason Taylor (130), Richmond Webb (118) and Jim Langer (109).
In NFL history, only 21 quarterbacks have topped Tannehill’s string of 77 consecutive starts. Brett Favre (297) and Peyton Manning (208), a couple of Hall of Famers, are No. 1 and No. 2 on the list.
The only currently active NFL passers with streaks longer than 77 at some point in their careers are:
Eli Manning (199, streak is active)
Philip Rivers (176, streak is active)
Joe Flacco (122)
Matt Ryan (115, streak is active)
Tom Brady (112)
Tom Brady (111)
Matthew Stafford (96, streak is active)
Drew Brees (82)
Russell Wilson (80, streak is active)
Drew Brees (79)
Crazy to think that Brees would have a couple of starting streaks that rank in the league’s all time top 25. He’s the quarterback Miami passed on as a free agent in 2006, thinking his surgically-repaired right shoulder wasn’t fully healed and might not hold up.
Brees came back strong, of course, with the New Orleans Saints. Maybe Tannehill will, too.
Every now and again I pull out the box scores from the Miami Dolphins’ Super Bowl dynasty more than 40 years ago and marvel at how much the game has changed.
The perfect Dolphins of 1972, for instance, averaged 359.7 yards in total offense. That was tops in the NFL at the time but would have ranked 11th in the league last year.
Bob Griese completed eight passes for 88 yards in Super Bowl VII, the game that completed that 17-0 season. Ryan Tannehill has been held under 100 yards passing three times in his 77 career starts.
The 1972 Dolphins had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, and that was in a 14-game regular season. Jay Ajayi was the only Miami rusher over 1,000 yards last year. Nobody else cleared 200, and that was over 17 regular-season games.
Don Shula’s No Name Defense allowed 10 touchdowns passing during the 1972 regular season and two during the playoffs. Last year’s Dolphins allowed 30 touchdowns passing and two long scoring bombs by Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter of their only postseason game.
Sure, almost everything about the NFL has changed. The game is more wide open now, more exciting.
Got to hand it to Shula, though, for finding a way to win across 26 seasons as the Dolphins head coach, and seven years with the Baltimore Colts before that. He made the transition from Zonk to Dan Marino., but here’s the most unexpected stat of all.
Johnny Unitas attempted 44 passes and threw for 288 yards in Shula’s first career victory. Marino threw it 35 times and totaled 290 yards in completions during Shula’s 347th and final career win.
Bottom line, Shula was better than bold. He was smart enough to let his best players win for him, however that needed to be.
Jarvis Landry was talking the other day at OTA’s about Ryan Tannehill, the Miami Dolphins quarterback who has been rehabbing an ACL injury since last season without surgery.
The quotes were casual, the tone relaxed, the scare apparently over.
“It hasn’t slowed him down,” Landry said when asked specificially about the large brace on Tannehill’s left knee. “His recovery process has been tremendous…We’ve been throwing together and now he’s just trying to find the rhythm, along with the timing, now that we’ve got the defensive line out there and the DB’s. He’s still competing like ‘17’ .”
That little bit of shorthand sounds good in this context. A player has to establish himself with teammates before they simply say his jersey number and everybody immediately understands what that designation entails. The trust. The track record. The recognizable picture of rising strength.
Tannehill is not a perfect quarterback, but after five seasons of watching him work it really is time to accept his leadership in full.
Landry, a top receiver and an outspoken pro, has done that. It’s one more demonstration of how fortunate the Dolphins are to have the quarterback position settled, and how uncommon that is around the league.
Look at Chicago. I liked the Bears’ choice of Mitch Trubisky at the No. 2 overall spot in April’s draft. He’s a big kid with lots of potential. There is no guarantee, however, that Trubisky will begin his rookie season as a starter, the way Tannehill did in Miami, or that Trubisky will match Tannehill’s progress five years out.
The Bears have tried to protect against disaster, signing veterans Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez, but Sanchez injured a knee during OTA’s this week and is out until training camp. You never know what’s coming, even in light drills. You never know when a rookie quarterback will be pushed harder than he can stand.
The Los Angeles Rams went all in with Jared Goff last year, taking the California quarterback first overall in the 2016 NFL draft. He played a lot in college and should have been ready, but Goff’s first start didn’t come until 10 games into a losing season, and his first win as a starter hasn’t come yet. New Rams coach Sean McVay won’t even say without hesitation that Goff is his No. 1 quarterback this summer.
The examples go on and on, but for now let’s focus on Tannehill and Trubisky. Both were lightly used as starting quarterbacks in college. Both were risky picks, high and hopeful, by their teams.
Would Chicago be happy with seven wins in Trubisky’s rookie season, and a doubling of his touchdown passes in Year Two? Seems like a yes, and that’s what Tannehill did in Miami.
Would the Bears get fed up with Trubisky and his 13 college starts if they failed to make the playoffs for a handful of years? It was that way with Tannehill, who started 19 games at quarterback for Texas A&M, but the Dolphins changed coaches without changing quarterbacks, and Tannehill wound up being one of the main reasons that Adam Gase, a highly coveted candidate, chose Miami over other offers.
Nothing is ever certain, especially with Tannehill suffering the first big injury of his career last December, but Miami seems to have a good answer at quarterback. The Bears and Rams are still seeking a comfortable foothold at the position. Same goes for the Broncos with Trevor Siemian, the Jaguars with Blake Bortles, the Browns with Brock Osweiler and company, and the Bills with Tyrod Taylor, who took a $10 million paycut to stay with the team under new coach Sean McDermott.
If any of those guys could play like “17” right now, could be counted upon by teammates like “17” is in Miami, they would take it and run.
Of course, Tannehill will have to show he can move like before once June moves on to the exhibition games of August and the real thing in September. For now, Miami has no doubts about who will and who should play quarterback.
That’s a real luxury, and it is Gase’s to enjoy in a way that half the league’s coaches cannot.
Adam Gase was careful not to question recent head coaches of the Miami Dolphins when asked on Monday about a positive change in the team’s basic culture.
“I can’t speak on the past,” he said. “I just know everybody that has been here since the time I’ve been here has had one goal, and it’s to try to help our players do everything they can to win a game.”
One particular former head coach, however, got a special compliment from Gase.
Addressing the strong pass protection that Dolphins tight end Dion Sims provided in Sunday’s win at Los Angeles, Gase said “any time you have a tight end that basically you feel good enough to where you go one-on-one versus a defensive end, that’s a pretty rare thing to have.
“I don’t know if I’ve had too many tight ends that have been able to do that. The last guy I actually can think of that I felt really comfortable when it was one-on-one was Dan Campbell. That shows you how long ago that was.”
Campbell, the Dolphins’ interim head coach for 12 games last season, spent a decade playing tight end in the NFL with the Giants, Cowboys and Lions. He was with Detroit in 2006 and 2007 when Gase was an offensive assistant to head coach Rod Marinelli, first as a quality control coach and then as the quarterbacks coach.
Campbell went 5-7 in Miami as the replacement for Joe Philbin. These days he is the assistant head coach and tight ends coach for the New Orleans Saints. Wouldn’t be bad to see him back with the Dolphins some day if he doesn’t get another chance as a head coach.
Wouldn’t be a surprise, either.
Gase clearly was impressed with his toughness and attention to detail, and Campbell has come as close as any Dolphins coach ever will to matching Gase’s bold approach to the game.
Hard to believe, but for the fourth time in 10 games this season, the Miami Dolphins on Sunday will be facing a quarterback who is making his NFL regular-season debut.
This time it’s Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams, who gets his first start and his first game action because coach Jeff Fisher decided the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft finally is ready for the challenge.
Well, that and the fact that the Rams are last in the league in scoring at 15.4 points per game and have been held without a touchdown three times.
How well will Goff perform against the Dolphins, who pretty much made veteran Philip Rivers look like a rookie in the fourth quarter of last week’s 31-24 win over the Chargers?
It figures Goff will do just fine, if Miami’s other matchups with newbie quarterbacks is any indication. Here are the stats those supposedly nervous rookies put up.
In Week 2 at New England, Jacoby Brissett from Dwyer High School was forced into emergency action against Miami because Tom Brady was on NFL suspension and Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt. Entering the game in the second quarter with the Patriots leading 21-0, Brissett did just enough to nail down a 31-24 victory by completing 6-of-9 passes for 92 yards and avoiding turnovers.
In Week 3, Cleveland’s Cody Kessler got sacked three times by the Dolphins but overall kept the Browns in the game by completing 21-of-33 for 244 yards with no interceptions. Miami won the game in overtime but Kessler’s quarterback rating of 85.9 was no embarrassment. Three times this season Ryan Tannehill of the Dolphins has failed to hit that mark.
In Week 8, the New York Jets turned to Bryce Petty, a 2015 draft pick who never had played a down, because Ryan Fitzpatrick was getting an injury checked on the sidelines. The kid wasn’t much of a factor in the game during his brief appearance but he didn’t hurt the Jets, completing both of his passes for 19 yards.
Now comes Goff, the 6-foot-4 star from the University of California who was drafted way ahead of all the rest.
Brissett and Kessler were drafted in the third round, with the 91st and 93rd overall picks, respectively. Petty went in the fourth round, the 103rd player taken overall in the 2015 draft.
The point is don’t count on Goff being a goof on Sunday. All of these kids have NFL arms or they wouldn’t have been drafted at all. It’s a matter of feeling comfortable with whatever the coaching staff is calling for them, and, of course, not falling so far behind that the defense can feast on obvious passing situations for the entire second half.
That’s what happened to Tannehill in his NFL debut, the season opener of 2012. Houston led Miami 24-3 by halftime and coasted to a 30-10 victory. In a circumstance that would have been unfair for any rookie, Tannehill was forced to throw 36 passes. He was intercepted three times and sacked twice. A very bad first day at the office.
The second game was much more natural, however, with Tannehill completing 18-of-30 passes for 200 yards in a 35-13 win over Oakland that featured one touchdown passing and one touchdown rushing by the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft.
With the right game plan, Goff could prove to be very dangerous against the Dolphins. With a bit of panic under duress, on the other hand, Miami’s pass rush could eat him alive.
Either way, it’s way past time to see what the big guy has got. This is the NFL, where the most talented players belong on the field. There really shouldn’t be any redshirt seasons.
The Dolphins are in Southern California the next couple of Sunday’s, facing teams that started out the careers of a couple of first-round quarterbacks far differently than Miami did with Ryan Tannehill.
First comes a game at San Diego, which in 2004 wanted to take Eli Manning first overall in the draft but couldn’t convince the Ole Miss star to come without a fight. The result was a trade with the Giants and the arrival of Philip Rivers in a Chargers uniform.
Rivers, built for the NFL at 6-feet-5 and 230 pounds, was the No. 4 pick in that draft. He didn’t start right away, though. Didn’t start until his third pro season, as a matter of fact, because Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer preferred to have the kid learn the ropes behind veteran Drew Brees.
Seems crazy now, but maybe it wasn’t. By the time Brees was gone to New Orleans and Rivers got his chance everything was synched up for a 14-2 season for the Chargers. Rivers was great then and he’s still pretty good, hitting 24-of-33 passes with a couple of touchdowns in a 43-35 shootout win over Tennessee last week.
Next on the schedule for Miami comes the Los Angeles Rams at Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 20. The Rams are 3-5 with Case Keenum at quarterback and due to be a free agent after the season.
Never mind that the franchise had the No. 1 overall pick in the last draft and used it on Cal quarterback Jared Goff. Gave up a ton of draft picks, too, in order to move into that spot.
Goff hasn’t thrown a pass in the first half of his rookie season, and if he’s in the lineup by the time Miami gets to town, it will be a surprise.
“As I say consistently, repeatedly, week after week, I’m pleased with Jared’s progress,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said following Sunday’s 13-10 loss to Carolina.
Fisher is the coach many South Florida fans hoped would agree to coach the Dolphins in 2012 instead of Joe Philbin.
Is he being stubborn or smart in not moving toward the future of the Rams franchise and turning the offense over to Goff?
Probably overcautious is the answer, taking a page from a 20th-century playbook for coaches and organizations. That’s really not the ticket in L.A., which just got the Rams from St. Louis and needs a reason to fall in love with pro football again.
The Dolphins, on the other hand, didn’t wait with Tannehill, the No. 8 overall draft pick in 2012. He started the season opener of his rookie season, got intercepted three times in a 30-10 loss at Houston and just kept going. The idea was to let him learn under fire rather than letting some caretaker quarterback hold the spot until Tannehill was completely ready.
I had my doubts at the time, in large part because Philbin was a rookie head coach that year, too. It was the right move, though. When and if the Dolphins decide they have had enough of Tannehill, the experiment of drafting him will have been given every opportunity to succeed.
He may not be the elite quarterback that fans hoped, but he wouldn’t have gotten better by wasting time on the bench. And what would have been better in 2012, a 7-9 finish with Tannehill the potential savior or 8-8 with some guy everyone is booing?
Don Shula struggled with the same issue when the Dolphins took Dan Marino late in the first round of the 1983 draft. The future Hall of Famer didn’t start until the sixth game of this rookie season, and it was about time. Marino went 9-2 the rest of the way and got the Dolphins a division title.
David Woodley, even with a prior appearance in the Super Bowl, was never going to be a dominating franchise quarterback like that. Knowing that and acting on it were just matters of timing.
When you invest a first-round pick in a quarterback, the payoff may not come soon enough to please everyone but the collection of real-time data on that decision should be immediate. At least, that’s how it feels in the 21st-century NFL.
Here’s hoping that Goff will be in the lineup against the Dolphins in a few weeks. Makes it more interesting and besides, what’s Hollywood without a star?