by Scott Benson
Never has been so much been made over so little.
Ever since the Miami Dolphins narrowly edged a group of Patriot second-stringers last New Year’s Day, the national football literati has been falling all over itself to hand the future of the AFC East to uber-coach Nick Saban and his allegedly emerging Phins. When Miami traded a second-round pick for fantasy king Daunte Culpepper in March, finally acquiring a ‘worthy’ successor to hall of famer Dan Marino, the Miami-is-ready-to-take-the-division-from-the-Patriots drumbeat became a Buddy Rich solo.
A funny thing happened on the way to the forum, apparently.
The whole bandwagon was a sham from the start, anyway. Sure, the Dolphins won six straight to close out 05 (including their gripping victory over Matt Chatham). But four of those wins came over Oakland (4-12), Buffalo (5-11), New York Jets (4-12), and Tennessee (4-12). Prior to their streak, they were 3-7 under rookie coach Saban, after finishing 4-12 the season before. Their offense was horrible and their defense – while better performing than the Patriots’ – was still middle of the road, and as Greg Doyle likes to point out, the Dolphins were losing a productive offensive player in Ricky Williams. Saban and company couldn’t be blamed for Ricky’s sticky problem, but they would feel his absence just the same.
Furthermore, while his stats reign surpreme, Culpepper was anything but a sure bet as a playoff quarterback (only 2 appearances in 6 seasons as a starter, 2-2 record, despite all the accolades).
The whole thing seemed pretty flimsy, to me. Saban had led an impressive turnaround, but it was just one season. And the idea that the Patriots would be so easily pushed aside by this tissue paper tiger was, of course, deeply offensive. After all, the Dolphins have won ONE AFC East title in the last ten years (2000, under Dave Wannstedt). As the crack staff at patriots.com remind us in their valuable game primer, the Patriots have captured four of the last five division titles. Their 27-7 division record (since 2001) gives them the NFL’s best intra-division record over the same period. New England has also won five of the last seven head-to-head match ups with the Dolphins.
So six-straight out-of-contention wins and a hobbled Vikings-reject was enough to trump all that? Come on, now.
The other thing is that the 1-3 Phins are supposed to make us nervous this week, because they always ‘give the Patriots trouble’. Says who? As noted above, the Pats are five of the last seven with Miami overall, and eight of the last eleven in Foxboro.
Saban is no doubt a good coach and strong enough to build even the Dolphins into a serious football operation, but the evidence suggests he will not do it overnight.
Hopefully you caught Mike Reiss’s piece in the Globe this morning, as he chronicles a typical week of game planning and practicing for the Patriots players and coaches. I suppose it could be argued that this ground has been explored before by Michael Holley in Patriot Reign, but stickler Reiss has a greater eye for detail.
I suppose this type of deadpan, just-the-facts reporting on football minutiae of interest is beneath today’s fashionably-edgy, camera-loving editorialists, which is just fine with me. More for the diligent Reiss to do. Let Felger and the others handle the message-board worthy ‘Randy Moss to the Pats?’ stories.
As always, check Mike’s blog throughout the day for the latest updates from the stadium, including the Patriots inactives for today’s game. Eugene Wilson, Ellis Hobbs, Daniel Graham and Chad Jackson are among those we’re hoping will be missing from the list.
I noticed fellow BSMW blogger ‘Feejis’ over at Power Play, who got started with another Bruins season this week, has decided he can’t game blog because he misses too much of the game typing. Amen to that, brother. That’s why last week I went back to the old-school post-game GDRV, and dropped the halftime blog update. It was good to get back to writing about the whole game again, start to finish. Hopefully you’ll find it worth your time. I’ll just add that the Patriots are a dominant 1-0 under this new format.