Is Another Rebound on the Way?

It's not quite the same situation, but there certainly are similarities between where the Dolphins find themselves today and where they were after that ugly 22-0 loss at Cleveland last November. The big question, though, is whether they can pull off the kind of turnaround the produced last season.

Anybody who has watched the Dolphins play would be inclined to think it's impossible for them to accomplish much of anything in 2006, but wouldn't we all have said the same thing after the 22-0 loss at Cleveland?

There are, however, some major differences between 2005 and 2006.

The first one -- and we hate to have to point this out -- but the Dolphins' schedule down the stretch last year was very forgiving.

Other than San Diego, there was not one playoff contender in the bunch when you factor in New England resting all its key players in the finale because its playoff seeding already had been set.

The other factor, and one that maybe was underplayed heading into this season, is that the Dolphins didn't cruise to a 6-0 finish.

Look at the final scores. At Oakland, 33-21. Against Buffalo, 24-23, and needing a miracle comeback at that. At San Diego, 23-21, although the Dolphins won more decisively than the final score indicated.

Against the Jets, 24-20.

Against Tennessee, 24-10, in a game that wasn't sealed until late.

At New England, 28-26, in a game not decided until a final two-point conversion attempt was turned back.

So the Dolphins were not a dominant team down the stretch last year despite their six-game winning streak. And generally speaking, only dominant teams go on that kind of roll.

That makes it even tougher to think this year's Dolphins could pull that off.

Nick Saban said Monday the Dolphins' problems stemmed from a lack of execution, with players taking turns making mental mistakes.

That's all fine and good, but the truth is the Dolphins' talent level isn't championship caliber, regardless of what we thought heading into the season.

The bigger reason for optimism perhaps is that Daunte Culpepper progressively has gotten better, even though anyone can see he's not there yet, so maybe by the time the second half of the season rolls around, he will be making more and more plays.

Culpepper really isn't the biggest reason for concern right now. Rather, it's the same issues that plagued the Dolphins last year, namely the offensive line and the secondary.

The offensive line came on down the stretch last year and became a solid unit, but it has taken major steps backward this season and right now is killing any chance for the offense to be consistent.

As for the secondary, there still are coverage issues, which show up mostly on third down.

The Dolphins also won't have the benefit of an easy schedule down the stretch this year, either, because the easiest portion of the schedule already has come and gone -- and the Dolphins went 1-2 through it.

Look, teams have rebounded from 1-3 starts before, so it's not as though it's time to start thinking about next year.

But this Dolphins team doesn't have much room for error and it will have to get a lot better really fast for this not to go down as a major disappointment.


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