Next Monday night's visit to Lambeau Field will be only the eighth game of the season for the Dolphins, but it just might turn out to be the most important game of the season.

Never mind winning or losing. That's secondary.

What is crucial for the Dolphins in that game is for Ray Lucas to show he can lead this team during the absence of starting quarterback Jay Fiedler.

Anyone who saw the disaster against Buffalo knows how poorly Lucas played in that game. The Dolphins simply cannot win any games with that kind of quarterbacking.

But Lucas clearly is a better quarterback than he showed in that game. Is he good enough?

That's what he needs to answer in the game against Green Bay.

Coach Dave Wannstedt can say publicly a million times that he has confidence in Lucas and the team has confidence in Lucas, but that won't help any if Lucas can't get the job done.

Nobody is asking Lucas to throw for 300 yards here. What the Dolphins want from Lucas, first and foremost, is to avoid the bad mistakes — and throwing four interceptions against Buffalo represents a lot of mistakes.

The Dolphins also want Lucas to use his running ability more often. His mobility is one of his best attributes as a quarterback, so it was kind of mind-boggling to see Lucas so hesitant to take off against Buffalo, especially after the Dolphins told him before the game there would be a lot of running opportunities against the Bills defense.

There are two factors that should leave anyone confident Lucas will greatly improve in his second start.

First, remember how badly Jay Fiedler struggled in the preseason game against New Orleans after missing some time because of his hip injury. There's a similarity here, in that Lucas hadn't played in a regular season game in so long.

Second, a big reason for Lucas' problems against Buffalo was the fact he was so jacked up for the game he was trying to do everything by himself. That is correctable. Lucas learned a lesson in that game, painful as it was.

Don't expect Lucas to be as scintillating as he was in the preseason because the preseason — as if anyone needs to be reminded — DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING.

Weren't the Jets 4-0 in the preseason this year? They sure look good now, don't they?

But Lucas should be good enough to hold the fort until Fiedler comes back. He needs to prove that Monday night or the Dolphins will find themselves with a major crisis on their hand.

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