THE BIG PICTURE

There are two ways of looking at the Dolphins' current situation, and not surprisingly Coach Dave Wannstedt prefers to focus on the fact that the Dolphins remain in first place in the AFC East despite their current three-game losing streak.

Actually, the Dolphins are in a three-way tie for first with Buffalo and New England, and it is the Patriots who would win the division if the season ended today.

But look at it this way also: At 5-4, the Dolphins are only one game off the best record in the AFC.

Denver and San Diego share the best record in the conference at 6-3, with Pittsburgh next at 5-3-1, followed by six teams (Buffalo, Miami, New England, Tennessee, Indianapolis and Oakland) at 5-4.

So all is not lost for the Dolphins if they can find a way to stop their slide.

"This puts us in a situation now where we lost the cushion that we developed early on in the year," Wannstedt said of the three-game losing streak. "We have a great group of guys and we had meetings in the locker room and talked at the airport again (after the Jets game). Our guys will come in here tomorrow, ready to go.

"We need to strap it up and we'll get a good game plan together in all phases and get some things corrected from what happened in the game (Sunday night), building on some of the positive things that happened. We'll take it one at a time."

The next hurdle comes Sunday afternoon against the Baltimore Ravens. It's the first of four home games in the Dolphins' next five games.

The Dolphins haven't lost more than three games in a row since they dropped their last five at the end of the 1993 season.

They also shouldn't feel that crushed by the three-game losing streak. No less than 17 teams throughout the league have lost at least three straight this season, and the list includes playoff contenders like the Jets, Patriots, Colts, Titans, Raiders and Rams.

That is a point Wannstedt drove home to his players.

"I told the guys (Sunday) to look at Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Indianapolis, New England and the Rams," Wannstedt said. "Every team at different times of the year has hit a rough spot for whatever reason. Our reason obviously is that we lose our starting quarterback. Some of them haven't done that and still have struggled.

"We have a lot of character on this team. We are still tied for first place. We lost our cushion and now every game is critical, but our guys have approached it that way all along."


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