Dolphins At Crossroads

Last year the resurgent Dolphins were the beneficiary of a soft schedule lined with poor teams, several of which had to fly from the West coast to the East coast to play in South Florida. This season, the 3-5 Dolphins already have faced several of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, with apologies to Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.

The Dolphins lost to the Falcons and a blossoming Matt Ryan in Week 1, Peyton Manning and the Colts in Week 2, Philip Rivers and the Chargers in Week 3. After a breeze with Trent Edwards and Mark Sanchez of the Bills and Jets, respectively, the Dolphins then had to deal with Drew Brees and the undefeated Saints and on Sunday they went down, 27-17, to Tom Brady and his Patriots bunch.

No easy task.

Miami was leading the undefeated Saints by 21 points in the second quarter before imploding.

The Dolphins were leading the undefeated Colts by three points with less than four minutes remaining and held more than a 30-minute time-of-possession edge, and Sunday were up 17-16 vs. the Patriots before getting torched for a drag pattern run-and-catch touchdown by future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss.

Counting the game against Rivers, that's 0-4 against four Pro Bowl quarterbacks with teams that are a combined 27-5.

"I think you are what your record says you are, but from my end, I know in my heart that we are pretty close to being a pretty good team. I don't know what 'pretty good' means, I really don't. We have played some teams that are supposed to be 'really good,' " said Coach Tony Sparano. "We are a point right now this thing can go either way, it really can, but I am going to try my best to make sure it only goes one way."

Suddenly, what was projected to be rugged schedule all season, has softened up a tad with the 1-7 Bucs on tap at home Sunday followed by the 3-5 Panthers in 10 days.

"My message is that we have two games right now in 10 days, and I think that can change an awful lot," Sparano said.

Miami still has the 3-5 Bills, 4-4 Jaguars, 2-6 Titans and 5-4 Texans, sandwiched around the 6-2 Patriots and 6-2 Steelers. In all, they'll play teams with a combined record of 30-35.

"We have our pride here. We don't like losing or being mediocre," said cornerback Nate Jones. "Again, we don't have moral victories. We're 3-5 and that's what you see.

"Plain and simple, if we don't stop the big play, letting teams go down the field that easy we can't expect to come out victorious. It shows its ugly face every once in a while so until we get it fixed we can't blame anybody but ourselves."

Jones was referring to the "chunk" plays allowed by the Dolphins, who have allowed a league-high 19 pass plays of 25 yards or more, while having just five of their own. The disparity has a lot to do with a 29th-ranked passing attack led by quarterback Chad Henne, who has just five NFL starts.

In his defense, he is operating with a mediocre receiving corps that has just two touchdowns from its wide receivers and is currently starting rookie Brian Hartline and either Davone Bess or Greg Camarillo, stars only in their own households.

"We had a bad first half of the season, but it's not too late to change that," Camarillo said.

The once-vaunted rushing attack that was averaging 177 yards and ranked first after the first six weeks has slipped to four as the Wildcat has lost its teeth in the last three games, headed by its igniter, a slumping Ronnie Brown, who has 123 yards on 42 carries over the last three games.

"I think teams are trying to make us pass, putting a lot of guys in the box," Brown said. "I think we're a lot better than our record shows. A few games we're just one or two plays away."


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