Waking up to see the Miami Dolphins on top of the AFC East, albeit in a three-way tie with the Jets and Patriots, may surprise most of the universe after a 1-15 season.
But not rookie head coach Tony Sparano, who is certainly in the conversation for Coach of the Year honors, along with fellow rookie Mike Smith, Bill Belichick and Jeff Fisher - the frontrunner with the Titans at 11-1.
"I don't like using the word 'surprised' because there's not many things that I do, or any of us right now, knowing my football team that we do, that we don't believe we can do all of the way," Sparano said on another Victory Monday and a bonus day off for his 8-5 team after dominating the Bills 16-3 Sunday in Toronto.
"Once we started to assemble this team and I've seen the pieces come together, I was pretty pleased. But you never know how it's going to turn out, you really don't. I told the team the other night that it's easy to say you're a team; it's easy to say, 'Hey, we're a team.' Putting all of these pieces together and watching it come together the way that they have and form a real team chemistry the way this team has, believing that they're not going to score or thinking that you're going to win the tight games, doing all of those things.
"There's a belief in the locker room right now and I've seen it start to happen in different periods throughout the course of the season. I think right now, they're going into games pretty confident. They believe that they understand how to win and how to lose in this league and if they give themselves a chance to win, their resiliency comes out."
With the resurgent, 5-8 49ers coming to town for the final home game of the season, there's no reason to doubt a Dolphins team that clicked on all cylinders Sunday, particularly on defense where it held the Bills to a season-low 163 yards. They haven't allowed a touchdown in the last eight quarters, including the 16-12 win over the Rams.
"A couple weeks ago we were reading how there were records for points in the weekend or whatever it was, that type of deal," Sparano said. "When you see those kind of things and you know that you've had a good run on defense right now; I was pretty proud with the way those guys have played."
Sparano got the pass rush that was absent against the Rams and Patriots the last two weeks, as Joey Porter returned to form with two sacks, a hurry and a forced fumble that Vonnie Holliday recovered. The push in the pocket also came from special teams stalwart Charlie Anderson, who notched his first full sack of the season while forcing two fumbles. Even DT Randy Starks and LB Reggie Torbor shared one after Porter collapsed the pocket around rusty QB J.P. Losman.
"I felt like it was time for me to make a difference as far as what I contribute to the team," said Anderson, a five-year veteran. "I took it hard on myself these past few games. I just felt like I needed to show up today and let it all hang out. We're trying to make a run to the playoffs. Why not now?"
Sparano praised the offseason free agent pickup from the Texans for his steady progress since sustaining a hamstring injury in the preseason.
"I've seen him getting better and better, the guy works really hard out there on his pass rush moves. Charlie's a guy that we really needed to get some pass rush from," Sparano said. "To see what happened out there last night was something pretty special. You've seen it come full circle that way. He really did a nice job getting around the edge last night and causing some problems for those guys."
Hot Topic: Bruschi to I/R?