“I no longer have faith. I have eyes. Show me. Show us.”
– Armando Salguero, Miami Herald columnist
Since the end of last season, the Miami Dolphins have been on a campaign to convince people that they are now on the right path; leadership problems have been fixed and the team knows what they’re doing now.
They want Dolfans, media, and other team watchers to believe that their feet are firmly on the road towards a championship. They want us to believe in Steve Ross, Mike Tannenbaum, Chris Grier, Adam Gase, and Ryan Tannehill. They want us to believe that the winning ways have returned, that seven seasons of losing are over.
Up to now, skeptics like Salguero and myself have refused to drink the Kool-Aid. We’ve been victimized by the team’s marketing spin too many times in the past to trust their words any longer. People want proof that front office knows what they’re doing.
Eyes don’t lie. Film won’t lie. Only wins and losses tell the truth.
The optimists? They’re already pointing to last week’s competitive loss at Seattle as proof the Dolphins are good again, or at least improved. They’d be right in pointing out areas where talent or performance were better than last year. But they’d also be wrong in putting too much stock in one game versus an uncommon opponent.
An old, familiar rival has ‘next’: the New England Patriots (1:00pm ET, CBS). Incredibly, despite all the losing this past decade, the Dolphins still own the series lead (53-48-0). Familiarity breeds contempt: they know the Patriots personnel, and vice versa. Gase know Bill Belichick, and vice versa. There are few secrets between these two teams. The raw truth will be revealed, and soon.
The Patriots are the perfect measuring stick for the Dolphins. Since 2001, the Pats have won the AFC East an amazing 13 times, a run of dominance not even the Dolphins in their glory years matched. They are the gold standard for winning in this century. The path to the playoffs goes through them.
The last time the Dolphins won the division was 2008, which was also the last time they qualified for the playoffs. That season featured an early win in Foxborough, in a game without Tom Brady, with the Wildcat unveiled. That Dolphins team would go on to win the division.
Fast forward to the present day. Not much has gone right for the Dolphins since then, not even one winning season. In sharp contrast, the Pats have won the division every year since, including a Super Bowl championship in 2014.
For the Dolphins to convince us they are on the right track, they need to once again win a game in Foxborough, against a Brady-less team. No, it’s not the squad they’ll likely face Week 17 but it’s a damn good start.
The division lead will be on the line, as well as an important tiebreaker advantage. It’s a statement game. The stakes are high.
We want to SEE the Dolphins defense pressure and intimidate QB Jimmy Garoppolo in his own house. We want to SEE them restrain the Pats offense the same way they did last week versus the Seahawks.
We want to SEE QB Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins offense decode and outplay a Belichick defense. We want to SEE them score points in a hostile environment.
We want to SEE the Dolphins special teams outplay their rivals: kicking, punting, blocking, and covering.
We want to SEE Gase hold his own in a chess match versus Belichick, and WIN.
We want to SEE what these Dolphins are truly made of. We want to SEE them walk up to the bully’s house and punch him square in the mouth, take his lunch, and eat it in front of him.
This is the real proof people require. And unlike Seattle, there will be no moral victories in this one. You will be convinced by the final score, or your skeptical tendencies will be validated.
Does a Dolphin loss mean their season is over? No, of course not. But it also doesn’t mean that people’s belief in this team will be any different than it is today. “Same old Dolphins” is what they’ll say, as they keep on whistling and sipping their tea. The loyalists will see gold no matter what happens.
For yours truly, my job is to give you the facts as I see them. Yes, I’ve been a fan for almost 50 seasons, but I’m also a pragmatist. Football is, and ever shall be, a game of matchups. Victories have come when the Dolphins win more matchups than the Pats do. It’s as simple as that. But on a macro scale it’s also about a culture of winning, driven by talent and the sort of preparation that a top flight coaching staff brings to the mix. Take all of that together and compete against the gold standard in their building, and we’ll get a pretty good idea where these Miami Dolphins stand as an organization. No amount of spin will matter a lick by 5:00pm ET on Sunday.
Beat the Pats on the road, take the division lead, and make a statement. What better way is there for us to know if these Dolphins are real or just another pipe dream? It’s how the Dolphins show the world that we should take them seriously.
Show me. Show us.