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I haven't dumped on the Miami Dolphins enough this year. Let me start correcting that.
Yesterday before the NFL trade dealine, the Miami Dolphins traded their starting running back, Jay Ajayi, to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 4th round pick. (True story: they wanted to trade their best wide receiver, Jarvis Landry, but they couldn't find a taker willing to pay the asking price, presumably a 3rd round pick.) Ajayi had three 200+ yard games last year and ran for a total of 1,272 yards. For comparison, Jay Cutler passed for only 1,059 in 2016. Given that Cutler no longer has a running back to help him anymore, that number is going to have to get a lot better fast. That doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon.
You may have had the misfortune of seeing last Thursday's "game" in which the Dolphins were beaten 40-0. That wasn't because Cutler was out with broken ribs, and it wasn't because Ajayi forgot the playbook. It was because the offensive line played offensively. Who saw that coming? I mean, it's not like the offensive line coach quit two weeks earlier after being caught doing cocaine and models. Oh, wait. Yes, it was exactly like that.
But that was just one game. Otherwise, the Dolphins' offense has been great! Not. The team is last in the league in points scored. It's also last in the league in yards gained. Normally, when a team is bad in all offensive categories, they'll fire the Offensive Coordinator. But the Dolphins can't do that, because the Offensive Coordinator is also the Head Coach. So bye-bye, Ajayi.
Adding insult to insult, the Dolphins were careful to belittle Ajayi on the way out the door. "He has a bad attitude and bad work habits. And, oh yeah, bad knees, too!" Stay classy, Miami! You really fleeced Philadelphia out of that 4th round pick.
There are 9 games left in the season, but at least the team still has Cutler! How the hell am I supposed to cheer for this dumpster fire?
(On a seemingly unrelated note: the initial 2017 NCAA College Football Playoff Rankings were also released yesterday, and the Georgia Bulldogs have jumped the Alabama Crimson Tide for first place. Whoo hoo! If the price I have to pay for a great Bulldogs team is a terrible Miami team, I'm in.)
Two weeks ago, I was excited about the coming NFL season. The Miami Dolphins had a good year last year, making the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade. This year, with a rehabilitated quarterback, an up-and-coming sophomore running back, and an improved defense, the team was poised for better things. What a difference a couple of weeks can make.
Since camp started, the Dolphins have placed their starting running back into the concussion protocol, struggled to replace their re-damaged quarterback, and watched helplessly as the linebacking core has collapsed to season-ending injuries one member at a time. All is not sunny in Miami, Florida.
I'm especially disheartened by the signing of Jay Cutler. This shows that management doesn't believe existing backup Matt Moore, quarterback for the last four games last season, can carry the load. However, it's not like Cutler is an ox himself. He hasn't completed a full season since 2009. He had shoulder surgery in December and had retired from the sport after being cut by the Bears and having no other team in the league express interest. Oh, boy.
(I admit my bias here. I thought Cutler was going to be something special coming out of Vanderbilt. But his career — hindered by constant coaching changes, disruptive teammates, a litany of ailments, and a standoffish personality — has been . . . lackluster. And now he's the latest in a long line of disappointing Dolphin QBs to succeed Emperor Marino.)
Last year, the Dolphins were only as good as the health of their offensive line. While that's always true for every team, the Dolphins had it especially tough, managing only 4 games with all starters in play. The team hoped to be better in 2017 with the benefit of experience and extra depth, but that won't make much difference if no one is standing behind the center.
In both cases, I purchased tickets for face value directly from the NFL after winning the opportunity in the annual NFL Super Bowl Random Drawing. For years, so long as football fans sent in a certified letter before May, there was a chance they could buy tickets in November for that January's game. Hopefuls could enter only once per physical address, and each year over 30,000 requests were received for approximately 1,000 tickets. Those were long odds. Now they're worse.
This year, the NFL canceled the program.
Why did they do it? Who knows. The NFL didn't explain its thinking when it updated its website to let us know that we couldn't enter this year. The league hinted they've got something else in the works for next year's Super Bowl LII, but still no word on what it might be. Given the league's guiding principle is the same as Gordon Gekko's — "Greed is good" — I'm not expecting great things.
I'm disappointed in this development, but not mad. I did get to go twice, after all. That's two times more than most. Good times.
The Atlanta Falcons were up 28-3 over the New England Patriots late in the third quarter of the Super Bowl. No team had ever come back from such a deficit in the big game, and the Patriots didn't look like they were going to be the ones to do it. All Atlanta had to do was keep doing what they had been doing for the better part of 2 hours, and they would be NFL champions.
I'm sure I don't have to tell you who won.
The Falcons were good enough this year; they should have been able to beat the Patriots. But the one thing holding back, the lead weight around their necks, was their own history. The 1999 Super Bowl. The 2011 Divisional game. Now the 2017 Super Bowl. When a few plays late in the game went wrong, you could see the Falcons lose confidence that they could win. If you think you're going to lose, you're right.
I'm not a Falcons fan, but I do consider myself an Atlantan. This loss hurt. It hurt bad. Like a second betrayal by an unfaithful lover, it's the sort of pain you never get over. You can forgive, but you'll never forget. You can only blame yourself for believing she wouldn't do it to you again. A loss like this, in a city seemingly incapable of escaping it's terrible luck at team sports (1 MLB title, 0 NFL titles, 0 NBA titles, 0 NHL franchises), this loss leaves a permanent scar on our soul.
As my friend Keith, a Falcons fan since birth, said at the start of the postseason, "I'll believe the Falcons can win a Super Bowl the day after they win a Super Bowl." After this game, I don't think either of us will live that long.
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Last year, the Atlanta Falcons were no better than an average team, finishing with an 8-8 record. The year before, they finished 6-10, and the year before that, they were 4-12. You might have noticed a trend. After four years of steady improvement, the Falcons are in the Super Bowl.
Why can't other teams do that? Specifically, why not the Miami Dolphins?
Assembling a successful pro football team is a challenge of (1.) recognizing talent, (2.) acquiring that talent, (3.) developing a competitive strategy, (4.) coaching talent to work together to achieve the strategy, and (5.) executing tactics on the field.
In recent years, the Falcons have done all those things well. For the past few decades, the Dolphins have rarely gotten past step one.
But this year the Dolphins broke out of mediocrity and made the postseason. The Dolphins lost primarily because the injury bug did more damage than their opponent, but that the Dolphins have any talent good enough to make the playoffs is a hopeful sign that perhaps the team is finally turning things around.
If the Falcons can make the Super Bowl in four years, I don't see any reason the same can't happen for the Dolphins. Maybe 2019 will be a super year for Miami.
The Miami Dolphins have made the NFL playoffs! They play the Pittsburgh Steelers at 1PM EST on Sunday.
The last time the Dolphins played a playoff game was January 4, 2009. They lost that game 27-9. I'm not convinced that this year will be any better.
In 2009, the team lost mainly because NFL Comeback Player of the Year Chad "Noodle-Arm" Pennington threw four interceptions. That can't happen again, right? I mean, Pennington has long retired, but starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is still out with a bum knee, leaving backup Matt Moore in his place. Moore has a fair arm, but he can be a bit reckless. Surely he won't be four interceptions worth of reckless. Right?
If the Dolphins do manage to get past round one — they did beat the Steelers 30-15 back in October — they'll head into a second week rematch against the New England Patriots. They've played the Patriots twice already this year, losing 31-24 (with Tannehill) and 35-14 (with Moore). Yeesh.
So go Dolphins! (And better luck next year!)
The Miami Dolphins are guaranteed a winning season for the first time since 2008. It's an unusual sensation. I'd forgotten what it felt like to cheer for a winning NFL team.
If the Dolphins win on Christmas Eve in Buffalo and on New Year's Day versus the New England Patriots, they'll definitely make the postseason. There are scenarios in which they could lose one or both of those games and and still have a shot at playing for the league title. Given the Dolphins' history of poor performance in the snow and against teams much, much better than they are, I'm not holding my breath.
(It doesn't help that starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill busted his ACL in week 14 and may or may not return before September 2017. Great timing, that.)
However, don't let my pessimism about the future fool you into thinking that I'm not excited about the present. I am, indeed, very happy that the Dolphins won't finish the season as losers, something I predicted before the season started.
That's the best thing about being a pessimist. It's always a pleasant surprise when you're wrong.
Word on the street (ok, word via NFL.com) is that Jared Goff will be starting at quarterback for the LA Rams when the Miami Dolphins come to town this weekend.
I think that's probably a bad idea.
For those of you who haven't been paying attention, Goff was the first overall pick in the 2016 draft. That means the Rams thought he wasn't just the best quarterback available, but the best player available this year. The Rams have taken an old-school approach to rearing the young quarterback and let him ride the bench while he learns the ropes. Most teams these days throw their new quarterback prospects out on the field immediately to see if they sink or swim (*cough* Miami Dolphins *cough*). But not the Rams. At least not until now.
The reason I say this might not be the right week to start the Jared Goff experiment is because the Dolphins aren't the sort to play nice with opposition quarterbacks. No team in 2016 has spent more on their defensive linemen than the Dolphins (by a margin of nearly $4 million!). In the past 10 weeks, the Dolphins have broken Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger, accomplished journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Tom Brady stand-in Jimmy Garoppolo. Is that the sort of meat grinder you want to put an unproven $20 million man in? I wouldn't.
So why this week? Maybe coach Jeff Fisher thinks that his previous starter, Case Keenum, is too important to risk feeding to the Dolphins' D-line. Maybe Fisher is frustrated with Goff and wants to punish him. Whatever the case, good luck, Jared Goff. You're going to need it.
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Screenshot from my phone on election night:
When the BBC is showing a mushroom cloud, you know things are bad.