Two Mules for Tony Sparano

Dave TrembleyCorrespondent IDecember 21, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Tony Sparano of the Miami Dolphins watches the play during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2009 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Raise your hand if the Miami Dolphins 27-24 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans yesterday made you think of an obscure 1970 movie called "Two Mules For Sister Sara," starring Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine.


Okay. I didn’t think so.


Oddly enough, it did remind me of that. Not so much the movie, but the title. And truthfully, not so much the title, but the idea of two mules.


Not one mule, but two mules.


And not real mules loaded down with bedrolls and clanging pots and spare ponchos, but metaphoric mules, ones with symbolic value.


And the symbolic value of the two mules further came to me in terms of a good mule and a bad mule. (If there was a third metaphoric mule, then another Clint Eastwood movie could be lifted for this blog: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly).


But no, we said two mules and we aim to stick with that.


Anyway, let’s get down to business. First, the good mule.


The good mule is the stubbornness of the Miami Dolphins team, refusing to quit even after trailing 24-6 in the fourth quarter, after coughing up the ball several times, including Ricky Williams in scoring territory and a fistful of interceptions.


The good mule is the Dolphins tenacity and well, mule-headedness, in fighting back to tie the game at 24, holding the line and stuffing Vince Young late in the game enough to climb back into the contest.


The good mule was holding the line on Chris Johnson, who had some effectiveness early in the game, but less so when the Dolphins stubborn defense refused to blink in the fourth quarter.


Refused to blink? Is this not what mules do, too?


The good mule was the Dolphins patience, the complete absence of panic, when repeated drives that showed so much promise earlier in the game ended in failure.


The good mule was reflected in the resurgence of strength and will after Brian Hartline wrestled the ball away from Titans defensive back Michael Griffin on a play that resembled divine intervention itself.


In short, the good mule is reflected in all of these mulish things: tenacity, determination, stubbornness.


The bad mule, however, is reflected in the play of Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne, who literally threw the game away on a horrible pass in overtime that might have cost the Dolphins any hope of a playoff spot, and validated the prognosticators who prophesied 8-8 eight months ago when the schedule was released.


Henne threw three interceptions, but it should have been four had Hartline’s divine intervention not saved the play.


For the season, Henne has 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, but he has thrown two games away that the Dolphins could ill afford to lose.  Further, his pass completion percentage is under 60.


Sixty would not be bad if you are gunning the ball downfield like Phillip Rivers on deep, low-percentage passes, but Henne mostly throws the ball short to any number of possession receivers like Davone Bess or Greg Camarillo.


When Henne makes an ill-advised or inaccurate pass, look closely at the expression on his face.


I don’t know what you see, but I see a mule. I see a quarterback whose upside is Jon Kitna, max. And nothing more.


Granted, Henne is a first year starter and susceptible to all of the growing pains that young quarterbacks experience.  But still.


The bad mule, too, is measured in the play of bad coverages by the Dolphins secondary, who allowed Vince Young to have one of his best passing days ever.


But it is also found in the defensive play schemes which leaves rookie corners to cover one-on-one, and gets burned on blitzes that allow dangerous Chris Johnson an open field on a screen pass.


The bad mule, simply put, is just too many mistakes that arise from dumb decisions.


In their remaining two games, the Dolphins need to play smarter.  Eight penalties, two fumbles and four turnovers will not get the job against Houston next week or Pittsburgh the week after. Three fumbles a week ago is not good enough, either.


Coach Sparano: keep the good mule and get a saddle on the bad one. Time is running out.