For the second week in a row, the Miami Dolphins will be squaring off against a division opponent at home, during primetime, and with the whole nation watching intently.
Just a few botched plays and squandered opportunities from victory, Miami's first loss of the season can easily be interpreted as the team beating itself.
Two of the Jets' touchdowns were given to them as gifts served up eagerly by Jason Allen, who forgot to bring the A-game that he displayed in Minnesota. The rest of the defense, including coordinator Mike Nolan, appeared to have taken the night off as well.
On the upside, Chad Henne and the offense seemed as if they had found the groove they had been seeking, though ultimately coming up short as a result of a poor defensive performance. They moved the ball almost at will against a stout New York defense that was heralded as 2009's stingiest unit.
The same drive and productivity will be needed this week if they want to keep up with the Patriots' quick-strike offense; possibly more. The Dolphins simply must beat the Patriots on Monday, or risk falling into a hole in the division that will be difficult to escape.
Assuming that the Jets will drop the Bills this Sunday, a loss would put the Fins two games behind New York in the running for the AFC East. Without a strong resurgence in the division, the Dolphins will have effectively forfeited the ability to control their own destiny, with the season not even a quarter of the way finished.
Perhaps as pressing as issues in the standings and stat columns, is the need to gain a moral victory. At present, I believe that most of the players' heads are in the right place, but they seem just a breath away from losing focus; something that would be accompanied with the consequence of the Dolphins' season falling by the wayside.
Morale among players and staff alike will be severely damaged, and rightfully so, if the Patriots manage to march away from Sun Life Stadium with a 'W' on Monday night.
As I stated previously: The Dolphins are faced with a must-win situation.
In order to achieve this imperative, Miami will need three things:
1.) A Return to Discipline
Focused, well-executed, mistake-free football is something that the Dolphins are capable of playing, and will need to play, in order to surmount any obstacles that may be presented in Week 4.
In Week 2 versus the Vikings, they were nearly perfect, committing just a single penalty. Special teams, in particular, will have to tighten the screws on kick coverage, as favorable field position, to Tom Brady, is like six points in the bank.
2.) Everyone Comes to Play
Focus and determination will be required of each and every player.
Vontae Davis and Jason Allen in the secondary, who were mere shadows against the Jets' subpar receiving corps, will be lit-up by Randy Moss and Wes Welker without pronounced efforts. Tom Brady is going to have to be pressured all night by Miami's front seven, as well.
As far as Henne's offense is concerned, more of what we saw last week should suffice. I would like to see more offensive urgency, but not if it comes at the expense of execution.
3.) Keep it Simple
This is directed mainly at the staff, particularly where playcalling is concerned.
There have been more than a few situations where Dan Henning has absolutely killed the momentum in a drive by bringing on the Wildcat between the 20-yard lines, or forfeited a down on a trick play that could have been spent running something more tried-and-true.
Mike Nolan also needs to figure out how he can call plays that aren't setting his guys up to get burned, as much as his guys need to keep their composure in order to prevent that very thing.
In all, last week's loss was a result of undisciplined, sloppy execution.
The responsibility to correct that falls to the players. After the bye week the schedule will get tougher before it gets any easier, so it comes down to the present.
The Dolphins still have a choice as to how the rest of the season plays out, and Week 4 just so happens to be the pivotal moment in which they must decide:
Tenacity, or ineptitude...Fulfillment, or disappointment...Victory, or defeat.