One of the most surprising teams of the 2008 football season has been the Miami Dolphins, going from being the laughingstock of the NFL to a contender for the AFC East.
Although their emergence to the top of their division has surprised most people, it has not surprised T.J., and he gives 10 reasons why.
The guy wins where ever he goes. He has a proven game strategy that has lasted over 20 years already.
He made the New York Giants one of the best teams of the 80’s winning two SuperBowl’s. He turned the Patriots around and brought them to the SuperBowl. After that he took the Jets from 1-15 to the AFC Championship game.
Most recently, he took a Dallas Cowboys team that went 5-11 three years prior to the playoffs and turned them into one of the most promising teams these past couple of years.
He controls the ball, which is exactly what the Dolphins have been looking for since Dan Marino retired in 2000. Although Pennington has showed much success in throwing the ball, Miami is a running team. With Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, they would be stupid not to be.
Pennington’s job is to convert first downs and when he cannot, make sure they punt and give the defense the best possible chance to stop the opponent.
Pennington only threw six interceptions in 14 games, compared to 16 thrown in 2007 by John Beck, Trent Green and Cleo Lemon combined. He also gives a very young offense a veteran to turn to in tough situations.
Ted Ginn Jr. already has admitted Pennington's progress after the Oakland game when he replied to converting of a crucial 4th-and-7.
Ginn remarked on how he was nervous going to the huddle in his first 4th-and-7 situation of his career. It seemed like Chad’s 40th by the way he kept his composure in the huddle.
The signing of Joey Porter was horrible for the Dolphins last year—that is until he played his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Monday Night Football.
Then his mouth started flapping and he made Ben Roethlisberger’s night a living hell, accumulating eight total tackles and an interception. He was constantly after “Big Ben” or whomever was carrying the ball, as he attempted to will the Dolphins to their first win of the season, but they had to settle for a 3-0 loss.
He has taken that momentum into this season, racking up 17.5 sacks and backing up his mouth as he has returned to his old form.
Who hasn’t heard their mother tell them one million times that you need to have a positive attitude. In football, it's true.
By bringing in former Dallas Cowboys Anthony Fasano, Jason Ferguson, and Akin Ayodele and former Tennessee Titan Randy Starks, they brought a winning attitude to a team who needed it desperately.
Their mental attitude has benefited the team in two ways. Most importantly is the acquisition of successful players that have taught the younger guys like Jake Long and Ginn how to win football games.
The second is that the older guys are reminded of what it was like to show up and have a chance to win.
Last year Ronnie Brown was playing like Marshall Faulk for the first seven games of the season, posting over 600 yards rushing and just about 400 yards receiving. The “Wildcat” game against the Patriots was Brown’s average game last season. He would dominate the opposing team. Any shot the Dolphins had of winning more than one game was on the back of Brown—and they went down the drain when he tore his ACL against New England.
Ricky Williams has had one of the strangest careers of any NFL player in history, starting as a highly thought of prospect after winning the Heisman Trophy his last year at Texas. He was drafted high by New Orleans and lived up to expectations, putting up 1,000 + yard seasons in two of his first three years. He was then traded to the Dolphins, where he reached even greater levels, putting over 1,800 rushing yards in his first year and over 1,300 his second as a Fin.
Then after failing another drug test he retired just prior to the 2004 season. After a year off he returned for 2005, served a four-game suspension, and came back without missing a beat, rushing for over 700 yards in 12 games backing up Brown. Then the roller coaster ride continued and he failed another drug test and was suspended for a year, where he went up to Toronto and played in the Canadian Football League. He had a short return last year, tearing his shoulder after just six carries in his season debut against Pittsburgh last year.
Now, the two of them have returned and are performing at top levels, together combining for just about 1,500 rushing yards in 15 games and over 400 yards receiving. They have also found the end zone 15 times combined. Not too bad when you consider they have split playing time just about evenly.
Maybe some Cleveland Browns fans can help me—well, at least the few who are not too embarrassed to admit that. Hadnot is an average offensive lineman that can play a number of different positions on the line and overall not a horrible player; however, he is penalized like no one besides Flozell Adams of the Dallas Cowboys.
I cannot remember how many times I had to hear the referee say, “Holding No. 66 Offense” or “False Start No. 66 Offense” or any other penalty Hadnot has been caught doing during his Dolphin days. I am sure that a few times the referees said the wrong number or forgot the number and looked around and saw Hadnot, but the referees are better than Joey Porter and Mike Nolan give them credit for.
But now the Dolphins are one of the least penalized teams in the league and Hadnot is not on the team—coincidence? I am just saying.
Besides Brown, the Dolphins had three others who missed a significant portion of the season that were keys to the team last year. Trent Green was not the great quarterback the team thought he was, but he is still much better than Cleo Lemon, and it was clear that John Beck was not ready to play last season. Yeremiah Bell is the team's best defensive back, which isn’t saying all that much, but still Cameron Worrell and company would have looked a lot less embarrassed staying on special teams.
The biggest loss was clearly Zach Thomas—not only has he led the world in tackles since 1998, but not being able to recover made him a huge liability and allowed the Dolphins to politely show him the door.
This year they have almost no injuries. Sure, Greg Camarillo was the leading receiver before he went down in week 12 against the Patriots, but Pennington has spread the ball around so much all season long, and the emergence of Davone Bess has caused the team not to skip a beat. Guard Justin Smiley has caused the team to weaken a bit up front, but similar to the Camarillo injury, they have maneuvered around it and have continued winning.
Staying ridiculously healthy as the Dolphins have makes each game easier to prepare for when all the team has to do is prepare for the other team, instead of worrying about who is going to play where as well as the other team.
I really, really hate doing this, but it is true. If Tom Brady is healthy, the Dolphins would probably be limping towards the end of the season rather than rising like they are. Brady would have rallied the Pats back to win in week three, and the Dolphins would have been 0-3 and looking like a 1-15 team. Instead they beat a backup quarterback (Matt Cassel is not one anymore, though) and a limited offense and got the ball rolling
The AFC East had the pleasure of winning against—sorry, I mean playing against the AFC and NFC West. The Fins went 4-0 against the AFC West, which included a win in Denver and beating Kansas City in nine-degree weather. The Cardinals were the only team to beat the Dolphins in the NFC West, as the Dolphins were unfortunate enough to have to travel out to Arizona in week 2 instead of week 15 after the Cardinals gave up on the regular season like some other teams—cough, cough.
Sure, only two or three of those teams are going to finish over .500, and the ones that are are 9-7 or 8-8, but when you play bad teams you have to beat them. Just ask the Jets.
Throughout the history of all sports there have always been those games that no one can explain why a team wins, but they did. That has been the entire 2008 season for the Dolphins. Aside from Joey Porter’s 17.5 sacks, no one is doing phenomenal. I mean sure, Pennington has been very successful and the “WildCat” has shocked the NFL, but they are just a bunch of average to above average players, playing hard and surprising everybody on a weekly basis.
Also, every fan picks their team to win at some point. Whether it’s a joke or not is the only difference, but every Miami Dolphin fan or Atlanta Falcon fan will admit now, is that secretly we were all asking, why not us?