The Miami Dolphins continued their hotly debated march toward 0-16, but it was not without at least trying to tilt against the windmills.
And that, as much as anything, may have earned coach Brian Flores some much-needed respect from his players. On Sunday, Flores went against the script the Dolphins have been living this season by trying to win. The fact the Dolphins fell to 0-5 with a 17-16 loss to previously winless Washington is just a footnote.
But the fact is most of the country had been mocking Flores every time he said that he was playing to win games. Flores is a nice enough man, so no one openly called him a liar. Rather, he was something of a rube in the not-so-grand plan the Dolphins developed to get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 Draft and, presumably, the rights to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagavailoa.
The bigger issue for Flores was whether he would ever have a chance to survive this process. One of the unspoken issues in the NFL is that players tune out coaches who they don’t believe can help them. Whether that’s fair or not, it’s reality.
Flores can flash all the Super Bowl rings he won during his time in New England. That only lasts so long when your team is winless.
Eventually, players stop listening. They think about ways to preserve their jobs by trying to make a play or do something that will “flash” for either the next coach of the team or will impress some other team. Sure, most of the players from this season will be gone by the time the team becomes good (if it becomes good).
Still, losing like this can linger. Some people, such as Jimmy Johnson, survive it.
Some, like Rod Marinelli or Hue Jackson, don’t. Even the excuse that the team is trying to rebuild is not enough to convince players to stay with the program when they don’t believe in the program.
But Sunday was a chance to Flores to prove he was doing something more than just picking up a check until the team is ready to get serious again. Down 17-3, Flores benched the ineffective Josh Rosen for veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
In the “Tank For Tua” playbook, going with Fitzpatrick and trying to win isn’t really a high priority. Flores did it and Fitzpatrick responded with a great quarter, rallying the Dolphins to two touchdowns and getting them within one point on a touchdown pass to Davante Parker with six seconds remaining.
From a strategic standpoint, the next move is debatable. Most people believe you play for the tie at home and hope for the best in overtime, assuming that being home is an advantage. But for the Dolphins, playing the odds sort of misses the point.
This is a terrible team with no real future. Just winning a game and avoiding football’s version of the scarlet letter of 0-16 will be a major accomplishment for this group.
So Flores went for it with a pass from Fitzpatrick to Kenyan Drake that fell incomplete. As play designs go this was questionable. Drake was running directly into the pass, speeding up the short throw as if he was trying to hit a fastball from 55 feet instead of 60.
Drake was also coming back into traffic in the middle of the field and probably wouldn’t have scored even if he caught it.
But that misses the point. Instead of laying down in a moment when the Dolphins had a chance and continuing the theory of tanking, Flores looked for a chance to win.
No longer can players on the Dolphins – and, more importantly, around the league – look at Flores and think, “This dude was OK with losing.”
That may not ultimately be enough for Flores to survive what he’s up against in going through this process.
But, it’s at least something.
Dolphins coach Flores already dealing with lots of 2020 changes
For almost every NFL team not named the 49ers and the Chiefs, the draft evaluation process is now well underway, and most all teams are represented now in Mobile, Alabama for this weekend’s Senior Bowl. That includes, the Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and his staff (some of them brand new), who are taking it all in.
And on Monday night, Flores met with the Dolphins assembled media and beat writers about the changes that have already taken place within his coaching staff and how it will shape this offseason.
First, Flores took the drastic action of firing first-year offensive coordinator, Chad O’Shea, whom he had brought with him from the Patriots this past season. Part of that decision was based on Miami’s poor play offensively, but a bigger part is the person that Flores could bring in to run his offense.
That’s former Cowboys and bills head coach and longtime NFL offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey.
As we wrote when these moves were made earlier this month, Gailey has a long-standing relationship with veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Gailey was his head coach in Buffalo and also his offensive coordinator with the Jets, photo above,. It also further signals the Fitzpatrick apparently will be heavily involved in the 2020 offensive plans.
Speaking to the media and with the quotes being relayed via Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post, Flores emphasized that Gailey’s in-game adjustments and his ability to teach is what appealed to hiring him,
“He does a really good job of adjustments in-game,” Flores said. “If you’re playing cover one, he’s got cover-one beaters, if you’re playing zone, he’s got zone-beaters. If you’re diamond front he’s got his diamond runs. He’s a good coach that way. I think he’s seen a lot of football.”
“I know he’s a great teacher,” Flores said. “Just in my conversations with several players and coaches that have spent time with him, and that’s obviously very important. The first thing I should have said is that.”
Flores also is dealing with having lost defensive coordinator, Patrick Graham, whom he allowed to take the same job with the New York Giants. Instead of going outside for his replacement hire, Flores instead promoted from in-house with defensive backs coach Josh Boyer getting the promotion and much more responsibility.
As for Boyer, Flores said Monday night from Mobile,
“He and I see things through the same lenses,” Flores said. “A lot of ways. He coached corners and I coached safeties and we spent a lot of time together. Defensive philosophies and fundamentals and techniques, the things we teach. We’re very much on the same page.”
Defense is obviously Flores’ specialty and Boyer is following his same path from when they were with the Pats. This, as Flores ascended from DB coach to defensive coordinator two seasons ago before getting the Dolphins job.
Miami will obviously have to remake their roster with numerous premium draft picks they acquired for this year and next year, plus, significant money under the salary cap for free agents.
And, all of that evaluation, including with Senior prospects practicing and playing this weekend, is now underway.
’85 Dolphins were part of dubious AFC playoff history
The Tennessee Titans are looking to make NFL playoff history and join four other teams as the only ones to ever win three straight road games and make a Super Bowl. That’s when they take on the Chiefs Sunday afternoon in Kansas City.
And, longtime Dolphins fans will remember that they were on the wrong end of one of those teams who pulled it off for the first time in NFL playoff history 34 years ago.
That’s when a Raymond Berry coached New England Patriots team behind Tony Eason at quarterback and an opportunistic defense stunned the seemingly invincible passing attack of second-year quarterback Dan Marino and Don Shula’s Dolphins in a shocking 31 – 14 upset at the Orange Bowl.
To set the scene, New England had already upset the New York Jets at the Meadowlands in the AFC Wildcard game and then, gone out to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and defeated the Raiders, who were the number one in AFC seed, 27 – 20.
The Dolphins, who were the AFC Champs the previous year behind Marino’s record-setting passing season of 1984, had struggled just to make the Championship Game a year later.
That’s because the Cleveland Browns actually led Miami the previous week 21 – 3 in the third quarter before Marino and the offense kicked it into gear for 21 unanswered points and a comeback 24 – 21 win.
However, on this day, they made simply too many mistakes and New England made them pay, including grinding the clock with over 40 minutes of possession to shorten the game.
Patriots ran for over 250 yards on the withering Dolphins defense and Miami had six turnovers in all including two critical Marino interceptions in the defeat.
New England surprisingly led 17 – 7 at the half, when Miami’s rookie kick returner and former Gator Lorenzo Hampton fumbled, while being tackled. A few plays later New England scored on a 4th and goal touchdown pass from Eason to Robert Weathers with a stunned Orange Bowl looking at a scoreboard that read 24 – 7, Pats.
Marino led the Dolphins down the field and looked like he was going to get them quickly in the end zone and right back in the game. However, he threw a critical bad pass that was picked off by Fred Marion at the New England goal line to keep the Dolphins off the board.
New England worked another four minutes off the clock before missing a few goal, but most of the damage had been done with most of the third period was erased with the Dolphins down by 17.
The Patriots Mosi Tatupu iced the game with a 1 yard touchdown midway through the final period and New England was on its way to a Super Bowl matchup with the Chicago Bears.
As you probably know by now, the ’85 Bears with their devastating “46 Defense,” Hall of Famer Walter Payton and brash quarterback Jim McMahon destroyed New England in the Super Bowl two weeks later.
Still, 1985 version the Patriots will always be remembered as a team that was able to pull off three straight wins away from home, including the shocker that ended Miami’s bid to capture the World Championship.
If you are wondering, the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, and Green Bay Packers have also all since done this “road trifecta” in the NFL Playoffs. However, in all three of their cases, they finished what the Patriots could not, by also winning the Super Bowl.
The most recent was the Packers and their 2011 postseason run that saw them defeat the Steelers to win the title.
So, on Sunday, it’s former Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Derrick Henry and the Tennessee defense’s turn to try to match what four others have done before them.
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