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Armando Salguero: Dolphins’ Season That Was About Seven-Game Strings Now All About Final Two

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If you were expecting anyone on the Miami Dolphins to apologize for dominating a tragically undermanned New Orleans Saints team Monday night then you’d be disappointed.

Because that didn’t happen.

And didn’t need to happen.

This, you see, is the NFL and winning is the point. The only point. A decade from now, indeed, a day from now, no sane person will diminish the Dolphins and their 20-3 victory for what they did against a team missing 22 players who had been relegated to the NFL Covid-19 reserve list.

The Saints were playing a fourth-string rookie quarterback and a seventh offensive tackle and some guys that weren’t even on the practice squad before last week. But that’s how it goes now, folks.

The game was still played and the better team on the field won.

The Dolphins delivered a total defensive whipping mixed with an admittedly inconsistent offensive showing. And, yes, it was an uneven outing. But afterward the feeling in the Miami locker room was nowhere near mixed.

It was full-on revelry.

“Emotions are high,” running back Philip Lindsay said during his postgame Zoom connection. “Everybody’s excited.”

The excitement, you should understand, was not just about what the Dolphins accomplished during this nationally telecast game. That was a destination.

The excitement was also about the journey.

This was, after all, Miami’s seventh consecutive victory which is a feat when one considers the same team strung together seven consecutive losses to start the year 1-7. But as the season is more marathon than sprint, the Dolphins find themselves close to a finish line that includes a playoff berth.

“To have a team that’s 1-7 and now we’ve won, how many have we won six straight? Seven straight? That’s hard to do in the NFL,” Lindsay said. “And honestly, I’ve always wondered how it would feel to be on a team that’s turned it around like this and it’s a great atmosphere. It’s a tight knit family here. And everybody grinds for each other. Everybody takes care of each other.”

Losing seven straight and then recovering with seven consecutive wins requires more than skill and hard work. It requires a mental toughness the Dolphins apparently possess.

“We didn’t grow weary,” defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said.

In becoming the first NFL team ever to win seven straight after losing seven straight, the Dolphins are today the No. 7 seed in the AFC playoff picture.

And, congratulations South Florida, because your football team hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2016, but this year seven teams get in the postseason.

“I think this team has stuck together, really, the entire year,” coach Brian Flores said. “I think obviously we dealt with a lot of adversity early in the year and I think it revealed a lot, I would say.

“It revealed the character of the guys in our locker room. It revealed that some people are with you and some people are on the fence. And I think our guys kept fighting and kept sticking together. I think they support each other, they work hard, give great effort. And when you do those things you put yourself in a position to get the results you’re looking for.”

Two things:

Flores was apparently referencing fence sitters not within the club. It would be weird, after all, if the 1-7 Dolphins had a bunch of naysayers working within their ranks and the team still managed the kind of rally it has.

But the rally is not complete. The rally cannot be over when there are two games to play and other teams coveting Miami’s seeding.

So the Dolphins have to finish strong with victories over Tennessee next Sunday and probably New England in the season-finale to guarantee themselves their playoff berth.

That finish, by the way, will define the 2021 Dolphins more than the seven straight wins or seven straight losses.

If the Dolphins finish strong their skid won’t matter, just as their streak won’t matter if they flop at the end.

So this Dolphins season that has been about seven consecutive losses and seven consecutive wins and being the seventh seed has become all about the two games ahead.

The final two games.

“These next two weeks are the most important games of the year,” nickel cornerback Nik Needham said.

Needham was a good spokesman for the Dolphins on Monday night because on the Saints’ third offensive play he returned an Ian Book interception for a touchdown. Book, making his first NFL start, said he’d never thrown a pick six on any level and Needham said he’d never managed one.

So on this night of firsts, it was fitting the Saints started and ended the game looking for their first successful conversion on 12 third-down attempts.

That was domination by the Miami defense both in coaching and execution.

“They got me,” Book admitted. “We thought they were going to come out and play a lot of man and they came out and played zone and it’s smart. They never seen me play and they wanted to test my arm and make me throw it in certain zones which is a smart tactic.

“Sometimes they were taking away some shorter routes we were trying to hit and I just have to move to the next level. There’s was definitely some of those I could have got.”

Book didn’t figure that out during the game. So things got worse. New Orleans had a dozen possessions and were limited to four plays or less on eight of those before turning the ball back to Miami.

“I’ve never been part of a game where we held a quarterback or an offense to 0 and 12,” Needham said. “I would say that’s somewhat impressive. I don’t know if there’s a better record or something like that but I’ve never been a part of anything like that.”

Needham said the Dolphins need to carry over their performance into the next game at Tennessee and that shows players are already looking ahead to that key game with playoff implications.

And Flores is right there with them.

“I think the game ahead is going to be as tough as any game we’re going to play,” Flores admitted. “I’ve already taken a little look at Tennessee. Obviously, I know [Titans coach] Mike [Vrabel]. A lot of respect for him.

“I know he’ll have his guys ready. We’ll enjoy tonight. Our guys played a hard-fought 60-minute game so we’ll enjoy this one and turn the page and get started on our next opponent.”

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

One Comment

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  1. I feel a lot better about Miami’s chances against NE at home than against Tenn on Sunday. But it could happen because the defense is very good. Miami’s offense is decent but the passing game is limited because of the OL. In most plays the pocket is gone 2 seconds after the ball is snapped,
    But it is nice to see them get back into contention.

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