It didn’t end well for the Dolphins the first time they played the Jets. But if you think the New Yorkers can pick up Sunday where they left the Dolphins in September, then you must be among those believing Santa will arrive soon.
Yes, the Jets collected that 20-14 victory over Miami already. But that result may have very little bearing on Sunday’s game as the Dolphins try to win an AFC East division title.
That’s because the Dolphins started out this season as a shadow of the team they are now. A lot has changed in Miami as the Dolphins have traveled light years in four months.
“I think we have a lot of respect for the Jets,” Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano said. “But we weren’t playing our best at that time of the year and I think we’ve worked out a lot of our wrinkles. We’re going to have a great game plan put in. We’re all confident in that. And we’ll have a good week of preparation and go up there and play a big game.”
The Dolphins expect it will be a different game and consequently a better game.
The game the Dolphins played in that season-opening loss was not indicative of the type Miami has delivered lately.
Those Dolphins lost their first two games. Today’s Dolphins have won eight of their last nine games.
Those Dolphins suffered from miscommunication in the defensive backfield and yielded long pass plays as a result. The Jets scored their first touchdown against Miami on a 56-yard pass from Brett Favre to Jerricho Cotchery.
These Dolphins have stability in the defensive backfield brought about by the benching and eventual discarding of safety Chris Crocker, and the insertion of Renaldo Hill in the secondary. The Dolphins haven’t given up a scoring pass of over 50 yards since September 14, the game before Crocker was benched.
Those Dolphins could not win the turnover battle against New York. But these Dolphins are among the NFL’s most efficient teams at winning the turnover battle. The Dolphins are plus-14 in turnover differential -- tied with Tennessee as the NFL's best.
“I would say that probably, at that time, one of the things that’s tangible is the turnover ratio - us not turning it over and forcing turnovers,” coach Tony Sparano said. “I think another thing that has been pretty tangible is our ability not to give up the big play, although that didn’t happen [against Kansas City].
“In the first ballgame against the Jets we gave up a lot of big plays and it cost us. I also think our special teams have come a long way since then.”
Aside from the tangible changes the Dolphins have made, Sparano can also fill a digital recorder’s memory while reciting intangible ways today’s Dolphins are different from the ones that lost the season-opener.
“Obviously in the first Jets game when we played, we had no idea about a lot of things,” Sparano said. “Obviously, we were new at quarterback at the time. The chemistry and all those things weren’t where they are right now.
“Defensively, same kind of situation: New system, the chemistry, the communication weren’t where they are right now. But more importantly the resiliency is the thing that has come the furthest - this team’s will to want to win.”
In that long-ago loss to New York the Dolphins were still haunted by their 2007 season. But now those ghosts have been bound, and in the locker room, players who didn’t know how to win in 2007 believe they know exactly what happened in this year's first loss.
“Without taking anything away from the Jets, we felt like we lost that game," cornerback Andre' Goodman said. "They did what they had to do in terms of making the plays, the fluke play in the end zone. And the first play was a bonehead play on my part. So you take away a couple of plays in that game and we’re on top in that game. They did what they had to do and we made some bonehead plays.”
All this suggests Sunday will be a different day. Because the Dolphins are now a different team.