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65 posts from December 2008

December 14, 2008

Dolphins lead SF 14-6 into final quarter

OK, this is going to be a close one to the end.

The Dolphins have done nothing on offense in the second half while the 49ers have moved the ball well, but have been unable to put the ball in the end zone.

Miami's streak is at 11 consecutive quarters without allowing a TD.

Join me in the comments section for the live blog's climax.

Dolphins lead SF 14-3 to start third Q

It's been a good day for the Dolphins so far, no doubt about that.

They lead the San Francisco 49ers 14-3 to start the third quarter today. The Dolphins tight ends are playing HUGE today.

David Martin has two catches, including a 61-yard touchdown. Joey Haynos caught a 19 yard TD pass. And Anthony Fasano has one catch for 12 yards.

Quarterback Chad Pennington is having a solid day, completing 8 of 11 passes for 131 yards with two touchdowns.

Join me in the comments section for the continuation of the live blog.

Dolphins passing up a storm, lead 7-3 in 2nd Q

EThe Dolphins came out passing today and that's the reason they scored on a 61-yard TD pass from Chad Pennington to tight end David Martin.

Pennington is 6-for-6 after one quarter.

The Dolphins lead today's game 7-3 as we enter the second quarter.

Join me in the comments section for the live blog continuation.

Live blog of Dolphins versus San Fran. today

The Dolphins regular-season home finale, the last home game of the season until the home playoff game in January, begins this afternoon at 1 p.m.

The Dolphins are hoping Frisco running back Frank Gore is not playing today. I am told the likelihood of Gore playing is not very good.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, won't be as lucky with SF cornerback Nate Clements. He's playing despite a hand injury that forced him to miss last week's game versus the Jets. Clements, the former Buffalo CB, has eight zillion interceptions against the Dolphins.

We shall see how that works out. The live blog will begin at kickoff in the comments section at kickoff. Join me then. And come strong because I am seriously excited about this game.

December 12, 2008

Dolphins looking to maximize THIS season

In talking to fans on my radio show, I have come to understand that many are happy the Dolphins have gotten this far in 2008 and if they went no further, that's cool with them. No worries. The team that was 1-15 can finish 8-8 and that is still a great turnaround.

The logic is hard to argue against because even if the Dolphins inexplicably collapse the final three games of the season -- which I do not believe they will -- 8-8 is truly a darn good recovery from the pain of a season ago.

But Tony Sparano and his crew definitely are not looking at it that way. They have come this far and want to go further -- a lot further.  "At the end of this whole thing, we don't just want to be good this year," Sparano said Friday. "We want to be good a long time."

The Dolphins cannot be happy simply holding where they're at as if they were in some NFL blackjack tournament. This team isn't holding at 8 wins any more than gamblers sit on 16.

And the reason the Dolphins want to keep flipping cards to see if they're victories has to do with competitiveness, maybe a little greed, and the realization that nothing is promised them beyond this season.

"Coach Sparano was talking about that a couple of days ago," starting left guard Andy Alleman said Friday. "And it's very true because you can't just go and say, 'Hey we did well, next year we'll pick up where we left off.' You see year in and year out surprise teams, teams that were supposed to be good who don't do good.

"You have to make the most of your opportunity that's right in front of you."

Dolphins fans should know this very well. Those fans among you saying, "Even if the Dolphins finish 8-8 this year, we'll get them next year, we'll be even better next season," are not remembering your history.

Remember the 2005 season? The Dolphins won the final six games of the season and finished 9-7. It seemed like a great foundation for a playoff run the next year.

But even after making a splash by trading for a former Pro Bowl QB, even after being picked to win the Super Bowl by Sports Illustrated, the Dolphins regressed in 2006. They finished 6-10 in Nick Saban's second season.

Bill Parcells had better luck with the New York Jets going from 1-15 in 1996 under Rich Kotite, to 9-7 in 1997 under Parcells, to 12-4 in '98. But the Jets came back to the pack after that.

When Parcells took over a Dallas team that went 5-11 in 2002, he again enjoyed instant success with a 10-6 record in 2003. But 2004 and beyond were difficult uphill climbs.

No, success in the future is not guaranteed, so hope for and wish for and pray for as much success as the Dolphins can possibly have now.

Speaking of that future, the Dolphins will be playing at Jacksonville, at Tennessee, at Atlanta, and at Carolina next season. They will host Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay.

The Dolphins will also host AFC North team and visit the AFC West team that finish where the Dolphins finish. So if the Dolphins finish first they play the first-place finishers of those divisions, if Miami finishes second they play the second-place teams in those divisions and so on.

Obviously Miami will also play its home-and-home series against the Buffalo, the New York Jets and the cheater New England Patriots.

OK, tell the truth: Would you still be content with an 8-8 turnaround? We all want better, I understand that don't take the conversation there. But would 8-8 be OK with you realizing that the Dolphins are 8-5, with a playoff chance ahead of them now, and no guarantees for 2009?

An open letter to Ted Ginn Jr.

Dear Ted Ginn Jr.,

Happy Holidays! You should have an enormous smile on your face practically every moment of your life this season of cheer because you are young, you are rich, you are gifted, and you are truly, truly blessed to play a game for a living.

The game, it has probably occurred to you, is violent. Pain is part of the game. Contact is part of the game.

So why do you sometimes seem so averse to that contact?

On several occasions this season you have been seen getting down, prematurely it could be argued, before a group of tacklers bring you down in the open field. On several occasions this season you have been seen seeking the nearest sideline to end a play before you are touched. On one forgettable occasion you passed up the chance to gain a first down in an important game and simply got out of bounds for no apparent reason other than to avoid getting hit.

Last Sunday you decided to let a catchable pass whiz past rather than try to catch it and expose yourself to a hit.

There is sometimes nothing wrong with getting out of bounds. The two-minute drill is a wonderful time to employ that strategy. There is sometimes nothing wrong with saving the body from an ornery safety who wishes to implant a helmet in your spleen.

But every time is not the right time.

Yards are valuable in football. You play on offense to gain yardage. Getting out of bounds or simply getting down before you've maximized your yardage isn't always good. It is, in fact, considered bad. And it comes with the added disadvantage of looking downright untidy. It makes you seem unwilling to give all of yourself. It makes you seem, well, afraid.

And it doesn't maximize your contribution on a given play.

Please don't take this the wrong way. No one is questioning your desire or manhood. You have made significant and impressive strides in Year Two of your career. You are blessed with more speed than some cars on Miami's streets. You have reliable hands. And your route-running is becoming more refined.

So you've come a long way.

But it is now December and your team is in a playoff race. So consider your approach. As one of the guys responsible for helping your team score, for helping your team advance the football, take this letter as a polite suggestion to advance the ball as much as you can even if it means taking a hit now and then. It might hurt a bit at times but it might also lead to great things. Who knows, what if you break a tackle and score?

It's possible because we must agree this Dolphins season has already proven that anything can happen.

All the best,


December 11, 2008

Several Dolphins alive as Pro Bowl vote ends

The fan portion of the Pro Bowl voting ended Thursday and three Miami Dolphins players won their categories and could now be considered the favorites to start in the 2009 Pro Bowl. Players and coaches around the NFL will cast their ballots this week to finish the voting process.

The Pro Bowl results will be announced on NFL Network on Tuesday.

For the Dolphins, left tackle Jake Long, outside linebacker Joey Porter and kicker Dan Carpenter finished the fan voting portion tops at their positions.

Here is a position by position look where Miami players figured with the number of votes in (parenthesis). If the position is not addressed, the Dolphins had no player figure in the top five of the voting.

RB: 1. Tennessee's Chris Johnson (534,170) 2. Ronnie Brown (481,293) 3. San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson (428,381).

LT: 1. Jake Long (207,114) 2. NYJ D'Brickashaw Ferguson (200,304) 3. New England's Matt Light (160,819).

OLB: 1. Joey Porter (328,619) 2. Pittsburgh's James Harrison (282,162) 3. Tennessee's Keith Bulluck (236,398).

K: 1. Dan Carpenter (171,312) 2. Tennessee's Rob Bironas (145,413).

SS: 1. Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu (393,211) 2. Indy's Bob Sanders (109,132) 3. Tennessee's Chris Hope (76,333) 4. Yeremiah Bell (36,021).

Spec. Teams: 1. Baltimore's Brendon Ayanbadejo (160,423) 2. Pittsburgh's Anthony Madison (110,891) 3. Patrick Cobbs (85,821).

Again, just because a Miami player is leading the voting doesn't mean he'll start in the Pro Bowl. And just because he trails doesn't mean he won't. The coach and player voting can obviously tip the scales another direction.

But so far, I think the fans have done a pretty fair job.

And if you'll notice, two Miami players that figure prominently are Long and Carpenter -- both rookies.

Sparano among the coaches of the year

I think we can all agree it was improbable and surprising that the Miami Dolphins would follow a 1-15 season with the current 8-5 record that includes a chance to earn a playoff spot and win the AFC East.

That climb from worst to possibly first is almost always accompanied with a Coach of the Year award for the team's leader. And so Tony Sparano deserves to be in the conversation for COY in 2008.

But he's obviously not alone and obviously has not sealed the deal.

The Baltimore Ravens have a coach in John Harbaugh who, like Sparano, is in his rookie season. The Ravens have a better record than the Dolphins and beat the Dolphins this year. If you believe the Ravens had a better team than Miami to begin with, and so that should help Sparano's cause, you should remember the Dolphins beat Baltimore last year.

Worst to first is a goal the Atlanta Falcons have been making a reach for this season as well. After a season that was arguably more disastrous than Miami's -- remember the QB went to jail, the coach went AWOL during the season, and Bill Parcells turned them down before coming to Miami -- the Falcons have recovered very well, thank you.

Mike Smith has his team vying for a playoff spot and still in the hunt for the NFC South title with an 8-5 record.

The folks out in Arizona would argue Ken Whisenhunt deserves consideration after the Cardinals won their first division title since the move from St. Louis. The folks in Tennessee would argue Jeff Fisher has done a pretty good job putting his team in elite status with a 12-1 record with what is essentially their backup quarterback.

Tom Coughlin is likely to get some votes because the Giants have dominated most of this season despite not having Michael Strahan or Osi Umenyiora and juggling the Plaxico Burress controversy.

"I think there are a lot of good coaches out there,"Sparano said. "And I'm not trying to take the easy way out, but how can you argue with what coach Fisher has done down there. How can you argue with what Tom Coughlin has done? What coach Smith has done right now in Atlanta as the new coach ... any of these people. These teams are playing really well right now. There have been doing a lot of good coaching jobs out there."

None of that resonates among Miami players, of course. The Dolphins love their coach and think he deserves the award because he is special. And what makes him so?

"Number one, his passion," quarterback Chad Pennington said. "His passions has been the same from when I met him the night of the Tampa Bay preseason game until now. It hasn't changed, it hasn't wavered. The season is so grueling sometimes you can see it in a coach, the season wearing on him a little. This guy hasn't moved. He hasn't changed one bit."

So who should win the award? And please be fair, Dolphins fans.

December 10, 2008

Dolphins coaches smart, others not so much

NFL coaches are usually really bright people that spend a lot of time trying to keep their jobs by making other coaches look bad.

Dolphins defensive coaches have done a great job of doing that, particularly the last couple of weeks, because Miami's defense has made a significant and impressive turnaround in that 14-day span.

The Miami defense, you'll remember, yielded a season-high 48 points, along with a season-high 408 passing yards, along with a season-high 530 total yards against the New England Patriots three weeks ago.

The Patriots exposed that defense, particularly the secondary, by utilizing four- and five-receiver sets and letting QB Matt Cassel simply swing away, as Mel Gibson urged in Signs. That game was troubling to me because it seemed as if the Patriots had written a script for attacking Miami's defense successfully.

I feared the St. Louis Rams or Buffalo Bills -- two offenses badly in search of a spark -- might copy New England's approach to see if the Dolphins could stop it. But, interestingly, neither the Rams nor Bills tried the strategy.

Not surprisingly, the Dolphins went from allowing 408 passing yards to 149 passing yards against St. Louis and 79 passing yards against Buffalo. As a result, the Dolphins are on an eight-quarter streak of not allowing a touchdown.

Great for the Dolphins. And somewhat lucky.

The Dolphins, by the way, expected teams to copy New England's approach. That tells you their defensive coaches saw a problem and tried to address it, despite the fact the solution didn't turn out to be necessary in the contests following New England.

"I think we made some changes, no question about it," coach Tony Sparano said today. "But I would say the way opponents have attacked us of late has not been similar to the way the Patriots have done. But we have made some changes and teams have tried to throw the ball on us and we've done a little bit better job.

"We've done different things from a coverage standpoint, we've done some different things from a rush standpoint and I think that's helped us a little bit."

Following the New England game, the Dolphins started using linebacker Charlie Anderson in passing situations as a way of getting more pressure from the defensive front. The team also changed the roles of the nickel back (protecting him with more zone coverage) as well as changing personnel.

Jason Allen, who struggled so much against the Patriots as the third corner, yielded that spot to Joey Thomas against St. Louis and Nathan Jones against Buffalo. This despite the fact Sparano said Allen could play the position despite a fractured hand.

The Dolphins also shifted Will Allen from the slot position in nickel situations to the corner.

So the Dolphins think they've addressed the issues that came to light against the Pats. But they also are quite happy, thanks very much, that to date no one has tried to duplicate the same strategy against them.

Whether San Francisco, Kansas City or the New York Jets try in the coming weeks what New England used three weeks ago remains to be seen. I guess that will determine, in part, how bright they are.

On Joey, oh nuts -- stuff about 49ers game

I was going to do this blog entry on Joey Porter's impassioned defense of Plaxico Burress for having a gun go off in his pants at a club a couple of weeks ago. And then after reading the story and watching him -- full interview will be played at 10 a.m. Wednesday on the Jets Television Network -- I got bored with the idea of Porter defending another guy charged with a crime.

So you do your own work. Go here if you want to see what Porter says. Go here if you want to watch.

Enough already. I'm over the never ending Porter editorials on all things NFL. I just want the guy to play well.

On to more important matters: You will no doubt hear from several Dolphins players and coach Tony Sparano this week that despite the fact the San Francisco 49ers have a 5-8 record, they really are not the team their record says they are, as Bill Parcells would say.

Well, the truth is the 49ers have found their mojo in recent weeks and some factoids about them bear witness to that.

For example: The 49ers have 55 plays of 20-plus yards this season. That is the second-most in the NFC.

San Francisco's little-known QB Shaun Hill is actually putting together a pretty good second half of the season. He has posted a QB rating of 95 or better in seven of his nine career starts including the last four games in a row. He also has a 5-2 record as a starter.

Receiver Isaac Bruce, a South Florida prep product, is coming home this week and he's bringing with him a pretty decent season. He has 45 catches for 695 yards this season, which is a surprisingly high 15.4 yard per catch average considering Bruce is 36 years old and playing in his 15th season.

Cornerback Nate Clements missed last week's game and the Dolphins should hope he doesn't play this week, either. The former Buffalo player has been something of a Dolphins-killer with 9 career interceptions against Miami.

Clements broke his thumb two weeks ago and had a pin inserted in the finger. He was hoping to play with a cast against New York, but was inactive for the game. I'll update you this week on his status.

The 49ers defense matches up quite well against Miami in the red zone. San Francisco ranks third in the NFC in opponents' red zone percentage. The 49ers have allowed 21 TDs in 47 red zone possessions this season -- a 44.7 percentage.

That combined with the fact players have taken quite a liking to interim coach Mike Singletary and are playing hard for him so he can retain the job -- and they can stay employed for 2009 -- and you have a motivated, eager opponent.

So it should be a tough game -- regardless of San Francisco's record.

December 09, 2008

Underdog Dolphins now look like the favorites

There was a time the Dolphins were a quaint little story about a team that turned a 1-15 disaster into a feel-good rebound. That improbable team insisted it had a faint and distant hope of making the playoffs and, frankly, not too many folks paid attention for a while.

Well, to heck with that junk.

We've graduated, ladies and gentlemen.

It says right here the Dolphins are not only the best team in the AFC East right now, they should win the division because they are getting better while everyone else is barely surviving the last couple of weeks.

I grant you the Dolphins cannot be confused with last season's Patriots or this season's Giants or Titans. They're not even be the equal to this season's Steelers. But the struggling Pats? The collapsing Jets?

The Dolphins are today better.

Think about this: Miami's defense is working on an eight-quarter string of not allowing a TD. The pass rush was the best it has been in weeks against Buffalo Sunday. The secondary has been solid in six of the past seven games (with the exception of the New England game). The special teams is improving to the point I don't get palpitations every time the Dolphins have to cover a kickoff or punt. And the offense, for all it's patchwork substituting on the offensive line and need for upgrading at receiver, simply does not make any mistakes.

The Dolphins lost go-to receiver Greg Camarillo and found a new go-to receiver in Davone Bess. Chad Pennington is playing better than Brett Favre. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are healthy and the schedule seems favorable the final three weeks.

The Dolphins should win the AFC East. They should be the favorites.

One cannot say that in a vacuum, of course, so let us take an overview of the Pats and Jets for the sake of comparison.

New York is a mess right now. It has lost two consecutive games and done so in hideous fashion.

Start with the New York offense: Favre is coming off a game in which he was outplayed by some dude named Shaun Hill of San Francisco. It probably has something to do with the fact Jets receivers have apparently quit on the season.

On Sunday, Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery combined for two catches. Two catches! Last I looked the 49ers have a terrible secondary and they were without injured cornerback Nate Clements, who is their best player back there. The NYJ running game is good, but the coaching staff seems to be abandoning it way too early and way too often for it to matter. Good stuff!

New York's defense? The anchor of that unit is NT Kris Jenkins and after playing great in September and October, the man the size of a bear has apparently gone into winter hibernation. The stats credited him with more penalties (two) than tackles (one) against S.F.

The Jets pass-rush is a mirage with Calvin Pace, who the Dolphins chased in free agency, becoming something of a ghost of late. Rookie first-round pick Vernon Gholston, meanwhile, has been a bust. Yeah, I said it. I predicted it in the preseason and it is happening, Jets fans.

And with little to no QB pressure, is it any surprise the Jets have yielded an average of over 300 yards passing the last four games?

There's something stinky in Gotham and it has nothing to do with the late garbage pickups. The Jets are reeling, friends.

Then there is New England. Have I ever made the point to you that they cheated all those years? OK, never mind.

The Patriots beat Seattle, 24-21, in Seattle on Sunday and there is nothing wrong with that because the Seahawks are tougher than folks acknowlege. I predict they will beat the Jets Dec. 21st. You heard it here first. I think that team will lay its soul on the line in Mike Holmgren's final home game and the coach knows a thing or two about Favre, so watch for that upset.

Anyway, back to the Patriots: They are still the AFC's best team if it weren't for injuries. No one in the division can compete with Tom Brady and Adalius Thomas and Rodney Harrison and Laurence Maroney and the rest. But all those guys aren't playing any longer this year.

Instead the Patriots are playing with an inconsistent Matt Cassel, and recently signed throwbacks Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin. Oh, and speaking of injuries, Tedy Bruschi injured a knee Sunday. The Boston Herald is reporting Tuesday that Bruschi will be out 3-4 weeks. Ouch.

Anyway, the Patriots are spending the week on the west coast because they play at Oakland Sunday. They should win that one, but I look forward to seeing how they handle the Arizona Cardinals the following week.

New England started a rookie corner in place of Deltha O'Neal on Sunday because coaches aren't happy with Deltha. (I don't know how they feel about American or Southwest.) Anyway, if the change to rookie Jonathan Wilhite stands through that Arizona game, watch for the track marks on that rookie left by Larry Fitzgerald and Co.

The key to New England's defense is that first-round-pick studded line. Except that Ty Warren has been injured lately and Vince Wilfork suffered a shoulder injury against Seattle. Against a Seattle offensive line starting four backups, the Patriots could muster very little QB pressure. And if Wilfork's injury is serious, the Pats are through as a viable playoff defense.

New England's running game, never a strength it seems, is merely plodding along now. There was reportedly a LaMont Jordan sighting against Seattle, but he fumbled one of his four carries -- not the way to earn more carries. Obviously, the New England receivers are the strength of that team and that remains unquestionable after Wes Welker had 12 catches Sunday. Randy Moss, I am told, is also pretty good. So the Pats can flat out throw the football when Cassel is right.

But Cassel is inconsistent. It said so four paragraphs back so it must be true. Just look at his game logs here and you'll understand what I mean. He's up, he's down, he's up, he's down again.

It's not a pretty picture is it?

Now, please understand. I am having a little fun. And I am spinning a bit. But none of what I've just written is untrue. The Jets are indeed struggling and the Pats are just treading water. The Dolphins, winners of six of seven games, don't remind of the Perfect Season team, either. They have their own issues, but those seem minor compared to inconsistency at QB, injuries galore, and poor December showings.

So in this improbable season, it is the Miami Dolphins, the gang that couldn't shoot straight a year ago, that has the AFC title in its sights. They look like the best team in the AFC East today.

December 08, 2008

Random thoughts following Buffalo victory

STILL IN SNOWBOUND TORONTO -- I just wanted to share you some thoughts about the Dolphins that have popped into to brain in the hours following Sunday's 16-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

Today I wrote about how the Dolphins continue to prove doubters wrong with each passing game. Some players on the team take great satisfaction in that there are still some holdouts that don't trust Miami will continue to compete for first in the AFC East after finishing worst in the AFC East last year. They point to media that is critical -- did you hear the announcers on Sunday's telecast? They point to fans who have been late to jumping on the bandwagon. They point to fans who jumped on and then off after the New England loss and are only now getting back on. I think its time we believe these Dolphins, however imperfect, are not going to simply collapse the final three weeks of the season.

In fact, Tony Sparano earlier this season promised his team would be playing better late in the season. And they are.


The playoff picture in the AFC is still muddled but it seems likely the AFC East will only have one representative in the postseason, that being the division winner. So the Dolphins will likely have to win out to get in the playoffs. It's in their hands, but it is a tough assignment.

The interesting thing is if Miami wins out and finishes 11-5, they not only will make the playoffs, they will be seeded as high as No. 3 in the playoffs, which would give them at least one and possibly more home field playoff games. Amazing.


It was easy to rave about the defense's performance against the Bills. They didn't give a TD and left the Bills such as Lee Evans saying things like, "We didn't have a clue how to score."

But did you notice Chad Pennington's second half performance?

He was 11 of 11 for 75 yards without taking a sack.


The Dolphins coaching staff is trying to maximize every ounce of talent from every player on the roster.

Nathan Jones got lots of playing in the nickel and dime defense for the first time this year. Backup linebackers Charlie Anderson and Reggie Torbor provided good pressure on the quarterback and combined for 1.5 sacks. And on offense, Brandon Frye got work at left guard even though he's a left tackle by trade.

The Dolphins had only one active player Sunday who did not play: Chad Henne.

That's maximizing!


I'll file again later today when I land so check back.

December 07, 2008

Dolphins beat Bills 16-3 to make AFC East mark

TORONTO -- The Dolphins kept their playoff hopes very much alive today while handing the Bills a possible season-killing defeat at the Rogers Centre today.

YOUR Miami Dolphins are now 8-5 and have swept an AFC East foe. The Dolphins find themselves in a tie for first place in the AFC East now.

The Jets lost to San Francisco today, 24-14. The Patriots struggled before beating Seattle, 24-21. So all three teams are 8-5 with three games to play this season.

It was a huge day for the defense. Buffalo managed only 163 total net yards and converted only one of 10 third down plays. It was a huge day for Dan Carpenter who connected on three field goals.

It was a huge day to be a Dolphins fan. Discuss.

Dolphins holding on, 13-3, going to final quarter

TORONTO -- The Dolphins are 15 minutes from sweeping the Buffalo Bills.

They lead the Bills 13-3 after a scoreless third quarter.

Join me in the comments section for the blow by blow.

Dolphins 7, Carpenter 6, Bills 3 to start 3rd Q

TORONTO -- The Dolphins are beating the Bills. Dan Carpenter, who has kicked two field goals, is also beating the Bills.

The Dolphins have a 13-3 advantage over the Bills as the Dolphins are playing efficiently on offense. Chad Pennington has completed 12 of 18 passes for 128 yards with a TD pass of 24 yards to Anthony Fasano.

Carpenter has field goals of 50 yards, a career long, and 35 yards.

The Bills? JP Losman has struggled, throwing wide, high and all sorts of places the ball should not travel. He is 3 of 10 for 32 yards.

Anyway, let's get to the comments section and see if this can continue in the second half. See you there.

Dolphins lead Bills 7-3 going to 2nd quarter

TORONTO -- The Dolphins have the advantage in that the weather is perfect (indoors) and the crowd is at least 40 percent in their favor.

They also have 7-3 lead, which is the biggest advantage of all.

They are seemingly following a successful script in that they had a 7-3 advantage after one period in the first meeting. They won that game.

Join me in the comments section and we'll see what happens today.

International live blog of Dolphins-Bills today

TORONTO -- Normally I'd start by telling you that it is very cold (25 degree F.) Normally I would make the point that it is very windy and that could affect today's passing game for both teams. But this game is in a dome whose roof is locked up tight, on a neutral field against a team that has lost five of six games.

So much for home field advantage.

Downtown Toronto is bursting at the seams with folks wearing Bills gear today. But there are a bunch of Dolphins jerseys everywhere also. So good job by Miami fans.

I believe the Bills organization deserves to lose today. The Bills sold eight home games over a 10-year span to Toronto for approximately $78 million. In doing so, they sold their weather advantage and lost the passion of their hometown Buffalo fans for this game.

Losing should be their reward.

But there is little doubt the Bills are the more desperate team today. They lose today, they're playoff chances are pretty much done. The Dolphins need the win also, but I don't see the same desperation there.

So we'll see what happens. Join me in the comments section at today's 4 p.m. kickoff and we'll check it out together.

December 05, 2008

Jason Allen late add to injury report [Updated]

The Dolphins this evening added cornerback Jason Allen to the injury report, but before you go raising those eyebrows, it is not what you think.

The Dolphins added him this evening as having practiced full but as being probable for the game. This comes after Allen practiced full the entire week (Wednesday and Thursday) and did not appear on the injury report despite having a broken hand.

So do we have a mystery? Absolutely.

But, again, it's not what you think.

While most folks would automatically default to thoughts of the Dolphins trying to manipulate the injury report in order to mask an injury, the truth is they could be manipulating the injury report to mask their displeasure with Allen.

Allen, you see, has slim chances of playing on defense Sunday, according to a couple of people I have spoken with that don't like him too much. But it has nothing to do with injury. The injury is not an issue for him. It has to do with his ability.

Two team sources have told me that the Dolphins believe Allen isn't very good, despite the common perception that he has done quite well in the time he's had playing the third cornerback spot in nickel and dime packages.

Furthermore, believe it or not, the sources tell me some coaches think Joey Thomas played better last week against the St. Louis Rams than Allen played the week before against New England. And so, despite the fact the team believes Allen can play and the injury isn't an issue, the decision might be made to bench him from the nickel and dime package because of his ability. A final decision will be made Sunday afternoon before the game.

Thomas and Allen shared practice snaps in the nickel and dime package this week.

Early Friday Dolphins coach Tony Sparano was purposefully vague about Allen after saying all week long that he was fine and healthy. When Sparano was asked if Allen would play he answered: "I’m not going to tell you that. You’ll see at the game. The best players on my team will play on Sunday.”

My media collegues, obviously suspecting the injury was the issue, then asked if Allen shouldn't be on the injury report based on the fact his hand is still wrapped and in a cast.

“That doesn’t have anything to do with it for me," Sparano said. "My evaluation is based on who’s playing and who’s not playing and who’s playing the best. The best players on my team will play on Sunday.”

Given that I just explained to you Sparano's decision is one of quality and not one of injury, you should get his veiled reference to "the best players," playing. But most people haven't quite pieced that together yet.

They still think the Allen situation is an effort by the team to hide an injury.

Aware that perception could become reality, the Dolphins called media this evening to add Allen to the injury report after their initial Friday injury report did not, in fact, include him. The idea by the team is that it won't look quite so suspicious on Sunday when/if Allen doesn't play on defense while Thomas does.

But let me repeat, this is not about the injury. It is about what the Dolphins think of Allen's ability outright. Obviously, Sparano could have cleared all this up Friday by simply saying, "We think Joey Thomas is better than Jason Allen right now."

But the coach would never be so blunt because he never wants to uncover one of his players publicly. Sparano always says things like, "Ernest Wilford is improving," even while Wilford goes week after week after week not being good enough to make the active roster on Sundays.

The point here is this: You should not be worried that the Dolphins are trying to hide or cover up injuries -- at least not in this case. They are not the New England Patriots in that regard.

You should be concerned that the player the team selected with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2006 draft is fighting not to be passed by Joey Thomas, a guy that wasn't on the active roster the first six weeks of the season and wasn't on any NFL regular-season roster in 2006 and 2007.


Clearing out the Bills week notebook

We started the 2008 season not knowing what to expect from the Miami Dolphins but thinking that if all else failed, they would be a running team, no doubt about it.

You know, the Dolphins running game is loaded with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown and fine run-blockers like Jake Long and Justin Smiley and Vernon Carey. But something happened on the way to Miami's Jim Brown moment.

Chad Pennington has turned in a stellar year passing the football.

Pennington enters Sunday's game against the Toronto Bills with 2,881 passing yards. He needs only 119 more yards to reach 3,000 yards and that is extremely significant to the Dolphins because they haven't had a 3,000-yard passer since Jay Fiedler did it in 2001. [The under-appreciated Fiedler threw for 3,290 yards that season.]

The six seasons between 2002 and 2007 that Miami could not find a 3,000-yard passer were tough times and some proof of that is in that the drought is the second-longest in the NFL entering this year. Said another way, only one team has gone longer without a 3,000-yard passer and that is the Atlanta Falcons who have been in the 3,000-yard passer desert for nine years.

It seems the Dolphins will end their drought, even this weekend perhaps. The Falcons, behind rookie sensation Matt Ryan, are also on pace to have a 3,000-yard passer. Ryan has 2,625 passing yards so far this season.


Everyone should remember the breakout day Ted Ginn Jr. had against the Bills in their first meeting Oct. 26, right?

That performance came against usually reliable Toronto cornerback Terrence McGee, who was playing his first game in a couple of weeks after suffering a knee injury. McGee was wearing a brace and probably shouldn't have been on the field that day but he gutted it out because the the Bills had a CB shortage.

Well, McGee was embarrassed by his showing and has improved vastly since. This story in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (It can't decide if it is a Democrat or Chronicle so it's both) outlines how McGee didn't come close to defending a pass against Miami in the first meeting but has nine passes defensed in the last six games.

It also speaks of how the Bills are moving McGee around the secondary now instead of fixing him strictly at left cornerback. The idea is to put McGee on the other team's best receiver.

That suggests it'll be Ginn vs. McGee all day Sunday.

Any of you out there think Ginn can equal the seven catches for 175 yards he had in October? I don't.


I have this week reported (faithfully) about the Jason Allen injury situation. Go here and scroll down a bit if you don't believe me. Well, it was interesting he didn't play last week after practicing full every day and being listed as probable on the injury report.

Allen, who has a broken hand, practiced full every day this week as well. He still has that broken hand but he has not been on the injury report at all this week. Can't wait for today's injury report to come out because Allen said earlier this week the hand still makes it difficult for him to tackle, which is kinda sorta important for a cornerback.

But defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni tells another story.

Asked if he has concerns about Allen playing with a broken hand, Pasqualoni said, "No concerns. Jason is practicing good, really."

Asked if he thinks Allen is limited in his ability to tackle or catch interceptions with that broken hand, Pasqualoni said, "He's practiced well, it doesn't appear it. He's doing good."

That pretty much tells you two things: Allen will play against the Bills if the injury is the coaching staff's only worry. But, there is another significant worry. The coaching staff must be convinced Allen is better than Joey Thomas. And there are differences of opinion on that. There has been talk among the Miami coaching staff that Thomas is better than Allen and should play while Allen sits.

That will be decided perhaps as late as the morning of the game.

If Allen is active I wouldn't be surprised if he struggles based on two factors: He was exposed by the Patriots based on his talent, and he had a broken hand last week, had a broken hand this week, and will probably still have a broken hand on Sunday.

[UPDATE: Allen is not on the injury report at all, confirming what I've been saying about him playing based on injury.  The talent question remains.  For the Bills, Trent Edwards is doubtful. He will not play barring something bizarre. JP Losman will start.]


Finally, it has started out as a pretty bad weekend for the Bills already. Bills Ring of Honor inductee O.J. Simpson was just sentenced to 18 years prison hours ago.

The story describes the 61-year-old Simpson as "apologetic."

Tell that to Goldman and Brown families, O.J.

An appeal is promised.

December 04, 2008

Miami Dolphins trying to salvage Paul Soliai

Defensive lineman Paul Soliai is, by the account of teammates and coaches, a good-hearted kid. But as a professional football player he's probably too much of a kid.

That is one reason former Utah coach Urban Meyer, a disciple of discipline, didn't like Soliai too much. That is one reason former Miami coach Cam Cameron also didn't like Soliai a whole lot and made him inactive half of 2007.

That is one reason Soliai has been suspended twice this season by the Dolphins.

Soliai is expected back in the Dolphins lineup Sunday and that's important because the Buffalo Bills are a team that wants to run downhill at Miami. But Soliai's return to the lineup, barring another late-week mistake, is testament not so much to Soliai getting his act together but to the work of teammates and willingness of coaches to be patient with the second-year player.

"I'm pretty patient with guys I think have a pretty good heart," Coach Tony Sparano said today when I asked how deep his patience for Soliai runs. "I think this guy has a pretty good heart, I really do. He wants to have success. I think down inside there, somewhere, there's a chance to have a pretty good player.

"That being said there's a point in time where enough and enough. I'll determine when that point in time comes but right now I'm trying to be patient. To his credit, Paul understands."

One reason Soliai understands is because teammates, particularly Jason Ferguson and Vonnie Holliday, are putting out maximum, almost superhero effort to keep him from wasting his Miami career.

"He has to mature off the field," Holliday said. "He has to grow up. He knows it. We've talked about it he and I. He has to grow up and take this opportunity seriously. And the great thing about it he has an organization and some coaches that are trying to work with him.

"I've seen Jason Ferguson take the time he's taken and the amount of energy he's put into helping that young guy and it's impressive. No doubt about it. It's impressive. Paul is one of those guys you have to like. He has that personality. Unfortunately people make bad decisions and find themselves in situations that they don't want to be in."

I do not know what Soliai did before the Baltimore game Oct. 19 to force Sparano to suspend him. I do not know what Soliai did before the St. Louis game last Sunday to force the coach to suspend him a second time. But I know that the Dolphins see some talent in this 6-4 and 355 dude that makes them reluctant to give up on him.

But the time is growing short for Soliai to get right. The time is now.

"Paul can play this game," Holliday said. "He's a big bodied, athletic guy who has to grow up. It's the like the little brother or the child you're working with and you want to see be successful. You put your time and energy into them and all of a sudden there's a setback. I don't love him any less or like him any less.

"But you tell him, 'Let's go man you have another chance but the window's closing. The window is definitely closing.' You never know when enough is enough or when the problem is too big of a problem. But right now he has an opportunity to do the right thing and I'm rooting for him."