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65 posts from December 2008

December 31, 2008

Joey Porter discusses his late-season slump

Logic would dictate the Dolphins have to deal with Baltimore's much-hyped defense by playing well on offense. Duh.

It is also fair to expect Miami's less known, more obscure defense to step up. After all, how are the Ravens going to win if they don't score?

Well, in expecting the Miami defense to play well, one should expect their best and highest-paid player to play exceedingly well. That means the spotlight is on Joey Porter for Miami's D as surely as it shines on Ray Lewis and Ed Reed when Baltimore is on defense.

One problem: Joey Porter hasn't exactly been prominent in Miami's defensive success the past few weeks. Porter had only one tackle the past two games. And the man who finished second in the NFL with 17.5 sacks during the regular season collected zero sacks in those two game against Kansas City and New York at the end of the season.

Now, you've probably heard theories as to why Porter hasn't been nearly as effective at the end of the season as he was the rest of the time. But frankly none of those theories apply.

He's not injured.

He hasn't been double-teamed to any significant degree.

Porter just hasn't gotten to the quarterback. Starting-caliber offensive tackles have outplayed him. And against Kansas City he not only couldn't get to the QB, he also struggled holding the edge of the defense on run plays.

“They're not doing anything, I am getting the same looks," Porter said Wednesday. "I just have to win some of my battles when I have opportunities. They have been playing pretty good football. I just haven’t been getting home."

That doesn't mean Porter is concerned about his miniature slump

"It’s not anything that I am worried about, like I said before, no sacks, that’s all I am pretty much looked at, if I don’t get a sack, I am not playing good," he said. "I understand that, but they come in bunches. I could run off three or four easily and then a game I will be quiet then, ‘He’s not playing good anymore.’ I hate that it’s looked at like that. ‘If he doesn’t get sacks then he isn’t playing good.'

"But that’s just the way it is.”

Well, perhaps if Porter was collecting four or five tackles per game no one would say anything about the lack of sacks.

Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni on Thursday said dogded the question about whether Porter had seen different techniques from teams as he's been shut down of late. Pasqualoni did say last week, Porter came very close to sacking Brett Favre on several occassions but the New York quarterback simply got the ball off before taking a sack.

In other words, Favre didn't hold the ball and hold the ball and hold the ball as Shaun Hill and JP Losman did this year vs. Miami. But Pasqualoni believes Porter will get back on track.

"It's a combination of things," the coach said. "It runs hot and cold. Joey is working very very hard and those things will come around."

Happy New Year everyone ... The Dolphins will be working on Jan. 1, which means I'll be working on Jan. 1. So look for the updates throughout the day Thursday. 

Dolphins assistant Bowles a candidate in Detroit

Dolphins assistant head coach and secondary coach Todd Bowles is a candidate for the head coaching job with the Detroit Lions, the Miami Herald has confirmed.

The story, first reported by NFL.com, has legs. Although the Dolphins are declining comment, the interview is already scheduled for next week -- perhaps Tuesday or Wednesday if the Dolphins are out of the playoffs.

Bowles is in his ninth season as an NFL assistant and first with the Dolphins.

The Lions have already set up an interview with Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for this weekend. The fact Bowles has not been a coordinator will not hurt him as several coaches were hired recently -- Baltimore's John Harbaugh among them -- who were never offensive or defensive coordinators.

Aside from being a viable candidate, Bowles will help the Lions fulfill the requirements of the Rooney Rule which stipulates at least one minority candidate must be interviewed when head coach or general manager openings are available.

Fins' Martin, Starks not practicing full today

The Dolphins have begun their preparation for the Baltimore Ravens playoff game with a morning practice and I can tell tight end David Martin and defensive end Randy Starks are not working with the rest of the team.

Both players were off to the side as the rest of the team was practicing.


Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington is having a very good day today. He has been voted Comeback Player of the Year by the Associated Press.

Pennington threw 10 TDs and 9 INTs in 2007 and lost his starting job with the New York Jets. This year he threw 19 TDs and 7 INTs in leading Miami to the playoffs as the Dolphins starter. Pennington also won the award in 2006.

Pennington has also been named AFC Offensive player of the week for his game against the New York Jets. Pennington completed 22 of 30 passes for 200 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. His passer rating was 113.2 in Miami's most important game of the season.


Meanwhile, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who is from ... The U ... spoke to the Miami media today.

I asked Lewis to describe the Baltimore Ravens' No. 2 rated defense.

"Physical," Lewis said. "We play very physical and we have a lot of interchangeable pieces and that's the beauty of [defensive coordinator] Rex Ryan having the personality he does. There's a lot of flexibility in our defense. You can't pick out this or that. You really have to study to deal with it. So it's a physical defense, complex and flexible."

I asked Lewis if any part of that defense's success comes from playing angry.

"Always. Always," he responded. "That's the only way you can play defense. Anybody that tells you they don't play defense angry, they ain't playing defense."

The Baltimore defense was really the first team this season that stuffed Miami's wildcat package. The Ravens limited Miami to four yards on five rushes in the wildcat.


"The only thing is, really, when you slow down film and look at things, we play one way and that's every man to the football," Lewis said. "Whether [the Dolphins] were confusing [teams] or not, there were huge holes. We didn't give them those holes. They can confuse you but if we play our defense, we like to see how it comes out in the end."



Dolphins tight ends playing historically well

Dolphins tight end David Martin suffered a concussion during Sunday's victory over the New York Jets, according to one person close to the player. The team will monitor his status on a day-to-day basis this week.

That is important to note because as the Dolphins prepare for the coming playoff game with the Ravens, the Miamians pretty much need all hands on deck to compete with Batimore's defense. And the tight end position that consists of Anthony Fasano, Martin, and of late, Joey Haynos, is a key to Miami's success offensively.

It could even be argued the tight end spot is Miami's second-most productive position on offense, depending on what game we're discussing. That is no misprint. On any given Sunday this year, Miami's tight ends have been as productive, and sometimes more productive, than the running backs.

(In case you are wondering, the most productive position on Miami's offense this year undoubtedly was the quarterback spot.)

But I digress.

Miami tight ends contributed 67 receptions for 967 yards and 11 touchdowns during the regular season. That combined total is not equal to the otherworldly numbers Tony Gonzalez put up this year -- 96 receptions for 1,158 yards. But the stats are in the same orbit with those of Jason Witten or Antonio Gates.

Granted, the Dolphins often line up with double-tights, as they say. And they don't have one tight end that produces as those other individuals produce. But what does it matter in the grand team scheme of things if the production is coming from one guy playing the position or three guys sharing the spot? Production is production is production.

And Miami's tight ends produced on a historical scale.

Both Fasano and Martin had career years. The combined 926 receiving yards by Miami's tight ends set a new team record for the position, surpassing the 901 yards posted by Randy McMichael and Donald Lee in 2004.

Fasano's seven touchdowns tied Keith Jackson's seven in 1994 for most scoring catches in a season by a Miami tight end. The 11 combined TD receptions by this group tied the number set when Joe Rose, Bruce Hardy and Dan Johnson combined for 11 in 1985.

And if you still aren't convinced Miami's tight ends are important, chew on this little statistical nugget: The Dolphins had eight passing touchdowns in December as they made their dramatic playoff push.

Seven of those eight TDs went to tight ends.


December 30, 2008

Ravens beat the Dolphins then improved

In the week leading up to the Jets victory, I made the point that the boys from Gotham would be surprised if they expected to see the same Dolphins they defeated in the regular-season opener. The December Dolphins, I argued, had become a far superior team.

Well, this week the Dolphins face the Baltimore Ravens, a team they lost to 27-13 on October 19. And unfortunately for Miami, the Ravens they play in the wild card round of the playoffs Sunday are a far superior team than they were two months ago.

The Ravens came to that first game on a three-game losing skid and searching for an identity and a direction. They come to Sunday's game as winners of five of their last six games and nine of 11 overall. They've gotten better, folks.

When the teams first met, Baltimore rookie quarterback Joe Flacco entered the game with only five games of NFL experience. He had one touchdown and seven interceptions to show for those five outings. But Flacco played well against the Dolphins despite his Big Bird looks.

And he's gotten better ever since. He's thrown six touchdowns and three interceptions in his last six games and that includes a meltdown game against Pittsburgh (Pitt has a good defense) in which he threw two interceptions without a touchdown.

So that's not great news for Miami.

The Ravens have found a solid running combination in Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee since that October game. Ray Rice is there also and contributes.

And on that defense that is the lifeblood of Baltimore's playoff life, there has been a drastic tightening against the pass. When the Ravens last came to South Florida, their cornerbacks were troubled. Chris McAlister did not play and the Dolphins exploited the void.

But in Week 7, the Ravens inserted Fabian Washington, a former first-round pick in Oakland, and he has solidified the left cornerback spot. Suddenly that gaping hole in the Baltimore secondary is not there anymore.

So the Ravens are better than they were that indian summer Sunday in October.

Sure, the Dolphins also are better than they were then. But I would tell you Baltimore's leap has been just as significant. If not more.

Oh, about that game that was played in October ... Here are some factoids from the Miami loss that may interest only me: 

The Dolphins used the wildcat formation 5 times, all of them rushes. They gained four yards, which delivered a depressing .8 yards per rush.

The tale of the third down play was an interesting one: The Dolphins converted 5 of 13 attempts against the Ravens vaunted defense for a 38.5 percent success rate. That was, believe it or not, higher than the 37 percent success rate Miami averaged the entire season.

The Ravens offense, meanwhile, converted 6 of 13 third down plays against Miami's defense for a 46.2 percent success rate. That was well higher than the 37.8 percent success the Dolphins allowed throughout the season.

The Dolphins forced and recovered one fumble, that by McGahee. The Ravens had one interception by Terrell Suggs which he returned for a touchdown.

The Dolphins have outscored their opponents 82-62 in the fourth quarter this season. The Ravens outscored the Dolphins 7-0 in the fourth quarter in October.

One major difference for the Dolphins this week should be found right in the middle of the defensive line. Jason Ferguson missed that first game with an injury. Then Paul Soliai was suspended for breaking unspecified team rules. So it was Randy Starks at nose tackle most of that day -- a position he played without working there during the week.

December 29, 2008

On Salguero's All Pro ballot and more

Still in New York where the fallout from last night's Dolphins victory is already being felt.

Seems the Dolphins not only beat the Jets, they broke the Jets. Eric Mangini has been fired and speculation is rampant that Brett Favre is retiring (again). GM Mike Tannenbaum remains. I tell you guys this because the AFC East is like a pond and the shaking in New York ripples in Miami.

If Mangini's coaching staff is cut loose, I would hope the Dolphins explore hiring special teams coach Mike Westhoff. Yes, I realize the Dolphins have a special teams coach, but Westhoff is in a class by himself and Miami's special teams were merely mediocre this season, even after a late-season improvement.

Moreover, there is continued talk of Bill Parcells being a possibility here because the story about his possible pending free agency is making the rounds.

And while Gotham's AFC team is surrounded by chaos, the Dolphins are plugging along toward a playoff meeting with Baltimore. Not much happening at this hour. There will be a press conference around 12:30ish by Tony Sparano.

Speaking of coach, I turned in my ballot to the Associated Press for All Pro and postseason awards last night. As promised, I voted for Sparano as coach of the year. I voted for Chad Pennington as comeback player of the year.

While outstanding and inspiring, Pennington does not get my MVP vote because, simply, I think Peyton Manning is a better candidate. He put a team on his back in the face of numbing injuries to his offensive line, running back and receiver corps. And he did it without having any time in training camp and while still recovering from knee surgery.

Enough said.

You'll notice I did not vote for Joey Porter as an All Pro. I felt he faded late in the season and couldn't give him the nod over DeMarcus Ware or James Harrison at outside linebacker. Yes, I know Harrison had 1.5 fewer sacks. But he had more forced fumbles, more interceptions, more passes defensed and over twice as many more tackles than Porter.

I voted for Harrison for Defensive Player of the Year. I'm sure some of you will agree with me. I'm sure some of you will disagree. Anyway, here is my ballot:   



WR (2): Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald.

TE (1) Tony Gonzalez.

T (2) Ryan Clady, Jordan Gross.

G (2) Chris Snee, Steve Hutchinson.

C (1) Kevin Mawae.

QB (1): Peyton Manning.

RBs (2): Adrian Peterson (Minn.), Michael Turner.

FBs (1): Le’Ron McClain.

Place Kicker (1): Rob Bironas.

Kick Returner (1): Clifton Smith (Tampa).




DE (2):  John Abraham, Jared Allen.

DT (2): Albert Haynesworth, Kevin Williams (Minn.).

OLB (2): DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison.

ILB (2): Jon Beason, Barrett Ruud.

CB (2): Cortland Finnegan, Charles Woodson.

S (2): Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu.

Punter (1): Shane Lechler.

The awards:

Most Valuable Player: Peyton Manning

Comeback Player: Chad Pennington

Defensive Rookie: Jerod Mayo

Offensive Rookie: Matt Ryan.

Defensive Player:  James Harrison

Offensive Player: Phillip Rivers

Coach: Tony Sparano

A new list of doubters begins to shadow Miami

Count ESPN pundit Trent Dilfer the first of what promises to be a long list of pundits who don't think the Dolphin can continue their amazing season next Sunday.

Dilfer, the former Baltimore, Tampa, and other points in the NFL quarterback, just picked the Ravens to beat Miami in the playoff game between the teams next Sunday.

"The Baltimore Ravens defense is portable," Dilfer said. "They can stop anybody, anywhere, anytime."

You should not be surprised. I would not be surprised if the Ravens become the popular pick of the so-called experts the coming week. I would not be surprised if no one picks the Dolphins because the Ray Lewis love is rampant among national media members.

Then again, I don't remember too many of those people picking the Dolphis before they turned a 1-15 nightmare into an 11-5 dream. So whatever.

An opinion is like a navel. Everyone has one.

December 28, 2008

Miami Dolphins the AFC East Champions!

The Miami Dolphins completed the most amazing, improbable, astounding, unexpected, truly magical worst to first climb in NFL history today. They defeated and deflated the New York Jets, 24-17, at Giants Stadium.

Bring on the Baltimore Ravens!

This game means the Dolphins are the AFC East champs. This result means the Dolphins will host the Ravens either Saturday or Sunday at Dolphin Stadium.

It is the first time Miami is in the playoffs since the 2001 season. They lost to the Ravens 20-3 in that last playoff game so long ago. The Dolphins also lost to the Ravens earlier this year. 27-13.

There is no player who deserves this more than quarterback Chad Pennington. He returns to New York, to play the team that discarded him before the season started, and sends them into their offseason.

Pennington threw two touchdown passes this game. He fumbled once. He had no interceptions.

OK, so what do you think about this fanciful turn of events?

And what do you think about the upcoming matchup against Baltimore?

Dolphins lead Jets 21-17 going into final quarter

It has come to this: The Dolphins are 15 minutes from winning the AFC East division as they lead the New York Jets, 21-17 headed into that final period of today's game.

Both teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter. It's a good game.

We'll see what happens together in the comments section below.

Dolphins lead Jets, 14-9 to start the 3rd quarter

The Dolphins turned the second quarter into their own in the span of about 15 seconds today.

After Chad Pennington connected with Ted Ginn Jr. on a 27 yard pass for a score, Phillip Merling intercepted a pass and returned it for a TD. It was indeed 14 points in 15 seconds.

The Jets, seemingly out of the playoffs no matter what they do today, are fighting. They have a TD pass to Laveranues Coles and a FG by Jay Feely.

The second half will determine whether Miami wins the AFC East. Or not. Join me in the comments section for the continuation of the live blog.

Dolphins, Jets knotted at 0-0 to start 2nd quarter

The Dolphins have an interception, they are dominating the time of possession and the wildcat package is giving the offense scoring opportunities.

But despite this the Dolphins and the Jets are tied at 0-0 going into the second quarter. That's fine. It feels like Miami's kind of game.

The Dolphins are better in tight games.

Join me in the comments section as the live blog plows on. We're on a roll.

Live blog of Dolphins vs. Jets today (with chat)

Well, I'm in place and ready to go although the game doesn't start for another 90 minutes or so.

Here's what's happening:

1. If you didn't catch the latest update on my last post, the agent for Bill Parcells, Jimmy Sexton, is at today's game here. So it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he and new owner Stephen Ross discuss The Big Tuna's future as early as sometime today.

2. Channing Crowder is indeed playing. But he realizes this could be his final game with Miami. After he warmed up and was coming back into the tunnel, Crowder bumped into an old friend and as he passed the Jets locker room. He was heard talking about possibly becoming a free agent and then yelled into the locker room, "Any money for an inside linebacker in there?"

3. It is already getting dark here and there is a considerable wind. I have a strong belief that Davone Bess will be a major factor in Miami's game plan today. Look for him because I believe Chad Pennington will be.

Anyway, I'll update you with the inactives as they come. The live blog starts here at kickoff. But I'm here so if you have questions, comments, whatever, come with it in the comments section.

Is Parcells one and done in Miami? [Updated]

Everyone agrees the Miami Dolphins resurrection in 2008 was quickened by the hiring of football czar Bill Parcells.

But with the end of the season looming -- whether it be after today's game or after the Super Bowl -- the Dolphins are scheduled to change ownership and that has a definite impact on Parcells.

I am told as we sit here today the chances are "extremely good" Parcells will return to the Dolphins for the 2009 season despite the change in ownership.

Yes, Parcells signed a four-year contract with Wayne Huizenga last December, which suggests he has three more years remaining in Miami regardless. But the truth is Parcells is 67 years old and suffered some health issues earlier this year. So for him, football is really a year to year question regardless of what a contract might suggest.

Parcells also has a clause in his contract that allows him to walk away from the Dolphins if, at any point, Huizenga is not his immediate boss. And that clause would require the Dolphins to pay Parcells the entire remaining portion of the contract, or $9 million after this season.

ESPN reported in its pregame show that the clause has to be used within 30 days of Huizenga no longer being Miami's owner. Here's the story.

That brings us to incoming owner Stephen Ross. He has had casual contact with Parcells in recent months. But he wants to formalize the relationship with Parcells. He doesn't want Parcells using the opt-out clause. So why would Parcells do that when he holds all the cards now?

Can you say pay raise?

Don't be surprised if Ross and Parcells negotiate a pay increase from the $3 million Parcells now makes annually. Parcells is not at the Meadowlands today but Ross is scheduled to be here and agent Jimmy Sexton, who represents Parcells, is also at the game today. It's not a stretch for them to discuss the matter, at least in principle, as early as today.

That all assumes Ross vows to continue allowing Parcells the wide latitude on the football operations side that Huizenga delivered. The chances are very slim Ross would risk alienating Parcells by asking the czar to have a relationship that is any different than the one that has brought Miami such success this season.

The only scenario I can imagine that might lure Parcells out of Miami?  If the Jets lose today and ownership is so angered by the team's failure that New York's GM and coach are fired, Parcells might be convinced to rejoin the team he once coached and was general manager for earlier this decade.

Can you imagine?

December 27, 2008

Pennington's arm more sound than Favre's?

The New York Jets scored their first touchdown of the season and first touchdown of their first game against the Miami Dolphins this season on a 56-yard bomb from Brett Favre to Jerricho Cotchery. It was an eye-popping throw that seemed to immediately make the contrast between Favre's legendary arm and Chad Pennington's arm of lesser renown.

Except that the 56-yarder would be Favre's longest pass of the season.

Except that Favre has spent parts of the last two weeks complaining that something is wrong with his throwing arm.

Except that Favre is having a terrible December in which he has under thrown several key passes.

Except that, by comparison, Pennington is humming along with no apparent issues with his throwing shoulder or arm.

So in the irony of ironies, it is possible to say the quarterback with the more sound arm and greater confidence in his ability to get the ball to a receiver on Sunday will be Pennington and not Favre. Amazing.

Favre has talked about having an MRI after the season and it showing "something" wrong with his throwing arm. At the very least, it sounds like he's got tired or dead arm. Of course the Jets are denying all of that. In today's New York Daily News Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Cotchery dismiss the idea Favre's arm strength is diminished.

So who to believe? Favre himself or the people around Favre who don't really know?

I believe Favre is telegraphing his dead arm. I believe him.

And that leads me to this: The Jets discarded Pennington in favor of Favre because they had grown weary of the limits Pennington's weaker arm put on their offense. But now they go into their most important game of the season, with playoff implications on the line, against Pennington, and their pass offense is again seemingly limited.


December 25, 2008

Crowder's knee injury could cost him money

It has been two weeks now since Channing Crowder has been able to go full tilt in a practice for the Miami Dolphins. He's got a bad knee that prevented him from playing against Kansas City. The Dolphins will watch Crowder practice Friday -- assuming he can go -- and determine if he's able to start or even play against the New York Jets.

Crowder practiced on Thursday but it was in a limited capacity. Neither he nor cornerback Will Allen (groin) worked on Wednesday.

“I think they both want to be in this game, sure," coach Tony Sparano said Thursday. "It’s just a matter of right now, as I said yesterday, I think it’s day-to-day. And they did do some work today and it’s really getting a chance to come in here tomorrow and see how the thing responds one way or the other.”

So, again, Friday is a big day for Crowder and Allen.

But I would tell you it's a bigger day for Crowder.

Unlike Allen, Crowder has a history of injury problems dating back to his college days at the University of Florida. Knee problems also caused Crowder to finish the year on injured reserve last year. And now he is fighting to keep from missing the final two games this season because of the injury.

Obviously Crowder wants to play because he's a competitor. But he also wants to play because he doesn't want the Dolphins to somehow go into the offseason with the thought he's not reliable in crunch time based on that troublesome knee.

And that is a big issue for both Crowder and the Dolphins because the inside linebacker is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Crowder understands the importance most teams, the Dolphins in particular, place on investing their money on healthy players. Every game he misses will cost bargaining chips in contract talks. And chips represent dollars.

So whether Crowder can practice full go Friday and eventually play Sunday could make him or lose him money in contract negotiations.

There is, of course, another school of thought on the matter also.

Crowder, who is second on the Dolphins with 105 tackles, was not easily replaced by Miami against Kansas City. Reggie Torbor took his place in the lineup but had only one tackle. Akin Ayodele, who called the defensive signals, had only three tackles.

Crowder averages 7.5 tackles per game. So there was quite a drop in production in his absence.

The Dolphins put forth what was described to me as a modest contract offer to Crowder last month. Obviously nothing has been done on that front so neither side is ready to commit to the other. That means Miami this offseason will again weigh a willingness to pay Crowder despite his uncertain knee versus risking losing him and trying to find someone else who will be as productive and active.

It will be a difficult decision for all involved.

What would you do?

[Friday update: Both Crowder and Allen practiced today although to what degree -- either full or limited -- will not be known until later. It is pretty obvious Allen will play Sunday. Crowder? I would say he's 70 percent likely to play.]

[SHAMELESS PLUG: In case you missed it, I wrote this story in Thursday's Miami Herald detailing the interesting (to me, at least) parallels between this year's team and Don Shula's first team in 1970. If you can't think of reasons why that is important, click, click, click on the story and find out.]

A Dolphins in Depth Christmas greeting

This Christmas poem was written by Michael J. Franza and sent to me by his dad, Mike. I thinks it's appropriate for today and this week:

'Twas Week 17 and all through the land, Miami was flowing with excited Fish fans.

The stage was set in the meadowland air, in hope that St. Pennington soon would be there.

The Jets fans were worried, alone in their beds, while nightmares of Wildcats danced through their heads.

Chad in his jersey and Sparano with cap, they just couldn't wait for that Sunday first snap.

From one and 15 arose such a clatter, I sprang off the couch to see what's the matter.

Wearing number 10, not to be outdone, I knew it was him, our St. Pen-ing-ton.

Now Ricky, now Ronnie, now Polite and Mar-tin , on Cobbs, on Bess, on Fasano and Ginn.

Chad sprang to the huddle, Joey Porter gave cheer, and onward they went, like a new team, a new year.

But then I heard Chad exclaim, as the team drove out of sight, Merry Christmas to all, and to Jets fans good night!

I want to wish all my Christian friends and readers a very Merry Christmas. I want to wish all my Jewish friends and readers a happy Hanukkah. And as a brotherhood, I am believing the one living God we all serve will make His face to shine on us together in the coming year.

December 24, 2008

Unfiltered: Chad Pennington on playing the Jets

Chad Pennington's story -- you know, the return to New York to play the team that discarded him after seven seasons -- is a big deal. ESPN is focusing on it this week. CBS is focusing on it during Sunday's pregame show.

But you're here so you get to read what Pennington said about the matter only moments ago:

Q. How much do you relish the opportunity to play this game against a team that essentially showed you the door?

A. "Well, as only fate would have it, this is how sports always works out. This situation doesn't surprise me and I pretty much banked on it. It's a good thing. I'm excited about it. The whole team is excited about having a chance to have one shot into the playoffs. That's what you work so hard for the whole season, to get to this point to have an opportunity to play an extra game."

Q. How much more incentive do you have to win this game especially since the Jets brought in Brett Favre and out you go. He gets a Pro Bowl spot that maybe you deserve. How much more incentive is there for you to win this game?

"To be honest with you it's the same. As far as the emotion, the emotional part happened in the first game. And I'm glad that it did happen in the first game. So now it's strictly business trying to win a football game. It just so happens we're playing my former team. Will there be some emotions? Sure. You're going back the Meadowlands where you played eight years. But I just don't think it will be to the magnitude that it was in the season-opener when the situation was so fresh and so new. It's a little bit different now. We've got two really good teams that are vying for a playoff spot. And it's going to be an exciting game."

When you became a Dolphins did you dream or anticipate this scenario would play out?

"Sure. I think if you don't have those expectations for yourself as an individual, especially as a quarterback, if you don't believe you can help change a team, help a team, and lead a team to victory, you really don't have business being behind center. And so I didn't know exactly what to expect. I think our whole team didn't know what to expect for ourselves. But at the same time we expected ourselves to play well. We expected a lot out of ourselves and we expected ourselves to be successful. To what level of success, we really didn't know based upon our youth, and all the new people that were part of the team, and all the different scenarios. Are we shocked we're here? No, not at all. Because we've worked extremely hard and talked about this opportunity and this position for quite some time now."

Huizenga's handoff best wearing SB ring [update]

[MIDMORNING UPDATE: The Dolphins are practicing but linebacker Channing Crowder and cornerback Will Allen are not working today. Both are off to the side doing agility drills. Crowder is dealing with the knee problem that forced him to miss last week's game. He has a wrap over both knees. Allen's injury will be announced by the team later today. He looks like he might still be smarting from a tremendous pancake block delivered by former Dolphin Damion McIntosh on both Allen and safety Renaldo Hill. Allen was complaining about his hip after that hit. The injury today was reported as a groin injury.]

Depending on what happens with Sunday's game between the Dolphins and Jets, and assuming there is no financial apocalypse between today and that time, your beloved football franchise will be changing hands as early as next week.

The sale of the Dolphins and Dolphin Stadium from H. Wayne Huizenga to Stephen Ross is expected to be completed as early as late next week if the Dolphins lose. If the Dolphins win, the sale will come within a week to 10 days following Miami's elimination from the playoffs.

Under any scenario, the owner that has presided over the Dolphins since 1994 is expected to end his tenure in 2009.

And that leads me to this: Thank you, Mr. Huizenga for, what is ultimately, a job well done.

If you are long-time reader of this blog, you know that was not the sentiment on here last season. I railed angrily at all of Mr. Huizenga's missteps in leading this franchise.

I complained that Mr. Huizenga had allowed Jimmy Johnson to basically name his successor, something Don Shula was not allowed to do, even after Johnson failed at his attempt to return the Dolphins to the Super Bowl.

I complained he gave Dave Wannstedt an extension even as he demoted the coach in January 2004.

I complained he conducted a national search for a general manager at that time, and interviewing half-a-dozen excellent candidates, hired Rick Spielman from inside the organization. We all know how that turned out.

I complained about the Cam Cameron hiring. I complained Huizenga had not gone out and hired a proven NFL man to remake this organization and had long ago -- after the Dan Marino as president fiasco -- abandoned the idea of hiring a football man that would report to him only, a man who would report on how the coach and GM were doing.

Well, Mr. Huizenga has waged a terrific and amazing fourth-quarter rally before the end of his ownership tenure. He saw the train wreck that was 2007 and although he could do nothing to prevent it, he was trying to lure one Bill Parcells to his team even before the crash was complete.

So Mr. Huizenga deserves your appreciation for hiring Parcells.

Mr. Huizenga deserves your appreciation for sparing no expense to keep his team competitive.

Mr. Huizenga deserves your appreciation for spending his own money -- approximately $250 million, give or take a few million -- to upgrade Dolphin Stadium.

Mr. Huizenga deserves your appreciation for having the respect of his fellow owners even as his team could not always say the same of its opponents.

And there is one more thing Mr. Huizenga deserves: He deserves for the Dolphins to continue their improbable surge from NFL cellar to the league's heights. Wouldn't it be cool if Miami can win the Super Bowl before Mr. H goes?

What a script!

Anyway, the 15 years of Mr. Huizenga's ownership has been marked with highs and some terrible lows. But ultimately when he closes the sale -- again, assuming no financial collapse or surprises -- and hands over the keys, he should be proud of the product he's turning over.

Because, ultimately, the team Ross is about purchase is back where it belongs: Among the elite teams of the NFL.

[BLOG NOTE: I will be filing updates from camp today. Check back later for news.]

December 23, 2008

PFW showing Miami's Jake Long no love

This week's edition of Pro Football Weekly has an interesting ranking of the biggest rookie duds and the biggest rookie studs. It is interesting stuff so go here if you want to see the full article. On the other hand, if you want analysis stick right here and read on.

The article rightly picks New York Jets linebacker Vernon Gholston as the rookie leading the charge toward that terrible four-letter word: Bust.

That list includes Darren McFadden, Glenn Dorsey and others.

But it's the list of studs that puzzles me. PFW picks Denver offensive left tackle Ryan Clady as the best rookie player so far this year. And while I agree Clady has been outstanding and is the best rookie tackle today, there is no way in the world if the 2008 NFL draft was done over again, Clady would be the first overall pick.

Fact is Clady is a more polished and complete offensive tackle than Miami's Jake Long. But for the Dolphins offense, one based on a power running attack, Long is the better fit. Moreover, if the Dolphins didn't take Long first in the hypothetical re-draft, they would probably take quarterback Matt Ryan.

Let me rephrase that: If the Dolphins didn't take Long, they would be stupid not to take Ryan, who has been amazing. Forget that his stats are darn good for any QB, much less a rookie. But his leadership in taking an Atlanta team from the garbage heap to the playoffs and possibly a division title is amazing. That guy has the make-up, as the Dolphins like to say, to be a dominant NFL player some day.

Enough Ryan gushing. As you go further down the list of top 10 rookie studs, I look to see what PFW has to say about Long ... scrolling ... scrolling ... still scrolling. He's not in the top 10!

Chicago's Matt Forte is on the list, Tennessee's Chris Johnson is on the list, even New England's Jerod Mayo is on the list. But no Long.

Long is found in the publication's 'On the verge" list along with Davone Bess and others. I don't really understand it, frankly. There's no way Jeff Otah is a better tackle today than Jake Long, and yet Otah is in PFW's top 10.

You'll hear a lot about this week about the Dolphins getting no respect. Much of that talk will come from the Dolphins locker room. And this list kind of feeds that thinking.

[BLOG NOTE: I'm filing multiple posts each day so check back later for more stuff.]

December 22, 2008

Jets will find out Miami Dolphins a changed team

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.