Miami Dolphins fans have generally tossed in the towel on this season -- at least based on what I see on my twitter timeline and in my email inbox. And I would say there might be a player or two in the Miami lockerroom that has seen a shift in the way business is being done. One even told me Wednesday that "coaches are in self-preservation mode."
But quarterback Ryan Tannehill?
He looks out toward the horizon that offers a Sunday meeting against the New England Patriots and figures it is worth sailing toward, even following last Sunday's loss to Baltimore in what was considered a de facto playoff game.
“We didn’t play well in a big game for us, but the season is not over," Tannehill said Wednesday. "Obviously, it’s not fully in our hands now, but we can still control what we can control. That starts with this game on Sunday."
Tannehill went on to call the coming Patriot game "a big game for us."
"I’m excited about this opportunity," Tannehill added.
And what opportunity do the Dolphins have? Well, the math says the Dolphins have not been eliminated from anything. Yes, they dropped from being among the likely playoff teams to far back in the pack of teams chasing a wildcard berth following the Baltimore loss.
And, yes, they have tiebreaker issues working against them.
But stranger things have happened. (Work with me here, ok?)
"It’s a very, very important game, absolutely," coach Joe Philbin said. "You get an opportunity to play the New England Patriots. Your team is going to have to play extremely well to beat these guys, there’s no doubt about it. That’s what we told the team. They’ve seen the tape already. We practiced yesterday. We are going to practice here again [today]. On paper, they are a good team and, on film, they are a good team. We are going to have to play extremely well."
The opportunity the Dolphins keep talking about includes possibly ruining the Patriots' run a little bit. New England can clinch a division title with the win and a playoff berth, so there can be motivation in not allowing that to happen this week.
Not on our watch!
Something like that.
And, of course, coaches are trying to win to keep their jobs and players are trying to put good performances on tape to make sure they're employed next year as well -- if not in Miami, somewhere.
This game matters in the greater context. And it matters to individuals.
For Dion Jordan it matters because he will likely get a chance to show off his athletic prowess by getting a few opportunities to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"If I have to do it to help my team, then I’ll definitely do it," Jordan said. "This year, they’ve put me in position to cover other guys. I had to get ready mentally and physically to do it. If it happens this week, I’ll be prepared."
For Jarvis Landry, it is an opportunity to gauge his success now that he's no longer a secret. After last week, for example, Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees found Landry after the game to share his feelings about the rookie.
"He just said, 'You’re a great player,' " Landry said. "His job was to contain me a little bit and much credit goes to them. When you think about a Ravens defense, you always know they’ve had great defenses and great defensive coordinators, just took it as a compliment."
Yes, a great compliment. But you don't think a Bill Belichick defense will similarly take note of Landry? Yes, it will.
For Dallas Thomas, this game is an opportunity to get some redemption. Look, I think he deserves to be benched. I've seen enough. I'd play Jason Fox over him. But that apparently isn't happening because Philbin sees a lot of good in the very obvious and public bad Thomas has put on tape since becoming the starting right tackle.
"There’s a lot of pictures in the game where he pass protected well to be honest with you," Philbin said of Thomas. "There are a lot of good pictures in the game. There are a few that aren’t very good. I think in the run game he’s been productive, but you have to remember there are 50-some-odd plays in a game. We all sometimes get focused on the three or four bad ones, but there are a lot of good things."
By the way, Philbin is under the microscope now. He knows it. He talked Wednesday about the challenge he and his staff face. They beat New England in the season-opener. And here we are 13 weeks later and the Patriots (10-3) have a very good record and the Dolphins (7-6) do not.
So what does it say if a team is good enough to sweep the division leaders but not be consistent enough in the other games?
“I said about myself, our staff, how we are able to get these guys ready to play, it’s December 14 when it’s kickoff time in New England," Philbin said. "We are playing an outstanding opponent. We need to play our best football game of the year. You get paid as a coach to get your team to play up to their potential. That’s what we have to do."
The season isn't over. Yet.