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  Back to Reality
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Reality says the Dolphins had a chance, albeit a slim one, to pull off a nine game win streak.

 

Whom but the most devoutly faithful could have expected them to pull it off?

 

As it turns out, they got to the halfway point before earning their seventh loss.

 

And, boy, did they earn it.

 

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Anyone would take a 4-to-1 win-loss ratio in today’s NFL.

 

Too bad the goose was too badly cooked before the timer went off.

 

No point in dwelling about the detailed proceedings versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. It is just a darn shame that the final blow to this sorry season had to be rendered at home, at the hands of a mediocre team.

 

Clearly, the realistic goal with four to play is to finish no worse than 8-8. Matching last year’s 9-7 would be a tremendous feat, given their 1-6 start.

 

Even if the Dolphins win out, don’t forget that they need work…a lot of work…when the dealing’s done.

 

At his postgame press conference, head coach Nick Saban declared his intentions for 2006 hence forward.

 

“We have four games left, that means we’ve got 12 practices”, Saban said. “We’re going to focus on improving as a team. We’re going to focus on establishing a character and attitude as a football team that plays winning football and is physical and aggressive and tough. Every player needs to know that they’re all going to be evaluated on that and that’s going to be important to us.”

 

Saban mustn’t forget to evaluate his coaching staff as well, particularly offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. One could argue this season started heading south the day Saban hired Mularkey to replace Scott Linehan (Rams).

 

Again, it isn’t that Mularkey is incompetent or doesn’t work hard. It’s just that he isn’t a good fit, philosophically, with the players and system he inherited.

 

Players? Coach? Both? Something has to give.

 

In hindsight, the Dolphins may have been better off promoting wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett to offensive coordinator. Baggett was with Linehan and is much more familiar with the staff and players than was Mularkey.

 

It’s water under the bridge now, and doesn’t Saban know it.

 

Would he change his thinking about signing Daunte Culpepper over Drew Brees, knowing what he knows now?

 

Sure he would. Just remember that Brees wasn’t exactly being bowled over with offers before the Saints snapped him up in a risky gamble.

 

Isn’t that what you’d call tossing millions at a QB with throwing arm troubles?

 

Look, Saban went into this with his eyes wide open. He knew there was a chance Culpepper couldn’t go for part, or all, of 2006. Hence, the trade for Joey Harrington.

 

Saban just wishes he had seen Culpepper’s health for what it truly was, before the bottom fell out.

 

Write off Culpepper for 2006 but hold the line on 2007. There’s time yet for this to work out all right.

 

And besides, Harrington is the least of Saban’s troubles. For now, it’s more of Harrington and, hopefully, some of Cleo Lemon. Common sense demands that the Dolphins need to see more of Lemon, right?

 

And what about the rest of the evaluative process? Shouldn’t owner Wayne Huizenga take the wood to President Bryan Wiedmeier and Team Lawyer and Cap Guru Matt Thomas for bungling the Jason Allen signing?

 

Whatever they thought they were saving by taking the approach they did was lost in the poor return on investment (read: productivity) they received from Allen’s rookie year.

 

Didn’t the same thing happen to Ronnie Brown last year? Didn’t Huizenga vow to get the team’s 2006 draft picks signed and in camp on time, not wanting a repeat?

 

Instead, Wiedmeier dismissed Huizenga’s wishes and went in a different direction.

 

Huizenga shouldn’t let it slide.

 

Back to the here and now, with four games left to play, three of them against divisional opponents.

 

The division is where the Dolphins’ troubles begin. Over the past 4¾ seasons their combined record versus divisional opponents is 10-17 (.370), including this year’s 0-3 record.

 

Consequently, they continue to miss the playoffs (fifth consecutive year).

 

One more time: you can’t get to the postseason unless you can consistently get by your divisional rivals, opponents that know you better than anyone else.

 

This is where the work must begin for these Dolphins. They must solve the Bills, Jets, and Patriots.

 

Do they currently have the personnel and coaches needed to win the division?

 

No. Not even close.

 

For now, all they can do is evaluate and plan for next season.

 

Said Saban,  “We’ve got three division games coming up and we need to try to develop a little character and attitude and our competitive spirit, play with consistency, and it’s going to be no different for how we go about our work from here on out.”

 

Fine and dandy. Let’s just hope that this will be the last time in a great while that Dolphin playoff hopes have to rest with unrealistic dreams.

 


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