Since adversity often reveals the true nature of someone’s character, it should also do the same for an NFL team.
Losing seven consecutive games, as the Miami Dolphins did in the first half of this season, produced a predictable narrative.
Miami’s NFL team was trash! Pathetic!
The players and coaches were all horrible.
The Dolphins needed to flush everything and start over — again.
That’s what people outside the Dolphins’ Miami Gardens facility concluded. Hell, the team spent weeks pursuing troubled Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson before October’s trade deadline, possibly because of the perception that the 2021 season wasn’t salvageable.
Yet, it was.
Winning seven straight games in the second half of the season — becoming the first franchise in NFL history to win seven straight games after losing seven straight — was the football equivalent of a comatose patient waking up.
Yet, after Miami’s 20-3 win over the New Orleans Saints, which put the Dolphins at 8-7 on the season and in possession of the seventh and final wild-card spot in the AFC, the national media’s response to this turnaround is a bit of a head-scratcher.
“The great pretenders,” ESPN analyst Marcus Spears called the Dolphins on Tuesday morning when talking about the team’s playoff chances, which the sports network predicted at 22%.
Spears’ sentiment was echoed all morning by the national talking heads — no matter the network — which clearly doesn’t believe in Brian Flores’ team, for whatever reason.
“This team stuck together the entire year. We dealt with a lot of adversity early in the year, and it revealed a lot. Revealed the character of the guys in the locker room,” Flores said. “Some people were with you, and some people were on the fence.”
And plenty still are clearly.
Maybe the fence riding has to do with the caliber of opponents the Dolphins have beaten — only the Ravens own a winning record — during the seven wins.
Or the quality of quarterbacks — mostly backups like New Orleans’ Ian Book, the Saint’s fourth-string quarterback, and has-beens (Joe Flacco and Cam Newton) — Miami has faced during the wins, because of injury and COVID-19 absences.
Still, that hasn’t stopped other playoff contenders from suffering tough losses (see the Los Angeles Chargers, which got pimp-slapped by a Davis Mills-led Houston Texans team in last week’s 41-29 loss) in similar high-stakes games.
And nobody ever mentions that the Dolphins played five games without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and other weeks and months without key players like Raekwon Davis and center Michael Deiter, the team’s top run-stuffer, during the bulk of those early losses.
During the rebound, the Dolphins have become a scrappy and resilient NFL team, one that plays to the caliber of its opponents usually (losses to Tampa Bay and the Buffalo Bills are the exception), and one that has improved as the season has progressed.
And it’s all a byproduct of the Dolphins’ commitment to playing a selfless brand of team football and developing a locked-in focus on each week, each opponent.
“We just stayed the course throughout the whole season. We didn’t go weary,” Dolphins defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said. “We stuck with the program.”
Tagovailoa’s pocket presence and quick decisions have masked how disastrous the offensive line has been this season.
Miami’s commitment to the rushing attack, which has averaged 30 attempts per game during the seven wins despite the team’s dismal 3.4 yards per attempt average, has created a balanced identity on offense.
And the defense has gotten back to its aggressive style of play from the 2020 season, which has this year’s team leading the NFL with 45 sacks.
“Play your technique and do your job,” said defensive lineman Zach Sieler, one of the team’s many unsung heroes.
What happens in the final two games — Sunday’s road game against the Ryan Tannehill-led Tennessee Titans and a home finale against Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots — is hard to predict.
The stakes have been raised, and we’ll learn how Flores’ team handles that pressure. But the one thing we know is that the Dolphins deserve to be here because of their resiliency, and they are worthy of the nation’s respect, which likely won’t come unless they lock down that wild card spot, punching the franchise’s first ticket to the postseason since 2016.
“We believe in each other,” Flores said. “At the end of the day that is all that matters.”