Ah, that’s what November and December will tell us.
Coach Joe Philbin has made it clear since the beginning of training camp that his goal is to see this team evolve, to see the players improve with each game and to see the level of confidence grow with the quality of performance.
That’s how you make the playoffs. Did we say playoffs? Way too early for that. A few months too early. Many victories too early. Right now what the Dolphins are trying to do is simply make it four-in-a-row with a victory Sunday at Indy. And keep getting better.
That the Dolphins are one of only four teams to make it through October without a loss is certainly something to savor. That they were the only AFC team to do it is cause for further satisfaction. That it marks the first time in 19 years that this franchise has swept through October is clearly noteworthy. But don’t savor it for long. The challenge facing this team has to do more with building a foundation and seeing it grow than it does relishing past success.
Right now they are one of the real surprise teams of the NFL. And they deserve to be categorized as that. Whoever thought 1-3 could become 4-3? But temper that thought with this: the Arizona Cardinals were THE surprise team after four games and look what has happened to them, now 4-4 and losers of four straight.
One of the things I really like about Joe Philbin is his ability to maintain an even keel. Not too high after wins and not too low after losses. It would have been easy to get caught up in the euphoria of an impressive victory over the arch-rival Jets last Sunday. I mean, as far as regular season wins go, this was about as sweet as they come.
But there was Philbin Monday afternoon doing his weekly press conference, preferring to look ahead instead of behind, focusing on his team getting better instead of relishing what it did to the Jets. Someone asked Philbin about the trap door of his players getting caught up in their own success. Not concerned, he said. His players understand this is a week-to-week league, he added. There are some serious challenges ahead, he emphasized.
Still, nobody can deny that what this team accomplished in October was something special, especially when you consider it came on the heels of back-to-back overtime losses that could have mentally devastated some teams.
It says plenty about the make-up of this team that they were able to regroup after those back-to-back losses to Arizona and the Jets and find their identity.
What is it that they found?
A defense that is playing about as well as any defense in the league. Check the stats. They don’t lie.
Special teams that are clearly making a difference, never more evident than in the victory over the Jets.
An offense that has cut down significantly on both turnovers and penalties.
Add to all of that a group of players that have clearly bought into Joe Philbin’s system and you’ve got the recipe for three straight wins. Just Tuesday, a day off for the players, about 30 players showed up at the practice facility to work out on their own. If that doesn’t speak volumes, then what does?
“You look around and you just see the level of commitment everywhere,” said quarterback
Which brings us to November. An interesting month. Indy and Buffalo on the road; Tennessee and Seattle at home. Keep getting better, keep making plays, and there’s no telling where the Dolphins might find themselves when December rolls around.
See, Philbin’s goal all along is to make December meaningful, to put this team in a position to, in Philbin’s words, “make those games fun.”
The Dolphins play five games that month: two of them are against New England, one at San Francisco. In truth, it is set up perfectly if this team continues to improve the way Philbin hopes. You don’t want to face New England twice and the 49ers once without playing at your best. Those games could very well define this season.
But that’s a long way off. There are many important obstacles to clear before the calendar turns from November to December, starting with Sunday in Indy.
Take a minute, though, and enjoy what happened in October. Wins over the Bengals, Rams and Jets. Two on the road, one at home.
When you think about how far this team has come, when you realize that a year ago at this time they were still waiting for their first victory, it makes this 4-3 record that much more impressive.
Yes, the Dolphins are improving with each game, an undeniable indication that Joe Philbin is getting his message across.