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Cohen: You Can Just See This Team Improving

Posted Dec 23, 2012

This season can be qualified as a success. Here's why you should look forward to next year.

The Dolphins continued to prove Sunday that they are undoubtedly heading in the right direction.

A convincing victory over the Buffalo Bills is the latest evidence of that. All season, Coach Joe Philbin has been talking about his team playing its best in December. Well, it’s December and the Dolphins are stepping up.

Granted, the two straight home wins have come against the Jaguars and Bills, not exactly elite competition. But this season is more about HOW the Dolphins are playing, not who they are playing.

And right now they are playing with the consistency they lacked earlier this season. Dolphins 24, Bills 10. An impressive showing all around.

Remember home cooking? It tastes good again. The win over the Bills gave the Dolphins a 5-3 home record, the first home winning record since 2008. One big step in the right direction. Just as important, the Dolphins have now come back to beat the Jets and Bills after losing early season games to both. With the Patriots next in New England, what better way than with a victory would there be to put an exclamation point on a season that continues to show progress in several significant areas.

Sunday’s victory recipe included a whole lot of Reggie Bush, a dash of Ryan Tannehill — as in a 31-yard dash — and four big turnovers by a defense that had been starving for pivotal plays. Three of those turnovers were by Reshad Jones, who may be playing as well right now as any safety in the league.

But let’s start with Bush. This was a highlight-reel game for the talented running back. Three touchdowns, two through the air, the last one a gorgeous over-the-shoulder grab on a pass from Tannehill.

It is no secret the Dolphins need more playmakers on offense. But on this picture postcard afternoon, Bush gave them all the big offensive plays they needed. You can easily make the case that he was the best player on the field and the comfort zone he is developing with Tannehill is great to see.

Who knows what the future holds for Bush, an unrestricted free agent. But after the way he played Sunday, it is evident he still resides in the prime of his career.

Then there’s Tannehill. You can now clearly see the improvement each week. You can see how much more comfortable he is in the pocket. You can see it in the way he surveys the field. The mistakes are decreasing, the big plays increasing.

His 31-yard tiptoe job down the sideline may have been the best indication yet of his impressive athletic skills. He showed speed, balance and desire on one memorably play. He also threw the ball well once again and the number that keeps popping out is no interceptions in the last four games and only one in the last five games.

That’s huge for a young quarterback. As Philbin will tell you over and over again, it is all about making the right decisions, and this is clearly the area where Tannehill has shown the most improvement.

It may not stand out in the stat sheet but Tannehill has now thrown as many touchdown passes (12) as interceptions. And the vast majority of those interceptions came early in the season. We’ve got 15 games now to judge Tannehill. While no final verdict is in order, how can you not be impressed with his late-season run? So comfortable. So in control. So promising. There was one play when he was scrambling to his left with a defender in his face, yet had the presence to throw the ball out of bounds at the last possible moment instead of taking a sack. This isn’t something you can always teach. This has to be part of the quarterback’s DNA.

Finally, there’s the defense. Starved for turnovers in recent games, the Dolphins forced three Buffalo fumbles and intercepted one pass and, except for one long C.J. Spiller run, did an admirable job.

Clearly, though, the star was Reshad Jones. If his two fumble recoveries weren’t enough, his last-minute interception cemented his memorable day. Who really knew what to expect of Jones this season? Who could imagine that his mid-round pick could take his game to another level? The Dolphins have been searching for a playmaking safety for a long time. Sometimes, when you least expect it, the player you are looking for is already on your roster. Jones is 24 years old. The Dolphins, it would appear, are now set at that position for years to come.

The defense has now given up one touchdown in two games. That really says all you need to know. While the Dolphins were evening the score against Buffalo, Cincinnati was beating the Steelers, which eliminated all their mathematical hopes of making the playoffs. But let’s be realistic here, the Dolphins are 7-8 heading to New England. This season wasn’t about the playoffs as much as it was establishing a solid foundation, getting used to a new coaching staff with new philosophies and, most importantly, finding out if Tannehill is the real deal.

When you consider those three objectives, how can you not look at this season as a success?

Yes, the arrow is pointing up for the Miami Dolphins and already you get the feeling that next season can’t come soon enough.