AC In The AM: One More Chance To Get It Right

Posted Jan 1, 2016

What we have this Sunday at Sun Life Stadium is the Patriots trying to secure the No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs and the Dolphins trying to salvage a very disappointing season with a nice finishing touch.

We had hoped that this game would have playoff implications for both teams. We looked at the schedule when it was first released last spring and saw who was coming to town on the final Sunday of the season. It conjured up enticing thoughts. A battle for the AFC East title? A win or you’re out of it scenario? A high drama, high stakes showdown?

But it just never materialized. The New England Patriots lived up to their end of the bargain; unfortunately the Dolphins did not. So what we have instead this Sunday at Sun Life Stadium is the Patriots trying to secure the No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs and the Dolphins trying to salvage a very disappointing season with a nice finishing touch.

“All you got one time,” is Dan Campbell’s motto for the week.

There is nothing the Dolphins would like more than to make life more difficult for the Patriots. But it’s going to take their best performance of the season to do it and, after three straight losses have placed them in an inescapable 5-10 hole, the Dolphins are in for an imposing challenge in so many different areas. Indeed, as Campbell said, it’s going to take all they’ve got.

This is the backdrop of Sunday’s game. Can the offense find a way to score more than 20 points, something they have only done three times this season? Can the defense reduce the penalties, cut down on the missed tackles, pressure Tom Brady and get a solid effort from the secondary?

These are the questions that will help determine whether the Dolphins finish their season on a four-game losing streak or with a victory that, at the very least, will make this offseason more palatable.

“We want to finish with a good taste in our mouths,” said Campbell.

And how do they achieve that? Here’s five not-so-simple steps.

• Win the first quarter: This has been a nemesis of the Dolphins all season long. They start slow and never seem to catch up. The Patriots are known to come at you hard and early. But what if the Dolphins can get an early lead? What if they can dictate the tempo? What if they can force Brady into obvious passing situations? That’s their real chance of pulling off an upset.

• Make Tom Brady look like he’s 38 years old: When the Dolphins have beaten Brady in the past, it has often been because of a pass rush that has taken him out of his rhythm. The Dolphins pass rush has been hot and cold this season. It needs to be torrid against Brady and that means, among others, plenty of Olivier Vernon and Ndamukong Suh along with a variety of blitzes. Give Brady time, allow him to locate his own groove, and that’s bad news for a secondary that has been far too generous this season.

• Quit beating yourselves: We have found the enemy and it is us. That could be the Dolphins slogan this season. Whether it is turnovers, penalties, fourth quarter miscues or a center that snaps the ball one count too early, the Dolphins have found numerous ways to lose games this season by their own making. It’s hard enough beating the Patriots with a near flawless game; it’s downright impossible if you start handing them game-turning opportunities.

• Run the ball early and often: It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? If this season has taught us anything, it is that the Dolphins have a far better chance to succeed when the offense is balanced and when Lamar Miller gets his touches and yards. It is even more important against this New England offense because a strong running game keeps that offense off the field.

• Don’t get Gronked: He is the most dominant tight end in the league and he has had his way far too often against these Dolphins. Rob Gronkowski is also Brady’s go-to player in just about every crucial situation. The Dolphins have struggled against tight ends much of this season. I expect to see a lot of safety Reshad Jones going up against Gronk on Sunday. It is an enormous challenge for any defense, let alone a defense that has struggled the way the Dolphins have.

“We would love to finish this season on a winning note and give us something to build on during the offseason,” said Tannehill.

All you got one more time. That’s the mission on Sunday. That’s got to be the mindset as the Dolphins hope to demonstrate that they have indeed saved their best for last.

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(On Monday, AC in the AM recaps what happens against the Patriots.)

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