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AC In The AM: Ryan Fitzpatrick's Impressive Impact On Dolphins

While still trying to make sense out of a wild fourth quarter and overtime against the Bengals and with the Dolphins, in case you haven't noticed, now having won four of their last eight games heading into Sunday's season finale, we offer up our holiday edition of Tuesday morning perspective:

  • First, the big picture. The Dolphins are 4-11. But remember when they were 0-7? That now seems like so long ago. This team is competitive every week, which is bordering on remarkable when you consider the number of roster changes and how many frontline players are on injured reserve. But as I have said all along, this is a reflection of the mindset of this coaching staff, and specifically head coach Brian Flores who somehow reassembles the pieces every week, finding the right combinations, making prudent adjustments and keeping these players focused on what's directly in front of them. Considering everything – and there is a lot to consider – this has been an outstanding coaching job by Flores and his staff and certainly makes you feel like the future is in solid, reliable hands.
  • There should be no doubt what quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has meant to this team on so many different levels. As a leader. As a mentor. As a player who sets the right example with his work ethic, his humility, his passion and the manner in which he approaches every game, every challenge. When Flores made the move to go with Fitzpatrick as the full time starter, it changed the complexion of this season. "Just so happy he trusts me in there," Fitzpatrick said. "I work every day to try to prove him right." The proof, though, has been evident for quite a while, but never more evident than against the Bengals when Fitzpatrick became the first quarterback in team history not named Dan Marino to throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns in a regular season game. Kudos to him.
  • If it weren't for Fitzpatrick, would we really have this good a feel for wide receiver DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki? Would we be witnessing statement seasons by both players? I seriously doubt it. What Fitzpatrick has been able to do is bring out the best in both Parker and Gesicki, calling their numbers over and over in key situations, knowing the type of throws they like best and putting them in situations to succeed. Talk to Parker. Talk to Gesicki. Ask them about Fitzpatrick. You'll hear everything you need to know.
  • Parker is just a different player now. Healthy. Confident. Productive. Look at his numbers over the past couple of months. You won't find many receivers in this league who have done any better. A year ago at this time I never imagined that his story would play out like this. His career was teetering, his confidence seemed shaken and injuries were piling up. But now this is a different player, a more complete player and clearly this team's No. 1 receiver moving forward.
  • It's similar for Gesicki, who had a relatively unproductive rookie season and a slow start to this season. But look at him now, catching a pair of touchdowns against the Bengals, giving him four for the season and on his second touchdown catch, a 13-yarder, outfought cornerback Darqueze Dennard, a play he probably wouldn't have made a season ago. Now there is every reason to believe that Gesicki can be a long-term solution as a stretch-the-field tight end.
  • Want to know what this season is about? It's about a player like defensive tackle Zach Sieler, who was signed on Dec. 5th off the Ravens practice squad and stepped up big time against the Bengals with seven tackles, a sack and two pass deflections. You never know what the massive talent search that has become the 2019 Dolphins' season would unearth. Then you find a player like Sieler and it only underlines the importance of what the Dolphins are doing. Now let's see if he can do it two Sundays in a row.
  • Has anybody noticed how much better Albert Wilson has been playing lately? It wasn't just the 7 catches for 79 yards against the Bengals; it was the way he ran, the explosiveness he showed and how healthy he now appears to be. All are encouraging signs.
  • It was also the most productive game of the season for rookie running back Myles Gaskin, who scored his first NFL touchdown and had 55 yards on 16 carries. There is a real toughness about this kid that makes you want to see more. Unfortunately an injury may keep him out of the season finale.
  • Then there's defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, lining up at fullback in a goal line situation and catching a little 1-yard touchdown toss from Fitzpatrick. "I'm hoping it was the first of many," said Wilkins, who became only the 10th player in NFL history to have a touchdown catch and a sack in the same game. Wilkins has had a solid season and now we have a better feel for the versatility he can bring to this team.
  • Another rookie who is showing more and more every game is linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel who had his first fumble recovery against the Bengals and whose role on this defense continues to expand after being on injured reserve for much of this season.
  • One of the most improved areas of this team is a rushing defense that held the Bengals to a 2.4-yard average on 25 attempts. Starting defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Wilkins had plenty to do with that.
  • Always enjoy catching up with the 1972 team. The pride. The memories. The love they have for this organization. All very special.
  • As for those forgettable final six minutes of the fourth quarter Sunday, Flores intends to use it as a learning tool in future seasons. "I'm going to save that film," Flores said. "We didn't play well in any phase during those final six minutes. We need to do a much better job finishing a game." As relieved as he was to get the win, you could tell he won't soon forget a 23-point lead that got away.
  • And now there is only one game left, this Sunday in New England, and a chance to further evaluate the improvement of this team. After all, what better measuring stick can there be than a late December visit to the defending Super Bowl champions?

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