For Cinderella, The Ball Is Over And It’s Back To Work

By PFC Writer Ricky Bartle

The clock has struck midnight on the Miami Dolphins and their Cinderella season.  Sunday’s 27-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens showed that after an amazing season, the Dolphins are still in the early stages of rebuilding.  Coming off a 1-15 season, the light at the end of the tunnel seemed far and dim for Dolphins’ fans.  But what they got in 2008 was nothing short of unbelievable.  Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Tony Sparano put together a team with a blue collar feel.  A team lead by a cast away quarterback and a linebacker with a steel town chip on his shoulder played over and above expectations on their way to an 11-5 record and an AFC East Crown.

Over the course of the 2008 season, the Dolphins showed the grittiness synonymous with Bill Parcells as they were able to squeak out victory after victory. But, there was no denying this was a flawed team benefitting from a soft schedule.  The Dolphins, prior to their week seventeen win against the New York Jets, had not beaten a team with a winning record since a week three win over New England.  Injuries to Tom Brady and Trent Edwards helped along the way, but still winning was impressive. Changing a culture takes time.  And, to watch a team just one season removed from one win find ways to win even against inferior opponents was extraordinary.  The AFC East was not supposed to be in reach for a first year head coach with less talent than their divisional foes.  But, that’s just what they found at the end of the year, a better team beat out better talent.

The NFL stands for Not-For-Long and the Dolphins found out how quickly a season of fortune can go awry. The Ravens, under a first year coach and first year quarterback, took advantage of five Miami turnovers on their way to a convincing 27-9 win. The Dolphins were clearly overmatched on offense as they fell victim to a swarming Ravens’ Defense. This clearly was not the finish to an impressive 2008 campaign.  As shown by their performance, Miami was playing with house money.  In the playoffs, gimmicks and trick plays are last resorts not offensive strategies, and holes are not filled but quickly exposed by teams ready to take advantage.  The Ravens may be young at quarterback but are led by a strong running attack and a veteran defense.  They have play makers on both sides of the ball, who make up for inexperience at certain positions.  Miami learned Sunday just how far guts can take you and how much further talent can go.

The Ravens were a bad matchup for the Dolphins during the regular season and continued to be in the playoffs.  The Dolphins are built to rely on the run and protect the ball, and the Ravens are built to stop the run and create turnovers.  During the course of the game, Miami watched as their weak wide receiving core was exposed by an outstanding secondary.  Their inability to make big plays was no more evident than on their opening drive when they stalled at the goal line and had to settle for a field goal. Although shaky at times, Joe Flacco seemed like the polished veteran while Chad Pennington was left to scramble for his life and was forced into several bad throws. The lack of a big play receiver allowed for Ed Reed to sit back and do what he does better than anyone who has played the game: ball hawk.  A flawless performance would have been the only way a flawed team could defeat a veteran defense.

It’s too soon to look back on 2008 as a success for players and the coaching staff, but not too soon for fans.  The Dolphins weren’t themselves on Sunday.  A team who set an NFL record for least amount of turnovers (13) would turn the ball over five times.  A team whose offensive identity was the two headed monster at running back was eerily nonexistent.  The Dolphins defense and their bend-don’t-break mentality was pushed to the brink as they were on the field for the majority of the game. The silver lining in the game is that prior to a botched reverse by Ted Ginn Jr., the Dolphins seemed poised to overcome a sloppy game and once again find a way to win.

Disappointment for one day’s performance will not cast a shadow over a season of sunshine.  After the anger of Sunday settles and the bumps and bruises fade, the Dolphins will be able to look back and truly appreciate the accomplishments of the 2008 season.  The pain of a home playoff loss will take some time, but with the blood, sweat, and tears of a tough loss, a strong foundation has been laid for a bright future.  An attitude has been changed, a team has emerged, and a culture is being created.  The first year’s success has to have Dolphins’ fans excited for an encore.  The team that lacked an identity now knows what it needs to get better and has the right people in place to help them get it.  Problems will be fixed, play makers will be brought in, and answers will be found.  What does the future hold for the Miami Dolphins? Only time will tell, but with Bill Parcells shopping for the groceries, it is sure to be a tasty treat.