(Pennington needs 1 more win for 11 on the season. If the Jets lose they will have lost 4 of their last 5)
It’s fitting actually. Playing the Jets in the final weekend of the biggest turnaround in NFL history. The unreal, amazing turnaround for the Miami Dolphins. One game shy of some much needed respect, self pride, and dignity. For the Dolphins, this is an opportunity to erase the bitter taste of 10 years of bad memories. Memories that started the Phins down a path of self-destruction that none of this current regime is responsible for…yet are responsible to fix.
2001: The New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins all finished the season with an 11-5 record. The NE Patriots would take the division. The Jets would finish one game back at 10-6 and miss the playoffs. The Dolphins would host a wildcard game against the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens would win that game 20-3. The Dolphins have not been to the postseason since. Should the Dolphins beat the Jets this Sunday, they would finish 11-5 and possibly tied with the New England Patriots but would win the division sending the Patriots home. The Dolphins would, in their first playoff appearance in 7 seasons, face the Baltimore Ravens.
2002: The Miami Dolphins entered the final two weeks of the season with a win one and your in 9-5 record. They faced the Minnesota Vikings in week 16 and lost setting up a final weekend showdown with the Patriots. They would lose in overtime. The loss put the NY Jets in as the division leader at 9-7 and the New England Patriots put Miami out and themselves out of the playoffs.
The similarities are eerie to this season from 2002. It was the Dolphins who held their own future and lost the final weekend against a division opponent that put another division opponent in the playoffs. In 2002, the Jets needed help to get into the playoffs much like the Patriots of this year and it took a loss by Miami against the Patriots to spring the Jets into the playoffs. This year of course it’s the Patriots waiting to see if the Jets will return the favor.
2003: The Miami Dolphins finished the season 10-6 and missed the playoffs. The Patriots won the division by two games. In 2003, the Phins lost both contests against the NE Patriots, but the game that kept them from making it to the playoffs (they lost the 10-6 tie-breaker to Denver) was an opening weekend loss to the Houston Texans on the final drive by 1 point when the Texans kicked the winning field goal as time expired. The Dolphins only have to look back to week 6 of this season to see a 1 point loss to the Texans that had they won would have put them in the playoffs already.
The similarities are rather eerie. The last playoff game vs. Baltimore in Miami. Baltimore will now play the winner of the AFC East division in the first round of the playoffs. Perhaps the 2002 season shares more in common with this season. All 3 teams potentially tied atop the division, the Phins need to win to keep the Patriots out, in ’02 the Jets needed the Patriots to win to get the Dolphins out, the Phins needed only to win to get in all the while watching as the NY Jets, who would win the division, would be playing the Brett Favre led Green Bay Packers in week 17 with Chad Pennington starting at QB for the Jets. Pennington would get that win and the Jets would get in the playoffs.
It would be a fitting end to almost 8 years of absence from the playoffs. Needing Chad Pennington to beat Brett Favre once again. Needing one victory to set up a date potentially with the Baltimore Ravens. Knocking off an AFC East opponent to knock another one out of the playoffs. What began as yet another typical series of yearly playoff runs in 2002 ended with a 10-6 record and no playoffs in 2003. Should the Phins lose to the Jets on Sunday…they would extend their playoff drought to 7 seasons and do so with a 10-6 record when the last time they made the playoffs they had an 11-5 record…something they need again.
Perhaps it is coming around full circle. 2003 marked the end of the franchise as fans knew it. 2004 brought a 4-12 season that is now known as the Dave Wannstedt sacrificial record. That brought the Phins to 9-7 the following season with a 6 game win streak to finish out the year…but the Dolphins were never really in the playoff hunt as they were 3-7 before the streak. Saban would leave two years after joining the team and leaving the Phins with a 6-10 record. That would bring Cam Cameron who would take the Phins to the worst record in Dolphins history. 1-15. Now of course known as the Cameron sacrificial season.
The 1-15 season brought the Dolphins Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, Tony Sparano, and over 20 new faces to the field of play. It brought about one of the biggest turnarounds in NFL history, one more win would make it the largest. It is a blueprint message to other franchises that it can be done. It’s a message that even a full blown rebuild can be successful.
Much like the past, the future is now. From Brett Favre and Chad Pennington’s new battle, to the 11-5 make it record to the 10-6 miss it record. NY, Miami, NE. All have hopes for the division and only one can have it. It deja’vu, 2002 all over again. The players are the same but the uniform colors have changed, the starring rolls have changed.
For the Dolphins, a win will help erase 5 years of utter frustration. Of losing. It will bring respect and dignity. A loss and it’s once again much of the same…only with a far better tasting pill. 10-6? Yeah, that’s nice, but we have been here before. We want the 1 and the 1 or as Chad Pennington shows with his number 10 jersey and his one finger…10 +1 = 11 and 11 gets it done.