MIAMI (CBS4) – Playing for pride, the Miami Dolphins will suit up against the Detroit Lions Sunday afternoon.
The Dolphins were eliminated from the playoffs last Sunday in a dismal loss to Buffalo and for the first time in franchise history, the Dolphins will likely finish last in the AFC in scoring, and they’ve totaled 34 points in the past three games at home, where they’re a league-worst 1-6.
So where’s Miami’s motivation for Sunday, when the stands will likely be at least half empty?
“You got to play for pride,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “That’s all you can do. We want to finish strong. That’s about it.”
There’s actually plenty of incentive for third-year coach Tony Sparano, whose job is in jeopardy. A second successive home loss to the Lions, a last-place team, would only intensify speculation the Dolphins will pursue a bigger name as a replacement — perhaps Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden.
“With the high expectations we had, when things don’t go right, you need a scapegoat,” linebacker Channing Crowder said. “Guys aren’t performing like they’re supposed to, and people need a scapegoat, so they’re talking about Tony.”
Even if Sparano keeps his job, Chad Henne may lose his as the starting quarterback. His passer rating ranks 25th in the NFL.
“Chad is going to go through growing pains,” tight end Anthony Fasano said. “We have to protect him and not let it all fall on his shoulders. A lot of us have a hand in the problem.”
That’s true: The ground attack’s tepid, too. Neither Ronnie Brown nor Ricky Williams has a 100-yard performance, and the Dolphins have gone four consecutive games without a run of more than 10 yards.
“It’s tough, because the mistakes we’re making, it’s becoming repetitive, 15 weeks into the season,” Brown said. “That’s the frustrating part.”
Fans are fed up. Those that bothered to attend the Bills game did lots of jeering, especially at the finish.
“The fans have a right to boo us and talk bad about us,” said Brandon Marshall, who has 71 catches but only three TDs. “I think it needs to be directed at our offense, starting with myself.”
As for the Lions’, their win last week in overtime at Tampa Bay snapped their league-record streak of 26 road losses. Now, for the first time since 2007, Detroit has won two games in a row. Going into Sunday’s not-exactly-a-showdown at Miami, the Lions may be the world’s proudest 4-10 team.
“We exorcised some ghosts,” second-year coach Jim Schwartz said. “Obviously we’re not playing for the playoffs, but we’re playing for something just as important, and that’s the direction of this team.”
Such negativity is perennial with the Lions, who are 37-121 since 2001. This will be their 11th consecutive year sitting out the playoffs, which ties Buffalo for the longest active drought.
But for a change, things seem headed in the right direction in Detroit.
Even before the back-to-back wins, the Lions looked improved. They’ve been outscored by only 21 points this year, compared with deficits of 232 last year and 249 in the winless 2008 season.
“If we were getting blown out every game, naturally you might have more guys giving up,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “That hasn’t been the case. We’ve walked into the locker room after every loss saying, `We let one get away,’ and that mindset helped us hang in there.”
Despite persistent deficiencies at linebacker and in the secondary, Detroit’s defense is much improved. The offense ranks a respectable 16th overall and 11th in passing, even with a revolving door at quarterback, where Matthew Stafford (shoulder) will miss his seventh consecutive game Sunday.
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