(CBS Miami) — Don’t look now, but the Miami Dolphins have won three of their last five games. And only one of those wins came against what could be considered an NFL punching bag. While those three wins don’t put them anywhere close to contention, they do provide hope in what originally projected to be a joyless — and possibly win-less — season.
The Dolphins started the season with seven losses, basically eliminating themselves from relevance before the season was even half over. Given the state of the roster, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. But worse than the losing was how they lost, at least early on. The Dolphins dropped their first four games by an average of over 34 points. The coaches and players looked overmatched and outclassed. The team seemed rudderless going into the bye week.
The team’s winning ways didn’t kick in after a week of rest, of course. But looking back, something may have clicked during the bye. The Dolphins came within a dropped pass of beating the then 0-5 Washington Redskins in Week 6. While they ultimately lost, they gave themselves a chance to win. The Dolphins followed up an almost-win with two more competitive performances. They were able to hang with both the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers for three quarters, at least on the scoreboard.
All of that is progress.
So by the time the Dolphins knocked off the amazingly inconsistent New York Jets, they were almost due to find the win column. And they have only improved since. The Fins bounced the Jacoby Brissett-less Indianapolis Colts, hung with the Bills again (at least for a half) and surprised the Philadelphia Eagles this past weekend. Only their 41-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns hearkened back to their ugly showing in September.
This hardly seems like a team that’s tanking to improve their position in next year’s NFL Draft, at least not anymore.
“The Dolphins are improving,” according to analyst Brandon Marshall, from Showtime’s Inside The NFL. “From the coach down, the Dolphins are improving.”
Though, as a longtime player, Marshall doesn’t believe in the notion of tanking. “There’s no NFL coach or player that’s trying to tank or sets out to tank. And I don’t think there’s ever been. Maybe above them, from management’s standpoint…”
The decision to start Ryan Fitzpatrick, a flawed journeyman quarterback with a proven upside, over Josh Rosen, a talented but unproven young quarterback, has certainly helped keep the team competitive. While Fitzpatrick has thown almost as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (13), he’s also put up two 300-plus-yard passing games in the last three weeks. Wide receiver DeVante Parker, who caught seven passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles and seven passes for 135 yards against the Bills has emerged as a big-play threat.
The execution is better. The play-calling has improved. And coach Brian Flores deserves credit for making this team competitive, just as he deserved the blame early in the season, when they weren’t. They’re even fun to watch, as teams with low expectations can sometimes be. Look no further than Sunday’s fake field goal shovel pass for a touchdown in the first half or their comeback in the second half.
Three of the Dolphins’ last four games are win-able, with the Jets and New York Giants on the road followed by the one-win Cincinnati Bengals at home. And their season finale against the hated New England Patriots could become competitive, should the defending Super Bowl champions lock up the AFC East by then and decide to rest starters.
A six-win season is very much in play for these Dolphins. And while that could affect their draft position, it would also show very real progress.
You can catch Brandon Marshall along with Phil Simms, Ray Lewis, Michael Irvin, and host James Brown on Inside The NFL every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.