December 3, 2007

Can The Dolphins Do It?

The NFL and its fans have a rare opportunity to follow two teams pushing for perfection in the same season. Tonight, the New England Patriots take on history again as well as the Baltimore Ravens in tonight's Monday night game, hoping to extend their unbeaten record in 2007. Yesterday, the Dolphins managed to clear the most significant hurdle in their quest for another kind of perfection:

It's going to be tough to stop the Miami Dolphins now.

The last realistic obstacle in their path to imperfect immortality -- the New York Jets -- came and went Sunday, dropping a 40-13 defeat on the Dolphins as easily as Miami quarterback John Beck dropped the football -- twice -- when he wasn't throwing it to Jets defenders.

After three interceptions and two lost fumbles by Beck, the Dolphins were left at 0-12 with four games to play. They are the seventh team to open the NFL season with 12 consecutive defeats but the first to get there with seemingly no way out of an indelible 0-16 tag.*

(*The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 because 31 years ago, NFL rules prevented teams from losing more than 14 games during a regular season. That changed in 1978, when the league expanded its regular-season schedule to 16 games. The Buccaneers went on to lose their first 12 games of the 1977 season for an overall 26-game losing streak, but the record does show that Tampa Bay never finished a season worse than 0-14. Sorry, Dolphins fans. Rules are rules.)

Florida may well find itself with two goose-egged NFL teams in history. At least the 1976 Bucs had some excuses. They had just come into existence as an expansion franchise in an era with some considerable hurdles to forming a first-year team. The NFL didn't have free agency at the time, so a free-spending new owner could hardly have bought his way to respectability, or even a couple of wins. It was a team of cast-offs and rookies, and legendary USC coach John McKay learned how Casey Stengel felt while managing the Mets in 1962. Asked to comment after one game about his team's execution, McKay replied that he thought it sounded like a good idea.

The Dolphins could use the excuse that they're in their 41st year as an expansion team, and they've certainly played like it. Despite going 0-for-2007, the Dolphins went into yesterday's game as the favorites. The Jets had just stunned the Steelers with a win at home, but otherwise had only beaten one other team -- the Dolphins, also at home. With home-field advantage and having just lost to the Steelers on the road by the only three points scored in the game, oddsmakers figured the Dolphins couldn't be bad enough to lose at home against the Jets.

Hopefully, Vegas casinos will absorb the shock at the slots. The Jets creamed the Dolphins in their worst loss all season -- and it doesn't get any better for Miami from this point forward. They have to play Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and the unbeaten Patriots to close out the season. They will have a tough time avoiding immortality as the only 0-16 NFL team ever.

This season could feature an impossible pas de deux: an unbeaten team and an all-beaten team, together in the same division. It would be the stuff of legend. Football fans will be on the edge of their seats for the rest of the year, and it's about the only way Miami could generate any interest at all.


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