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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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It was beautiful and brutal all at once.


The first Dolphin win of the season, a 13-10 defensive contest against the Tennessee Titans was much needed...a relief.


“A load off all of our shoulders”, DT Keith Traylor (2 sacks, 5 tackles) called it.


Ugly is what the faithful are calling it.


No matter. A win is a win and these Dolphins needed that season-saving victory in the worst way. Still finding themselves, especially on offense, the Dolphins knew that an 0-3 start would have been a killer.



And so, they did what was necessary.


A goal line fumble recovery by Andre Goodman. An interception by Zach Thomas. Sacks by Traylor. Clutch receptions and sheer grittiness by Wes Welker. Hard running by Ronnie Brown.


And, yes, the game-saving interception by one Travis Daniels, fresh off the injury list and fighting to get his game legs back under him. Daniels fittingly finished his celebration by immersing himself in a bunch of Dolphin fans who run web sites devoted to Daniels and his mates.


Even Daunte Culpepper, struggling for most of the game, contributed with a 5 yard TD run and a critical 19 yard pass completion on 3rd and 8 to keep the Titans off the field. It was perhaps the most positive pass Culpepper has completed all season, mostly because it came in a clutch 3rd and long situation with the game on the line.


For those of us looking for a sign that better days are ahead for the passing game, important moments, like the aforementioned 3rd down completion, offer encouragement.


So was a day-after observation from Dan Marino, noting that the “rhythm was a little better”.


Baby steps, perhaps, when leaps are needed. You know Nick Saban won’t be pulling punches with his team, recognizing that they “have a lot of things to improve on”.


True enough. The secondary continues to fail at too frequent a rate, special teams breakdowns have been damaging, and the passing game is unsatisfying.


The salient question now is whether or not the Dolphins can improve enough to survive an upcoming three game stretch on the road, starting with the Texans and continuing with the murderous Patriots and, finally, archrival New York Jets.


With Culpepper, it will continue to be about patience. We may not see his best football until next year, if the precedent regarding similar knee injuries continues to hold. For #8 in 2006, it will come down to his ability to play effectively within his limitations, along with a growing willingness to trust the system.


And, without a doubt, the offensive line has got to do a better job of keeping him clean.


In the defensive secondary, there is not a lot more that the coaches can do with the talent on hand. As Saban might say, ‘they are what they are’.


Yes, Daniels’ return will help. Just remember that he is not the silver bullet. Improved play by the safeties might be, though don’t expect Jason Allen to come to the rescue anytime soon; his time to shine probably won’t come until 2007.


For now, what the cover guys need to do more than anything else is do a better job of executing their assignments. Mssrs. Tom Brady and Chad Pennington are considerably more accurate than Kerry Collins, with David Carr enjoying the services of the dangerous Andre Johnson more than ever.


As for the special teams gaffes, which will happen from time to time, there just isn’t enough offensive firepower to withstand fumbles, missed assignments, penalties, and blown opportunities to flip field position. The Dolphins are simply beating themselves in this regard.


Back to the schedule, one gets the sense that the Dolphins must go 2-1 over this three game road trip to keep their playoff aspirations intact. Finding a way to score more than 12 points per game is the key. They don’t have to be sexy doing it but they must do it.


Culpepper will come along eventually but probably not in time for this three game swing. As such, more Ronnie Brown would be a very good idea. Brown, Miami’s best offensive player this year, had 26 carries versus Tennessee and should continue to get 20-25 carries. Furthermore, the Dolphins ought to involve him more in the passing game, where his speed and size creates a mismatch in almost all cases.


As a matter of need, the Dolphins have been keeping Brown in as a pass blocker. This practice plays right into the hands of the opposition as the Dolphins are essentially eliminating a scoring threat for the defense. Another option for protecting Culpepper must be found.


I’m not proposing a return to Wannstedt wad ball here but they’re not going to win very many games by continuing to send out only two WRs from their base offense and relying Culpepper in his current state.


As with any season, adjustments must be made. The Dolphins can win with what they have. It won’t always be pretty, but winning will be perfume enough.



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