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  Finish Mustn't Excuse Flaws
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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It was amazing to behold.


All but dead, the Dolphins, hopelessly behind 3-23 early in the fourth quarter, pulled a Lazarus on us by rising up and stunning the Bills with the winning points in the final seconds.



It will go down as the third greatest fourth quarter deficit ever overcome in NFL history.


Sweeter still is that it was the Bills who got paid. In Dolphinland, that’s the way it should be.


Yes, it was an amazing fourth quarter of play. But it would be a serious mistake for the Dolphins to forget what happened in the three quarters preceding.


Let’s hope that the players practice that golden 24 Hour Rule that Nick Saban employs. In this case, celebrate and enjoy a terrific win and, then, move on.


Move on to the film, to the mental breakdowns, to the lack of self-preparation so many players exhibited during pre-game, compelling Saban to give the team a rare pre-game “ass-chewing”.


Let’s be honest. The Bills are a bad team, underachieving and starting to come apart in their locker room. The Dolphins took advantage and got over.




Against a truly good team like this week’s opponent, the San Diego Chargers, such sloppiness will certainly cost the Dolphins a critical win and consequently end their slim playoff hopes.


Saban knows this. He also knows that there are valuable lessons to be learned; he’ll focus on the positive and use it as an instrument to correct the negative.


In his postgame press conference, Saban was delighted with how the team overcame a disastrous first quarter to hold serve with the Bills until the fourth quarter fireworks erupted.


Said Saban, "I didn't like the look before the game. I didn't like the way we warmed up in pre-game. We were too cavalier, too casual. There was a little ass-chewing that accompanied the pre-game talk relative to that.”


“I'm certainly not pleased with the way we started, and I'm certainly not pleased with the mind-set we started with. I'm certainly pleased with the character and the attitude that we came back into the game with and the perseverance we showed that enabled us to win."


So what do the Dolphins need to do to take this big win and use it as a slingshot against the Patriots’ two game lead in the playoff race?


First, the veteran leadership on this team needs to step up.


This is not the first time that the Dolphins have come out of the locker room not ready to play winning football at the opening kickoff. It is up to the players themselves to be prepared to play with the necessary intensity, especially during December football where the stakes are high.


The leaders in that locker room need to take it upon themselves to get that “too cavalier, too casual” attitude cleaned up.


Second, each and every player must renew their own personal commitment to eliminating mental errors. Whether it is a false start or a poor technique in pass coverage, this team simply isn’t good enough to continuously overcome unforced errors.


Receivers need to catch what hits their hands. Runners and receivers need to remember to protect the football at all times. Quarterbacks need to make good decisions.


Yes all of this is very parochial, yet terribly important because now is time when champions put in extra time in preparation to eliminate mental mistakes, be it watching film or catching extra balls after practice.


Third, coaches need to emphasize what this team does well in the game plans they draw up. At this point in the season, plays and schemes that guys haven’t been executing consistently well should be thrown out.


On offense, the Dolphins run the ball well and seem to have an aptitude for the no-huddle offense.  


On defense, the blitz and disguised coverages have been effective in overcoming one-on-one mismatches. Getting Zach Thomas and Keith Traylor back in the mix will be important. And let’s see more of Manuel Wright…he did some very positive things against the Bills; some fresh legs on the line against the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson wouldn’t hurt.


Finally, Saban should re-emphasize his focus with the players and the public on winning games NOW. He can say it 10,000 times but he should say it 10,500 times…the most important game this team will play is the next one. No one should care right now what will happen in 2006 or beyond.


Think of the next game as the next step in the growing process of this team.


Watching an animated Saban on the sidelines tells me he cares deeply about winning each and every game. His players see it, too. Yet he should pound the War Daddy Board for emphasis, just to keep the message fresh in the minds of the players.


Realistically, it will take another miracle for the Dolphins to be in position to make the last game of the season meaningful. The best hope the Dolphins have is that an angry Bills team blows up all over the Patriots this weekend at Ralph Wilson Stadium, followed up by a Chucky Special at Gillette Stadium, courtesy of Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 


This, of course, assumes that the Dolphins win the next three games, which would give them and the Patriots matching 8-7 records and set up a winner-take-all game on New Years’ Day.


First things first. Getting by the Chargers, on the road, won’t be a picnic by any means.


Still, here we are, in December, talking about what this team needs to do to make the playoffs. Considering where this team was this time last year, it is a pretty good thing.


Yes, the odds are long. But, perhaps, the Dolphins can shorten them a bit.


Playing for a full 60 minutes would be a good start.




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