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  Dolphins Hanging Tough
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Gritty bunch, these Dolphins.


At one point they were a 3-7 dog on a dismal road to the top end of the 2006 NFL Draft. Today they are winners of three straight and on the verge of getting back to .500 for the first time since Week 4 of this uneven season.



And their playoff hopes are still alive, albeit barely.


What a ride the Good Guys have given us these past three weeks!


First they go into Oakland, not the best place in the world historically for the Dolphins, and they kick the Raiders all over Network Associates Coliseum. Embarrassed them, really.


Then, in what eventually could be viewed as the turning point in the Nick Saban era, the Dolphins miraculously overcame a 21 point deficit in the fourth quarter to stun the hated Buffalo Bills, 24-23.


Like two ships passing in the night, it is the Dolphins’ fortunes on the way up now and the Bills, once thought to be a serious contender for a divisional title, on their way back to their usual seat in the cellar.


And now, most recently, we have the stunner in San Diego. The Chargers were battling for a playoff spot, maybe even looking ahead to their anticipated match-up with the 13-0 Indianapolis Colts. The Dolphins were fighting for pride.


Not one single prognosticator gave the Dolphins a chance to win. Not one. Their consensus prediction: a gruesome death for the Dolphins.


Miami Herald columnist Dan LeBatard served up the topper when he predicted that the Dolphins would “look hopeless and lost” against the “exceptional San Diego Chargers”.


Gee, I thought LeBatard was supposed be a hometown guy; not a shill, but a respectful writer.


Hey Dan, how do you like ‘em now?


Seriously, what we are seeing is a team that’s been laying it out there, fighting to get back to respectability, trying somehow, someway to crash the playoff party.


The odds are still long. Way long. Bottom line is that the Dolphins must win the next two games (Jets, at Titans) AND the Patriots must lose their next two (Buccaneers, at Jets) in order for that New Years’ Day match-up at Gillette to be playoff meaningful.


Hard to see Tom Brady’s Pats losing two in a row.


Then again, no one saw the Dolphins spanking the Chargers.


The NFL can be an unpredictable game in December, when the stakes are high and the real pressure begins to mount. Could the Bucs tag the Pats at Gillette this Saturday?


Sure, especially with Major Tom hobbling around in a questionable state.


Could the Jets turn their at home Monday Nighter with the Pats into their own private Super Bowl, similar to what the Dolphins did last year against the Pats in trying to make something positive happen out of a miserable campaign?




I’ll stop there with the dreaming because I really won’t pretend to know what will happen this weekend. I just know that this whole thing is fun.


It is fun to be in Week 15 talking Dolphins and playoffs instead of firings and the draft. It’s fun to see the Dolphins winning big games in December for the first time in a long time.


Who’d have thought it when the season began?


All along Nick Saban has been saying the Dolphins need to build confidence in what they are doing in order to build success. He was right.


The confidence is sky high now and so is the quality of play relative to what we’ve seen from this team in 2005. Yes, we wish it would have come several weeks (and losses) ago.


That’s why there will be changes this offseason. Major ones.


Yes, I expect Gus Frerotte to return at QB in 2006 because they’ll still need a veteran they can trust even when they draft a young prospect. Yes, I expect that they’ll go offensive line shopping in free agency and in the draft. Yes, I expect they will draft a cornerback and maybe a safety.


There’s more but, right now, none of this matters. You dance with the girl you brought to the party.


Rest assured, Saban sees the warts better than we do. He also sees a team that is fighting like hell, showing some of that resiliency, tenacity, and competitive spirit that is a hallmark of all great teams.


He’s sees a team that is not done with 2005, a team that wants to go out as winners.


We see it, too.


As Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman recently wrote, “How can you not root for them? They've become a tough team, man. Big gutty comeback against San Diego, victories in two west coast trips in three weeks. I don't know where this will lead, but they've made a believer out of me.”


They’ve made a believer out of me, too.




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