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  The Miami Dolphins are Back
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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"We have a bigger goal now. It's obvious: We're trying to get to Tampa. And we've got enough to do it."
-- Miami Dolphins DT Jason Ferguson


It has been a long road.


Seven years. Seven long years.


Four head coaches plus an interim one. Three general managers.


Five different offensive coordinators, five new systems, five different opening day quarterbacks.


A 39-57 (.406) record from 2002-2007, including 4-12, 6-10, and 1-15 disasters.


Now, the wandering is over. The Miami Dolphins are back. Back in the playoffs. Back to their rightful place among the league's best.


Back where they belong.


This is the emphatic statement we can make today after Miami's thrilling 24-17 win over the New York Jets in the Meadowlands, earning them the 2008 AFC East Championship and sending the Jets and New England Patriots home for the postseason.


It's just like the good old days, when the Dolphins regularly used their divisional foes as stepping stones to postseason glories. As Yogi Berra once said, "It's deja vu all over again!"


Miami's unprecedented turnaround, from the ashes of 1-15 to a surprising 11-5, will go down as the greatest in NFL history. That's almost 90 years of history, people; another triumph to be added to the many achievements of this storied franchise.


Eventually the Dolphins will have time to reflect on this accomplishment. But not now, not with more work to be done, and more games to be won. Quite frankly, no one cares about 11-5 anymore. For today, everyone's counter has been reset to 0-0. The Dolphins are back at the big boy table again.


Today, this week really, the singular focus the Dolphins will have is defeating the Baltimore Ravens. Yet the salient question that is now pressing, justifiably so, is "Just how far can this team go?"


Pragmatists, most media folks really, will sniff and say this Sunday will be the end of the road, employing stats and other paper-based rationale, together with their unending love of Ray Lewis, to support their arguments for a limited postseason impact.


Others believe that the sky is the limit, for every once in a while in Sports, magic gets caught in a bottle; stars align, things that defy logic happen, and circumstances favor a certain destiny.


Most folks will agree that hard work and solid execution on many fronts tends to be conducive to good luck. But one must also have the talent to take advantage of the opportunities good fortune presents. The Dolphins have proven they have that talent.


Still, nothing is guaranteed. Nothing. It was the late Dan Marino, Sr. who said "You only deserve what you earn".


Without question, the Dolphins are legitimate contenders. They wouldn't be AFC East champs if they weren't. They are tough, smart, and disciplined. They are still getting better, especially at wide receiver and on special teams. They have great leadership. They play good defense, the king of championships. And they have a very good quarterback.


All of these things are key ingredients to winning a championship.


So, yes, count me in the group of people who believe the Dolphins are good enough to defeat the Ravens this Sunday at Dolphin Stadium (1pm ET, CBS).


Sure, the Ravens won the earlier contest 27-13. That's fine. Just remember that nothing that the Ravens did in that game will help them to win this one.


Expect the Dolphins to have plenty of counters in the offense, both with the Base and Wildcat schemes, to answer most anything that Ravens' defensive coordinator Rex Ryan will think up.


Innovation, thy name is Dan Henning.


Also expect the Dolphins to have a plan to try and rattle rookie QB Joe Flacco and stymie the gameplan that ex-Dolphin coach Cam Cameron will draw up. Cameron had an advantage the last time in that he knew many of Miami's defensive players; their tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. Will that advantage matter as much this time? Did Cameron over tip his hand in the previous meeting?


We shall soon see. Do keep in mind that Dolphin starting DT Jason Ferguson will play in this game; he was injured in their previous meeting.


Also keep in mind that the Ravens will be facing a much more hostile and frenzied crowd than they did this past October. Back then, the Dolphins were still in "prove it" mode. Dolphin Stadium was a third empty for that game, and a good number of those in attendance were Ravens fans.


The atmosphere will be totally different this time; the packed house will be an advantage for the Dolphins in this one. The 49ers, the first opponent to fully feel that hostile energy this season, learned all about it. It's another sign that the Dolphins are indeed back.


As faithful readers of this column have come to know, I am not big on making predictions; especially in a season that has already defied all logic. What I do know is that the players are feeling it right now, and a big playoff win over a tough Ravens team could propel this team to even greater heights.


Yes, the sky could indeed be the limit.



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