Senior NFL Columnist

Monday Musings: Dolphins could be dangerous playoff team

Dolphins LB Dannell Ellerbe hugs Michael Thomas after Thomas' clinching INT of Tom Brady. (USATSI)
Dolphins LB Dannell Ellerbe hugs Michael Thomas after Thomas' clinching INT of Tom Brady. (USATSI)

They were a mess, a complete disaster.

Everybody was getting fired. The second-year passer was just OK. Their bullying scandal swept the nation, keeping them in the news for bad things, and making them a national story.

Now with two weeks left in the regular season, fresh off an impressive home victory over the New England Patriots, the Miami Dolphins have a real chance to be a playoff team.

How did that turnaround happen?

It happened because coach Joe Philbin, who took a ton of heat and was clearly on the hot seat in the middle of the Richie Incognito mess, kept his team moving forward.

It happened because Ryan Tannehill, the second-year quarterback, has grown up in a big way, showing that he has a chance to be a franchise quarterback.

It happened because they have pass rushers who can attack the quarterback.

The Dolphins are 8-6 with two games to go and they are 5-2 since Jonathan Martin left the team in the bullying mess.

That Monday night loss to Tampa Bay seems so long ago.

The Dolphins beat the Patriots when Michael Thomas picked off Tom Brady's fourth-down pass in the end zone to let the Dolphins escape with 24-20 victory. What highlighted the victory was the play of Tannehill. He led a great drive to a touchdown right before the half to bring Miami within 10-7, then drove the Dolphins to the go-ahead score in the final minute. Tannehill was 25 of 37 for 312 yards and three touchdown passes.

In the past three weeks, all Dolphins victories, he has eight touchdown passes and two interceptions.

You can see his confidence growing each week, making pinpoint throws in clutch situations.

If the Dolphins get into the playoffs the way they are playing, they can be dangerous. In the postseason, you need a quarterback who can make plays when they're needed and pass rushers. Miami has two good edge rushers in Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon.

The mess isn't so messy anymore.

Bullying scandal? Does it matter anymore?

More musings

Are there any good teams in the AFC? The supposed three top teams lost in Week 15. Denver lost at home to San Diego, New England lost on the road to Miami and the Bengals were destroyed at Pittsburgh. Ouch.

Can we please end the talk of how Josh McCown should be playing instead of Jay Cutler? McCown is a backup. Cutler is a quality starter. Big difference. We saw what Cutler is capable of against the Browns this week as he returned to the lineup after missing four starts. He was 22 of 31 for 265 yards and three touchdown passes. Cutler did get picked twice, but that's because of how he plays. He is a gunslinger. You take the good and the bad with him, but he has the skill-set that McCown doesn't. So let's end this quarterback controversy. Cutler needs to start and the Bears need to bring him back as their franchise passer.

Maybe the Redskins should have traded Kirk Cousins at halftime of Sunday's game at the Falcons. He was sensational in the first half, but turned it over three times in the second half. The idea that the Redskins can get a first-round pick for him is absurd. He has some talent, and he made some nice throws, but really?

The four leading tacklers for the Falcons against the Redskins were all rookies. They were corner Robert Alford and linebacker Paul Worrilow with nine each, Desmond Trufant with seven and linebacker Jopio Bartu with six. That's a good sign moving forward. Rookie safety Zeke Motta also had five in his first NFL start. The Falcons also started two rookie tackles on offense. They've had a ton of injuries this season, but the good thing is playing all these young players will be good for 2014.

I hate when teams go for two with a chance to tie with an extra point in the closing minute. But I can't find fault with the Redskins going for the win against the Falcons. What are they playing for now? Nothing. So why play longer than you have to with a chance to win. Mike Shanahan made the right call, even if it didn't work.

With nothing on the line, the Titans should have gone for two as well when they scored in the final seconds against the Cardinals. Something on the line, you kick and go to overtime. Not in that situation. Their season is done. Run it in and go home.

Eli Manning's abysmal performance aside, Tom Coughlin's job should not be in danger. (USATSI)
Eli Manning's abysmal performance aside, Tom Coughlin's job should not be in danger. (USATSI)

The Giants had 181 yards of offense and Eli Manning was picked off five times against the Seahawks. That is horrible. What has happened to this offense? The line stinks for starters. Manning has been asked to do too much. And he hasn't responded.

The idea that the Giants should fire Tom Coughlin is absurd. Lawrence Taylor, your opinion doesn't matter. You gave that up when you went through all your problems. Who cares what he thinks?

That Seattle defense is nasty. Can anybody beat the Seahawks in Seattle? Hard to imagine. But we've seen a lot of top seeds go down in recent years.

The Cowboys blew a 26-3 halftime lead to lose to the Packers on Sunday. They will blame that all on Tony Romo -- and he did throw two picks -- but this loss is on the defense and coaching staff. The defense couldn't stop Matt Flynn and the Packers. He led Green Bay to five touchdowns. The Cowboys play calling was horrendous. They should have been running the ball, rather than throwing it in the second half. It didn't help that Jason Garrett threw Romo under the bus after the game saying that he checked out of a run on the first pick. Garrett has to know better than to do that. That can't happen.

The Cardinals nearly gagged away a victory against the Titans, but won it in overtime. They led 34-17 late in the game, but Tennessee rallied to tie the score. The Cardinals are alive in the playoff chase. The next two are tough. They play at Seattle and home against San Francisco.

Jamaal Charles is special. He is the prototypical back. He can run it. He can catch it. He can make big plays. He had eight catches for 195 yards and four touchdowns against Oakland and also ran for one to become the first player in NFL history with four receiving touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in the same game.

The Saints lost at St. Louis and were embarrassed doing so. They also lost at Seattle and on the road to the Jets. All three of those teams are physical up front. That is not a good sign for the Saints going into this week in the rematch against the Panthers in Carolina. If the Panthers win their last two, the Saints will travel the wild-card route in the playoffs, which would mean a road playoff game -- if they even get into the playoffs.

Forget all the talk about Peyton Manning in the cold. He didn't lose that game last Thursday to the Chargers. It was the fault of the Denver defense. They couldn't get off the field. San Diego ran the ball and controlled the clock. That's how you keep Manning and his receivers from putting up big numbers. Credit goes to the San Diego offensive line. They did a nice job. Ryan Matthews ran for 127 yards to help control the football. The easy narrative would be to blame Manning. But that wasn't the issue. It was all about the Denver defense, a unit that needs to play better moving forward.

The Chiefs have come alive on offense. But what about that defense? It is struggling in a big way. Why?

The Bengals had a chance to move into the second spot in the AFC playoff race, but looked awful in losing to the Steelers Sunday night. They looked like anything but a playoff team. I still don't like the way they play on offense. They are far too conservative. Spread the offense more. Get BenJarvus Green-Ellis off the field as the feature back. But Giovani Bernard in to run it. Use tight end Tyler Eifert more.

What happened to the Eagles' defense? Matt Cassel lit them up. That shouldn't happen. It led to safety Patrick Chung being benched during the game. The Eagles' defense was resurgent until Sunday. Now comes Cutler and the Bears in a huge game.

How good is Rams defensive end Robert Quinn? He had had five tackles, two sacks, a tackle for loss, two quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery against the Saints. He abused Charles Brown. Quinn has a real shot to be the Defensive Player of the Year.

There is no excuse for Dez Bryant leaving the field with 1:21 left in the game. None. Stay with your teammates. Selfish act.

 
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