Growing up an NFL fan in Ireland, Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins were my first love. Marino hosted a show on the NFL Europe channel on Channel 4, the UK broadcaster. Back then in the 1980s, the Dolphins were still a force, with an iconic Super Bowl-winning head coach in Don Shula and a standout young quarterback in Marino. You can trace the allegiance of countless Gen X British and Irish fans back to the success the Dolphins, the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears enjoyed during the eighties.
Dolphins fans have endured decades of mediocrity and disappointment since then, but there’s signs from the present team that a return to glory might lie ahead.
First, and most importantly, Brian Flores came in as head coach in 2019. He’s turned around the organization culturally and transformed the coaching set-up. His defense is full of no name players playing outstanding football each weekend. The Dolphins defense is versatile, can set up a number of packages, and looks for different offenses. This makes them a handful to prepare for each week.
They’ve added the face of the franchise quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the draft and he’s enjoying a typical up and down rookie season. Miami is loaded with a lot of draft capital for the 2021 draft, especially first round picks. First comes a rebuild. Then a reload. Dolphins fans are hoping forays deep into the playoffs are next.
Game of the Week: Cleveland Browns @ Tennessee Titans
An imperious passing performance by quarterback Baker Mayfield led the Cleveland Browns to a resounding 41-35 win over AFC rivals the Tennessee Titans. It was the Browns who looked every bit the playground bullies, we’ve come to expect of their opponents, and the game was over after Cleveland scored 38 points in the first half. Cleveland made a huge fourth down stop in the first quarter which changed the entire course of the game. Then Titans running back Derrick Henry fumbled. The Browns shut Henry down for most of the day.
Watching Baker Mayfield this season hasn’t been easy. He’s looked like a game manager for stretches of the Browns season, his third in the NFL, and more noteworthy for the flurry of tedious adverts he’s appeared in than for his on field performance. This performance was his best game as a pro. He rode the line between aggressiveness and taking care of the football so well. His passing was magnificent but I thought a different play in the first half signified his maturity. Instead of taking a sack and staring at third and seventeen, he got rid of the ball which gave the Browns a chance to convert the third down. Had he given up a sack and huge yardage, it might have given Tennessee a sniff.
He completed 25-of-33 passes for 334 yards, four touchdowns and his second-best single-game passer rating (147) of his young career. This was a statement win for Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski who deserves much of the praise for turning Mayfield and the Browns organization around. In the off-season, I wrote about how crucial a role Stefanski could play in unlocking Mayfield. Tennessee found out the hard way the potential of their partnership.
The Titans had no answers until it was too late. Their defense was humiliated.
The Browns can take another momentous step towards the playoffs by punching Baltimore in the mouth next Monday. On this form, they are a frisky wildcard team. Highlights from Week 12
Quote of the Week: “The Los Angeles Chargers head coaching job is attractive in many ways, but it’s also like buying a house where someone was murdered.” - Mina Kimes, ESPN’s analyst, beautifully captures the Chargers.
Stat of the Week: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers became the seventh quarterback in NFL history to throw 400 career touchdown passes on Sunday. Rodgers joins Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Dan Marino, and Philip Rivers in the 400-touchdown pass club. Rodgers is the fastest to reach 400.
NFC West: The Seahawks had a crushing loss to the New York Giants. The L.A. Rams took care of the Cardinals to go top of the West, in which Jared Goff responded to his critics. The 49ers play tonight. The West is set up for another explosive finish.
Hot Butts: The following head coaches are next up on the chopping block: Chicago’s Matt Nagy, Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson, and the Chargers Anthony Lynn.
MVP of the Week: Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski and his quarterback Baker Mayfield can share the game ball. The playoffs will be fun if they stick to this script.
Made in Norman, OK: The latest name in the Oklahoma quarterback chain which features Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray announced himself yesterday. Jalen Hurts came in to warm up a lifeless Philadelphia Eagles corpse, and replace the shattered Carson Wentz. Hurts did ok, largely scrambling for yards, and had one memorable touchdown pass. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma’s brilliant head coach, is often linked to NFL head coaching jobs. When you see his three former pupils play, it is easy to see why. It is fruitless for the Eagles to blindly persist with Wentz.
Bradywatch: Tampa is on bye this week. Maybe a break will do Tom good.
‘Fins making the leap
The Miami Dolphins labored to a win over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals yesterday to go to 8-4. A showdown for the AFC East division awaits when they play the Buffalo Bills in week 17. Meaningful January football beckons.
The Dolphins most famous son, Dan Marino, spent his entire 17-year career with the Dolphins but never won a Super Bowl. I had the pleasure of meeting him in Seattle in 2017. He was a kind, affable man. As I was leaving, I waved and he told the group he was with that I was the Irish guy who watched when I was child and remembered him from his Channel 4 days. Meeting him and hearing him tell the story was a wonderful personal moment.
If the upwardly mobile Dolphins are to boldly go where Dan Marino was never able to under Brian Flores, they might heed Marino’s mantra that he scribbled on his note to me: “Go deep!”