MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins are 8-3 for the first time in what feels like forever.
In reality, it’s been 21 years, which is still a very long time.
The Dolphins finished 11-5 during the 2001 season, losing a Wild Card Playoff game at home to the Baltimore Ravens 20-3.
Since then, the Dolphins have made the playoffs exactly twice. They lost to the Ravens at home again in 2008 and dropped a road game at Pittsburgh in 2016.
Long story short, the successful seasons have been few and far between over the past several decades, and even those winning years ended with quick and uninspiring postseason defeats.
Could this season be different?
So far, under new head coach Mike McDaniel and led by third-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, things have felt anything but the norm.
Miami is preparing to enter the month of December with a lot of important football games ahead of it.
There are six games remaining on the schedule, with the next three coming on the road.
Each one will give the Dolphins another opportunity to further cement their place atop the AFC East, but McDaniel made it clear on Monday that he only wants the team focusing on one team, one week at a time.
“I’m very steadfast and consistent with this one where I hope that no player on our team or coach has any clue who we play after the next opponent only because to the point that I try to get people not to even know our schedule, because I don’t think that is how you win in this league,” McDaniel explained. “You just worry 100 percent about the challenge at hand, and you better versus the 49ers or they’ll quickly humble you. And then you just learn from that game and you move on to the next. And I think that is as simple as it sounds, I think that is a concrete formula to allow win, loss, tie – to give yourself the best chance to put your best stuff out on the field. And anything that short-changes that is an opportunity cost that I try not to do.”
It’s an approach that the Dolphins have clearly done well with so far this season.
Now, as the league enters the home stretch, with teams clawing and scraping for playoff positioning, Miami is in an unfamiliar position of strength.
Entering December with not only a winning record, but one of the best in the league, puts the Dolphins in the spotlight.
If you ask McDaniel, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Each and every week will have implications on playoffs that will help determine seeding and whether you’re playing home or away, and whether you can continue playing with the team that you’re on. Our team really likes to be around each other, has a lot of love for each other, and wants to see us take this as far as we can. And the biggest thing to do that is to go ahead and strap up for the most exciting football that that exists, which is real ball in the 12th month of the year.”
Simply qualifying for the playoffs, something Miami has done very sparingly this millennium, no longer seems to be the bar to reach.
Now we’re talking about getting homefield advantage, hosting games in South Florida at a time of the year where most cities are dealing with cold weather and the effects that comes with living in a place that experiences, you know, winter.
Thanks to McDaniel, Tagovailoa and the rest of the Dolphins, this team has quite the opportunity in front of it.
Not only is Miami’s fate in its own hands, but there are legitimate reasons to believe that some playoff success could be in its future.
It’s been a long time since this team has had so much positivity surrounding it entering the month of December.
Playing significant football games after Thanksgiving is something NFL coaches and players strive for, and many, like McDaniel, understand and appreciate the gravity and importance behind them.
“I think the bottom line is in December and January, meaningful football is the starting point,” McDaniel said. “You want to be in those months playing meaningful football. And when you are in those months playing meaningful football, it is something unlike any other style of football that exists. The beginning of the season pales in comparison to that environment.”
The Dolphins travel out west to face the 7-4 San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m.