The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

DOLPHINS DERAIL PATS! BATES DERAILING SABAN?

An amazing season-making 29-28 win by his 2-11 Dolphins against the 12-1 defending Super Bowl champs may be just what Jim Bates needs to derail the Nick Saban express that had been gathering momentum until the NFL reminded the Dolphins about its minority hiring rules last week. For the last week the sports airwaves were full of the news that the Dolphins were actively pursuing Nick Saban for the head coaching spot, but conclusion of the Saban deal was slowed by the NFL requirement that minority candidates be interviewed before a head coach is hired. Meanwhile, Bates was scheduled for his “courtesy” interview Monday following the New England game. Thanks to the courtesy of a season-making win against the Super Bowl champs, Bates has shown that he must be taken as a very serious candidate.

A.J. Feeley threw the winning touchdown pass with only 1:23 left in the game, finally showing that he could throw a game-winning touchdown pass to someone wearing a Dolphins’ uniform. From there, the Dolphins’ defense held the Patriots. The victory was sealed by an Arturo Freeman interception with 0:58 left, the fourth interception of the night for Tom Brady (matching his career high). These turnovers enabled the Dolphins to win even though they were out-gained by the Patriots 322-231 who also held a 35:06 to 24:54 time of possession edge.

The game started out rough with the Patriots driving 77 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive. However, a 71-yard return on the ensuing kickoff by Wes Welker set up a two yard touchdown run by Sammy Morris to tie the score at seven. From there the Dolphins defense held the Patriots to 67 yards the rest of the first half. Although the Patriots got another first-half touchdown on a second quarter drive that started at their own 49 yard line, they left the field at the half with only a 4-point lead.

The Dolphins took the lead in the third quarter on a 1-yard run by Travis Minor following a clutch third down catch by Derrius Thompson that took the ball to the 1-yard line. The Patriots got the lead back with a touchdown drive on their very next possession. They extended the lead to 28-17 in the fourth quarter on another Brady TD pass.

With four minutes left, A.J. Feeley went to work. He took them down the field on a 68-yard drive that culminated with a 1-yard run by Sammy Morris with 2:07 left. After the two-point conversion failed, the Dolphins surprised the Patriots by kicking off deep rather than trying an on-side kick.

The defense did the trick holding the Patriots when it forced Brady into an interception as he wildly threw up the ball as he was being mauled by Jason Taylor on third down, the ball going into the happy hands of fourth-string linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo. This uncharacteristic Brady miscue gave the Dolphins the ball at the Patriots 21-yard line, needing only a touchdown to take the lead. On fourth and 10, Feeley threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Derrius Thompson that put the Dolphins ahead for good.

This amazing game highlights why the Dolphins’ upcoming head coaching decision is not as simple as last week’s bandwagon might suggest. Although Nick Saban would be a good choice, the Dolphins have another good choice right in their own house. The advantage to hiring Bates is not just his knowledge of the team and his demonstrated ability to motivate the players even when the season was over and done with before he took over the reins. Unlike Saban, Bates would not be able to dictate full personnel control as a condition of accepting the job. In this day and age, the job requirements for head coach and GM make it increasingly difficult for the same person to effectively hold both jobs. This is the distinct advantage that Bates offers over Saban. Of course, this would not save the job of GM Rick Spielman who will be relieved of his position no matter what, but it would nevertheless free the Dolphins to hire a real GM who could focus on GM duties while Bates could focus strictly on head coaching duties.

It may well be that the Saban era was a done deal even before this big win. On this Monday night, however, the Dolphins made sure that the Pats were a done deal, at least for this one season-making night!

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