The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

PLUS SEVEN AND COUNTING

As compared to last season’s 0-12 at this juncture, this season’s 7-5 record is most pleasing for what it is: a plus-seven over last year. That is the perspective from which this year’s record must be measured.

The disappointment of last week’s loss to the Pats that took the Fins out of serious playoff contention has a way of distorting things, such as that the Fins were in reality in “serious playoff contention” in the first place. This team has too many holes to be considered a true playoff contender. But coming from last season’s near imperfect record, plus-seven looks pretty good.

With 4 games remaining (against the Bills, Niners, Chiefs and Jets), these Fins may well end up 9-7 (or, dare it be said, better), which would be a most delightful plus-eight (or so). Only one team in history has ever been more than a plus-nine from one season to the next. And that’s the perspective from which this 2008 Dolphins’ team should be analyzed.

Win number 7 on this season came against the St. Louis Rams who are now 2-10. Considering how poorly the Rams have played this season, Sunday’s 16-12 win was hardly impressive, especially given that the Rams had been outscored in their last 4 games 143-35. And the Fins’ victory on Sunday wasn’t even sealed until Andre Goodman’s interception at the Fins’ 5-yard line with seconds left on the game clock. Fortunately he was in the right position, but the truth is that while he was ahead of the receiver, he had his eyes focused on the ball and did not realize that the receiver was in a position to make the play. Had the receiver been able to reach a few inches further, he would have been able to snatch the ball before it fell into Goodman’s hands and his momentum likely have carried him into the end zone for a game-winning touchdown. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and the Fins hung on for a 4-point road victory against the lowly Rams. But a victory is still a victory in the NFL.

The defense held QB Marc Bulger to a 22.2 passer rating and did so with relatively little pressure and no sacks (for the first time this season). He completed only 16 of 35 (45.7%) and was intercepted 3 times, all of which came in the second half. The 3 picks (by Reinaldo Hill, Akin Ayodele and Andre Goodman) were probably the difference in the game. But the Rams ran fairly effectively, gaining 129 yards for the day. Steve Jackson gained 94 yards, 72 of which came in the first half. The Rams clearly had more success running than passing and, given the closeness of the game throughout the afternoon, it is a little surprising they didn’t stick with the run more in the second half.

Meanwhile, the Fins somehow managed 149 yards rushing even though Ricky Williams led the team with only 54. Ronnie Brown added 48 yards and Lousaka Polite contributed another 20 yards. Chad Pennington had a relatively rough time passing going only 13 for 23 (56.5%) for 166 yards and no touchdowns.

Dan Carpenter was 3 of 3 on field goals. The last kick was his eleventh straight, a new Dolphins’ rookie record. He is making the front office look good, silencing those who wondered why Jay Feely was cut this preseason coming off an amazingly accurate year in 2007.

Penalties hurt the Fins, especially in the first half when they were flagged 6 times for 69 yards. Overall they were flagged 10 times for 94 yards. The key is that they won the turnover battle 3-1, the only Fins’ turnover coming on a fumble by David Martin after he caught a Ronnie Brown pass on a trick play. Fortunately, the Rams turned the ball over immediately thereafter so that Martin’s fumble did not cost the Fins any points.

The worst news of the day was that Justin Smiley sustained a serious injury and appears lost for the season. The Dolphins’ offensive line was thin enough before losing Smiley, a key player on the line. Although the Fins have enjoyed a relatively injury-free season for an NFL team, the last two weeks have cost them Greg Camarillo (their leading receiver at the time) and now Justin Smiley for the season.

With the seventh win of the season safely in hand, the Fins will try to keep the wins coming. Although the playoffs remain a bit of a possibility (because all of the other AFC East teams lost on Sunday), this season was never really about the playoffs. What this season is about is: Plus Seven and Counting.

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