Saturday, October 15, 2011
Can Matt Moore save the Dolphins?
By James Walker
The Dolphins are hoping unheralded backup QB Matt Moore can spark a turnaround for the 0-4 team.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Fifth-year quarterback Matt Moore was relaxed this week, cracking several jokes with the media. He didn't look like a player carrying the weight of an organization on his shoulders.
Moore appears unfazed by the fact that the winless Miami Dolphins (0-4) are turning to him at a crucial time. Head coach Tony Sparano is on the hot seat and must win immediately. General manager Jeff Ireland also is being criticized. And players are fighting for their jobs to prevent the team from cleaning house in 2012.
Moore's ability -- or inability -- to solidify Miami's quarterback situation will go a long way toward determining the fates of Sparano and Ireland. Moore will make his first start with Miami in place of injured quarterback Chad Henne (shoulder) on "Monday Night Football" against the New York Jets (2-3).
This will be Moore's 14th career start, after he spent time in and out of the Carolina Panthers' lineup. He is 7-6 as a starter and has thrown for 2,807 yards, 16 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
"I've been in pretty much every situation you can be in as a quarterback in this league, from the No. 3 to starting and playing when I'm not expected to play," Moore said. "The situation here, yeah, I've been here before. It's unfortunate that Chad [Henne] had to go down. But that's why they got guys that need to step up and fill the role. Like I said, it's not the first time I've done it. There's some familiarity."
The most games Moore started in a season was five in 2009 and 2010. If things go well, Moore will quarterback Miami's final 12 games this season.
Players and coaches have described Moore as a "gamer." He's not the most gifted quarterback but finds ways to move the offense with his playmaking and mobility. Moore signed a two-year contract with the Dolphins this past offseason and can prove that he is not just a backup.
"He's somebody that I'm intrigued with," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "I don't think he will ever be a star. But he moves around a lot better than Henne; he's just not nearly as gifted a thrower. Moore is an average or slightly below-average passer. He doesn't muscle the ball down the field, but he's not bad there, either. He's a bit of an unknown, because he's never really had a chance. But I'm certainly not ready to dismiss him."
Moore often is a risk-taker, which has helped and hurt him at times. Jets head coach Rex Ryan recently described Moore as a "gunslinger."
"You can turn on the tape, and people can make their assumptions, labels," Moore quipped. "Have I thrown the ball downfield? Yeah. Gunslinger, or whatever you want to call it? I don't know. There's only one gunslinger if you ask me, and that's Brett Favre."
Here is the biggest irony of the situation: Moore was 1-4 as a starter last year in Carolina, and it helped the Panthers secure rookie sensation Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall draft pick. Could Moore struggle for a second straight year and help Miami land another highly touted quarterback in Stanford's Andrew Luck?
Many Dolphins fans are hoping that's the case. The "Suck for Luck" campaign is in full steam in Miami. The support is waning for this season's Dolphins, and many supporters already consider this a lost season.
Although it's too early to project next year's draft order, Miami is a prime candidate for a top-five pick based on its play in the first four games. Williamson believes Luck would fit in well with the Dolphins.
"By all accounts and from what I've seen of him, he's a very, very special player," Williamson said. "He's ahead of Sam Bradford, or Cam Newton or any of these recent first-round quarterbacks. He can turn any franchise around, and I think a lot of things are in place with the Dolphins. They have a left tackle, they have a center, they have a No. 1 receiver and they have a No. 1 running back now. They have a lot of pieces."
Consider Monday's game the "Desperation Bowl" for both teams. The Dolphins and Jets have combined for seven straight losses.
While the Dolphins are fighting for their jobs, the underachieving Jets are on the brink of imploding. Ryan put a lot of pressure on his team by predicting a Super Bowl victory at the beginning of the season. Now, New York's three-game losing streak has led to finger pointing and bickering in the locker room.
"Everything stinks when you lose," said Ryan, who is holding on to his Super Bowl guarantee. "The food tastes terrible, beer's warm, everything. It's rotten, when you lose, it's absolutely rotten. But there's one way to fix it, and that's to win, and when you win, everything is great. So that’s what we’re planning on doing."
The Dolphins enter Monday's game with plenty of confidence. Miami is 3-0 against the Jets at the Meadowlands the past three years. Ryan has never beaten the Dolphins at home and is just 1-3 overall against Miami.
Miami has become an NFL punch line this season and remains one of just three teams without a win. But Moore and the Dolphins can change some of their national perception with a good showing before a national audience.
"That's the best thing about this league: Every week you can wipe out the week before and move on and kind of get a snowball effect going," Bess said. "We know how hard it is to win in this league. But if we start winning, it can become contagious."
The Dolphins still believe there is hope for them in 2011. But the worst-case scenario isn't bad, either.
If Moore doesn't pan out for the Dolphins, they still might be "in Luck."