AFC East: Vonnie Holliday

'07 Dolphins know power of one Bills win

November, 12, 2010
11/12/10
12:52
PM ET
Greg Camarillo Gary Rothstein/Icon SMIThe 2007 Miami Dolphins flirted with 0-16 before beating Baltimore in overtime in Week 15.
When the 11 o'clock news came on that night, Vonnie Holliday sat back with a smile on his face and relived the glorious moment.

He watched his teammates go bonkers in celebration. They jumped. They hugged. They raised their fists -- even a few index fingers -- in self salute.

The Miami Dolphins hadn't won just any game. They had won their first game. It was Week 15.

"I remember watching how crazy we were acting out there," said Holliday, the veteran defensive tackle. "I don't know if people could really appreciate it. If you weren't a part of that team or one of those guys who went out every day and worked as hard as we did to get it, you wouldn't understand it."

"That was just one win, but it was our Super Bowl."

The power of one victory is immense.

Members of that '07 Dolphins team know what the Buffalo Bills are going through this year -- and then some.

The Bills are the NFL's only winless team. They're 0-8 heading into Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The '07 Dolphins lost their first 13 games before they pulled out a dramatic victory, beating the Baltimore Ravens when undrafted quarterback Cleo Lemon connected with undrafted receiver Greg Camarillo for a 64-yard touchdown in sudden death. Camarillo hadn't scored a touchdown since high school.

That's how thin the Dolphins' margin for error was.

"That day, we made a play," said Lemon, now playing for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. "It was a great moment. But as a professional you never want to have a season like that."

The '07 Dolphins lost six games by a field goal that year. The Bills have lost each of their past three games by three points, two of them in overtime.

Bills tight end David Martin tells his teammates how much a single "W" can wash away the pressure, the doubt, the feelings of inadequacy and the ridicule that builds with each passing defeat.

Martin played on the '07 Dolphins, too.

"One win would make a big difference," Martin said by phone Thursday from One Bills Drive. "We have a young team, and I'm sure right now it feels like we're doing all this for nothing. But one win will lift everybody's spirits.

"Every game you lose is heartbreaking. That first win in 2007 felt like the Super Bowl. That's what one win will do."

In speaking this week with some players from the '07 Dolphins, I heard them unapologetically compare winning their first game to the feeling of winning a championship. They insisted they weren't being hyperbolic.

I thought the best way to quantify achieving victory late in the season would be to ask somebody with a Stanford engineering degree. I put the question to Camarillo in algebraic terms.

If the value of any victory is "x," then what is the exponential value of a victory when a team is 0-8 or, in the '07 Dolphins' case, 0-13?

I'm not sure if Camarillo pulled out a pad of paper and a slide rule, but he paused for a few moments to weigh the equation.

"If you get it in your first five weeks, it's not that big," Camarillo said after Minnesota Vikings practice Wednesday afternoon. "When you're 0-8, it starts getting really bad. When you're 0-5, you still have time to get things rolling.

"That one win in our 14th game was the equivalent of winning 10 games. That win for us was as good as winning a playoff game."

At 0-8, Camarillo thought a victory might be worth five to the Bills.

Camarillo bemoaned that losing so many close games is mentally grueling. He sounded exhausted just talking about 2007.

Without inside knowledge of the Bills, Camarillo surmised how they're feeling right now. He said they're working hard each week, sacrificing and stressing over that first victory. To repeatedly come close and then have the game slip away on the final play -- or in the waning moments -- becomes torture.

"You go into each week actually thinking 'OK, this is going to be the week. We're going to get our victory this week,' " Camarillo said. "As the season wears on, you're still a professional. You might turn from thinking you're going to win to hoping you're going to win. But you're ready to compete.

"Then as soon as something goes wrong -- you're 0-8 and throw a pick six or fumble the ball -- you drop your head and say 'Oh, no. Here we go again.' It's that mentality that causes you to lose more games."

The '07 Dolphins dealt with greater pressure than this year's Bills are encountering. Imagine what it must've felt like to get so close to becoming the first team in NFL history to go 0-16 -- the Lions didn't pull their oh-fer until a season later -- when your franchise's claim to fame is being the only team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the New England Patriots were making their run at surpassing the '72 Dolphins' perfect season.

Miami was plagued by significant injuries in 2007. They lost their starting quarterback (Trent Green), best two running backs (Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams), star linebacker (Zach Thomas) and several other starters to major injuries. They traded top receiver Chris Chambers. First-year head coach Cam Cameron seemed overmatched.

"Week in and week out ,you're the butt of the joke," said Holliday, a 13-year pro who's now in his first season with the Washington Redskins. "It gets frustrating.

"These guys are tremendous competitors, and everybody's watching. Every conversation you're having with your friends, your family, the media, the fans is about you losing. That gets very tiring."

Jay Leno already is using the Bills as a punch line in his monologues.

One victory would put an end to that. One win and the Bills go from being an obvious laughingstock to one of many, including the Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers and others.

"If you're 1-9, they will stop talking about you and that 0-16 talk," Camarillo said. "As soon as you've won you're just a bad team. You're not the worst team."

In Western New York, however, there's an undercurrent of support for the Bills to avoid winning. Talk-radio shows, message boards and my e-mail inbox are inundated with aspirations of 0-16 to ensure the top pick in next April's draft.

For those who feel that way, know the players don't agree with you.

"If you're thinking about going 0-16, there's going to be some major changes on that team," Camarillo said. "Players aren't planning for next year because half the people won't be back."

Another recurring concept in my conversations for this story was the idea of momentum. The Dolphins didn't win again after stunning the Ravens in December 2007. They had only two more chances, though, and Cameron became a dead man coaching when Bill Parcells was hired to oversee football operations right about then.

"We have more pieces to the puzzle here," said Martin, comparing the teams. "I think when we get that first one we can string a few in a row and get that winning feeling around here."

Lemon is close friends with Bills cornerback Drayton Florence and gets the impression when speaking to his former San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars teammate the Bills have their heads in the right place.

"These guys are fighting hard," Lemon said. "They just haven't been able to finish games and just seem to find a way to lose. Unlike us in 2007, they're healthy. They're making plays. If they can get just one win, they can easily turn it around and have a respectable season."

Even if the Bills can't win half of their remaining games and cobble together a 4-12 record, they still have something to look forward to every Sunday for the next two months.

One win at this stage won't earn the Bills any kind of trophy. But they probably will run around the field in jubilation like they'd just won the Super Bowl.

"I did feel like it, though," Holliday said with a laugh. "It felt really, really good."

Mike Nolan could be Miami's best pickup

May, 26, 2010
5/26/10
10:58
AM ET
The collection of distinguished players the New York Jets assembled over the offseason is tough to match.

But you want to compare just the top two players any club acquired, then the Miami Dolphins would be in the discussion with receiver Brandon Marshall and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby.

And if you want to consider newcomers not in uniform, then it would be difficult to find teams that had better offseasons than the Dolphins.

The reason for that is defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

Miami Herald reporter Barry Jackson talked with players and analysts about what Nolan will mean for Miami.

"Nolan does more things than [previous defensive coordinator] Paul Pasqualoni,'' said defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday, who played under Pasqualoni in 2008 and under Nolan with the Denver Broncos last year. "Coach P wasn't as experienced a coordinator.

"Nolan blitzes more than Pasqualoni and he'll attack people as long as you don't give up the big play. The Dolphins' success will depend on the secondary holding up one-on-one. Nolan is really good, a guy you want to play for.''

Wrap-up: Broncos 20, Patriots 17

October, 11, 2009
10/11/09
8:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


The mood must be dreary in New England.

One the same day the Boston Red Sox were swept from the playoffs, the New England Patriots failed to close out a quality opponent and were caught from behind.

The Denver Broncos scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to force overtime and beat the Patriots 20-17 at Invesco Field.

Broncos head coach and former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels exhibited rookie enthusiasm after the game, apparently snubbing old boss Bill Belichick to run toward and end zone and pump his first for the fans. Belichick searched for McDaniels to congratulate him, but wandered off the field with a perplexed look on his face.

The Patriots are 3-2, muddling the AFC East standings.

The Miami Dolphins (1-3) actually can pull within a game of first place if they defeat the New York Jets (3-1) at home Monday night.

The Patriots scored the first 10 points and led 17-7 at halftime, but their lead could have been greater if not for a Logan Mankins personal foul that pushed them out of field-goal range.

McDaniels was comfortable throwing throughout the afternoon. Kyle Orton completed 35 of his 48 attempts for 330 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

The Broncos tied the game with 5:27 left in regulation on an 11-yard pass to Brandon Marshall.

Tom Brady had a chance to stick it to his old play-caller with a late drive. New England had the ball at the Denver 49-yard line right after the two-minute warning, but Mike Nolan's defense maintained the second-half shutout when Vonnie Holliday forced a Brady fumble.

The Broncos won the coin flip to start sudden death, and the Patriots offense never took the field. Matt Prater kicked a 41-yard field goal for victory.

Brady was 19 of 33 for 215 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, but the Broncos removed Randy Moss from the game.

Moss finished with as many catches on defense as he had on offense. Put on the field at the end of the first half to prevent a Hail Mary pass, Moss came down with an interception. He had one catch for 36 yards on offense.

Around the AFC East: p.m. edition

August, 10, 2009
8/10/09
7:56
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

Around the AFC East: What if Pats tabbed Vick?

July, 27, 2009
7/27/09
10:09
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

New England Patriots

Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New York Jets

Will Dolfans recognize Jason Taylor?

May, 18, 2009
5/18/09
9:10
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Jason Taylor will slip into his familiar, aqua-and-orange duds again Monday. He'll wear his No. 99 after a year-long costume party with the Washington Redskins.

But will it really be like old times?

Probably not.

Taylor still has the potential to be highly productive, but his days as an every-down defender appear to be over. The defensive game plan certainly won't revolve around him anymore. He almost certainly won't play his usual position on the left side.

Last week, the Dolphins added Taylor as a situational complement to outside linebacker Joey Porter. The roster already included last year's starter, Matt Roth, and intriguing newcomer Cameron Wake.

Kim Bokamper, who played nine seasons at outside linebacker and defensive end for Miami, claimed Taylor will make an impact on the field. But there could be a significant adjustment when it comes to his leadership role.

"Jason's a pretty good fit with this team," said Bokamper, a local sportscaster. "The only thing that would concern me about Jason is he could be coming into the locker room in a situation where maybe he's not a starter.

"It's a tough thing to come in and all of a sudden be a third-down guy when you're used to being an every-down player. I just wonder how he would react to that."

Sources close to Taylor told me before he signed with the Dolphins on Wednesday that he was amenable to this situation, that he understood he would have to earn his snaps.

But back in March, one of his closest friends, Vonnie Holliday, predicted such an arrangement wouldn't work out. I spoke to Holliday the day he and Taylor both were released.

"It wouldn't be easy," Holliday said. "I think what Joey Porter did this past year makes it hard. You're talking about two guys who are the same player in that position on the field in that defense. They would be hard-pressed to come to Joey Porter and say 'We're going to bring J.T. back.'"

Bokamper doesn't see a conflict.

"Let's say Joey got 15 sacks and Jason got five. I don't think that would bother Jason," Bokamper said. "As long as the team's winning it will be fine.

"But I think where it would hurt Jason from a pride standpoint is if Joey's playing 60 plays a game, Matt's playing 40 plays a game, Cameron Wake is playing and Jason's getting half a dozen plays a game.

"Standing on the sideline would hurt him. When you've been a starter your whole career, the worst thing that can happen to you is to be that guy standing on the sideline, becoming a cheerleader."

Bokamper views the risk more than worthy of the reward.

"You put Joey Porter on one side and Jason on the other side and it's a pretty daunting task to try and stop both those guys if Jason is still close to the Jason he was when he left," Bokamper said.

Around the AFC East: Jets should chase Cutler

March, 3, 2009
3/03/09
10:31
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

New York Jets

Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

Holliday: 'There's no loyalty in this league'

March, 2, 2009
3/02/09
7:14
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Vonnie Holliday isn't disappointed or disillusioned.

 
  Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI
  Defensive end Vonnie Holliday was released by the Dolphins Monday.
Still, the veteran defensive end thought he deserved better from the Miami Dolphins.

Holliday, an 11-year pro and team captain, was cut loose by the Dolphins on Monday.

"There's no loyalty in this league," Holliday told me while driving around the Atlanta area, where he resides. "Everybody throws that word around, but at the end of the day, it's a business. It's about numbers.

"I've seen it happen in this business before. I've been around a long time. Now I'm that guy. But I have no hard feelings towards the Dolphins."

The move was made mostly for financial reasons. Holliday was due a $1.5 million roster bonus Tuesday. His salary-cap number for this season would have been $5.75 million.

But Holliday hoped to rework his contract so he could remain with the Dolphins. He had two years remaining on the deal he signed in February 2007, but he said his contract was "cap-friendly."

He said Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells presented what Holliday believed to be an initial offer on a reworked contract. No negotiations followed.

"Bill and I talked about the initial offer," Holliday said. "I told him where I stand, thought we would butt heads and eventually come together on something we both could live with -- at least be offered a chance to say 'This is it. This is the final offer.' But it never happened.

"I thought things would have played out a little differently. You're talking about a guy who was one of the team leaders there. At the end of the day, I had no idea ... This isn't how I expected it to play out or how I envisioned it."

Holliday led all Dolphins defensive linemen with 46 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

The 19th overall pick in the 1998 draft also spent five seasons with the Green Bay Packers and two with the Kansas City Chiefs.

"These types of decisions are always difficult ones, especially with someone like Vonnie, who has been a role model both on the field and off it," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said in a statement. "He was one of our captains last year and was a proven leader, not just in his tenure with the Dolphins, but throughout his 11-year career.

"We are grateful for all his contributions to the Miami Dolphins organization and we want to wish him and his family the best of luck in the future."

Holliday wasn't naïve. He said he realized when the Dolphins last year drafted Phillip Merling with the 32nd pick and Kendall Langford with the 66th pick they eventually would phase him out.

But after enduring a 1-15 campaign in 2008 and then being a leader on a team that one year later won the AFC East title, he admitted that being shown the door stung.

"I was a standup guy on and off the field," Holliday said. "I thought that would stand for something, especially on a young team. I've been tutoring these guys.

"I thought I was a part of this plan. I felt like I was the guy that always did it the right way. At the end of the day, they can't take anything away from that."

Should Dolphins bring back Jason Taylor?

March, 2, 2009
3/02/09
5:28
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Well, lookie here.

Jason Taylor is a free agent.

 
  Allen Kee/Getty Images
  Jason Taylor played for the Dolphins from 1997 to 2007.

Might he return to the Miami Dolphins?

While Taylor doesn't possess the prototypical size for a Bill Parcells-style 3-4 defense and there was all sorts of acrimony between them before the Dolphins traded him to the Washington Redskins, maybe their relationship can be salvaged.

"If he wants to be back in Miami and they'll have him, it'll be great," one of his close friends, defensive end Vonnie Holliday, said Monday.

The Dolphins cut Holliday earlier in the day. Holliday and Taylor had commiserated over the phone about their similar fates.

"He can still play this game," Holliday said. "He's a future Hall of Famer. He can help them out if they can make it work."

But, almost in the same breath, Holliday conceded, "It certainly would be hard" for the Dolphins to bring him back.

Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter, who was playing out of position in 2007, had a monster follow-up year with Taylor gone. Porter led the AFC with 17.5 sacks.

"It wouldn't be easy," Holliday said. "I think what Joey Porter did this past year makes it hard. You're talking about two guys who are the same player in that position on the field in that defense. They would be hard-pressed to come to Joey Porter and say 'We're going to bring J.T. back.'"

But if you'll recall, Parcells and Taylor held a secret, 90-minute meeting at Grande Oaks Golf Club last June to settle their differences, which had escalated to "Days of Our Lives" proportions. There was a belief, at one point, Parcells wanted Taylor to stick around.

Then the Redskins suffered casualties early in training camp and pulled the trigger on a trade.

Although money was the biggest reason the Redskins cut Taylor, a league source informs me that Taylor's unwillingness to be as involved in their offseason program as the Redskins wanted him to be also played a role.

  Taylor on leaving Dolphins
  NFL.com Video
  Jason Taylor discusses leaving the Dolphins and his relationship with the organization.

But before you jump on Taylor for not being committed, remember that his wife and three children still live in South Florida. He also wants to be as involved as possible with the Jason Taylor Foundation over the summer. He might want to come back.

Taylor, besieged by injuries, started only eight games and played in 13 for Washington. He had 3.5 sacks, the second-lowest output of his 12-year career.

"Now he's out of there and looking around," Holliday said. "He wasn't happy in Washington. He felt he was playing out of position. Now he can go somewhere else, play and be happy."

Do you think the Dolphins should give Taylor a call?

Dolphins release Vonnie Holliday

March, 2, 2009
3/02/09
4:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Holliday
South Florida reporters are devastated.

In the span of about 16 hours, two of the Miami Dolphins' most amiable and quotable players have hit the trail.

The Dolphins are releasing defensive end Vonnie Holliday for financial reasons. He was due a $1.5 million roster bonus Tuesday. On Sunday night, cornerback Andre Goodman signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Denver Broncos.

Holliday and Goodman were the last two winners of the Good Guy Award, given out by the local Professional Football Writers Association chapter.

Holliday, who turned 33 in December, was a defensive captain last year. He recorded 46 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.

But the Dolphins have several young players emerging at defensive end. They drafted Phillip Merling 32nd overall and Kendall Langford in the third round.

Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero reports the Dolphins will save $2.8 million off their salary-cap number by cutting Holliday.

Around the AFC East: Miami's Holliday in or out?

February, 8, 2009
2/08/09
12:08
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Miami Dolphins

  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald thinks the Dolphins might part ways with tackle Vernon Carey and defensive end Vonnie Holliday.
  • South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter Omar Kelly ranks the Dolphins who made the biggest impact.

Buffalo Bills

  • Rochester Democrat & Chronicle columnist Bob Matthews finds plenty to be pleased about the Bills' 2008 season.
  • The Buffalo News editorial board applauds the Bills for not raising ticket prices. Also getting a thumbs up: puppies, three-day weekends and being told your hair looks nice.

New England Patriots

New York Jets

Pennington's great season ends with one bad day

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
12:57
AM ET

Note: This article originally was posted on January 4, but was lost due to technical difficulties.

 
  AP Photo/Jeffrey M. Boan
  Chad Pennington faced constant pressure from Baltimore's defense and threw four interceptions.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

MIAMI -- Halftime couldn't have arrived soon enough for Chad Pennington. He'd just made it through his worst first half of the season, probably of his career, considering the stakes.

Pennington had a few moments to regroup, to shake off those two second-quarter interceptions, especially the one that was brought back for a touchdown, and lead the Miami Dolphins to another victory Sunday.

The Baltimore Ravens led by only 10 points, and with plenty of recent examples to draw from, the Dolphins had no reason to resign themselves to defeat.

The Dolphins knew they had the ball to start the second half. The mission, of course, was to score, but at the very least it was essential -- mandatory -- for Miami to flip the field.

Pennington awaited his first opportunity to take back the game. The first two plays were Ronnie Brown rushes for 1-yard gains. Then it was Pennington's turn to throw.

The runner-up for league MVP dropped back and lofted a long spiral to Davone Bess. The Ravens intercepted that one too, and returned it to the Dolphins' 39-yard line.

"I'd like to have that one back," Pennington said after the game.

All Pennington could do was swallow hard, but Baltimore's cleat never came off Miami's throat. He would throw a fourth interception as well.

The improbable run from league doormats to AFC East champions came to an end Sunday at Dolphin Stadium with a resounding 27-9 loss.

The Dolphins committed 13 turnovers all season, tying the NFL record for a 16-game season. They led the NFL with a plus-17 turnover differential. They had a record streak of 17 straight games with one or fewer giveaways.

On Sunday, they collapsed. Pennington's four interceptions set a Dolphins playoff record and surpassed his total from the final eight regular-season games. Patrick Cobbs also lost a fumble. The Ravens' five takeaways tied a playoff record they set in the 2000 AFC championship and matched in the Super Bowl.

"Everything that we prided ourselves on doing, we didn't do today," Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter said. "In the playoff games, you just can't do some of the things we did. We pride ourselves on no penalties and taking care of the ball and playing good defense and that that type of stuff that got us to this point, and today, in all phases, we didn't hold up to the end of our bargain."

Most surprising was Pennington's awful performance.

The NFL's comeback player of the year, who quarterbacked the Dolphins to an 11-5 record and helped an organization believe again, had one of the worst games of his life when it mattered most.

Pennington completed 25 of 38 passes for 252 yards and one touchdown, but his four interceptions left him with a 53.7 passer rating. The Ravens sacked him three times.

But what can you say to the guy who made the single-biggest difference to the greatest single-season turnaround in NFL history?

"I told Chad Pennington that he's my guy, and that we believe in the guy wholeheartedly," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "I couldn't thank him enough for what he's done for us. The guy's a real trooper."

Nobody in the Dolphins' locker room was going to blame Pennington for this one, even though the quarterback position is the most important and he clearly was a liability Sunday.

Earlier in the week, New York Jets running back Thomas Jones criticized his coaching staff for not pulling Brett Favre from a Week 17 loss to the Dolphins. Favre threw three interceptions while Pennington, cast aside by the Jets to make room for Favre, efficiently outworked his former team.

"I love Chad," Dolphins linebacker Akin Ayodele said. "It's not Chad's fault we lost this game. It's our fault as a team. Chad is the reason we're at this point. He's the reason we made it."

Pennington gained a reputation among Jets fans as a quality quarterback who was good enough to win games and maybe get them into the playoffs -- but nothing more.

They'll be saying "I told you so" for the next several months, but deep down inside they wish they had him back in green and white.

After the game, Pennington's teammates came at him in waves. They told him they had his back. They suggested he forget about one bad afternoon. They thanked him for bringing them back from the dead.

Defensive end Vonnie Holliday called Pennington "the backbone of our team."

"I can't say enough about these guys," Pennington said. "They've been unbelievable. They've supported me since the first day I walked into this locker room.

"It's been magical. That's why it hurts even worse. I really wanted to keep this thing going and to really do some great things."

Fins land first jab, but Ravens D has a chin

January, 4, 2009
1/04/09
1:19
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins struck the first blow, but it was more like a jab than the haymaker they could have landed to start Sunday's playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.

On the game's opening drive, Dolphins defensive end Vonnie Holliday forced a Le'Ron McClain fumble that linebacker Joey Porter pounced on.

The Dolphins offense made it look easy as it drove to a second-and-goal from the Ravens' 1-yard line. But a Chad Pennington incompletion and a Ronnie Brown run for no gain forced Miami to settle for a 19-yard Dan Carpenter field goal rather than a tone-setting touchdown.

Pennington passed over for MVP

January, 2, 2009
1/02/09
12:51
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

DAVIE, Fla. -- This isn't an egregious error like the one committed for the Pro Bowl.

Whereas Brett Favre didn't warrant a trip to Honolulu ahead of Chad Pennington, it's difficult to argue Peyton Manning didn't deserve the MVP award.

Pennington

Manning won in a landslide. The Indianapolis Colts quarterback received 32 votes, way ahead of Pennington and Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner, who finished tied for second with four votes apiece.

The Miami Dolphins would not have won 11 games or qualified for the playoffs if Pennington hadn't come aboard in training camp. The New York Jets released Pennington to make room for Favre, and the Dolphins couldn't have been more thrilled.

"He's vital to this team. He really is," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "With Chad coming in here and doing what he's done right now, he [has brought] a bunch of people together."

Players knew Pennington would be their captain before his first practice was over. He was that sharp, that smart, that charismatic.

Had Pennington not been available, the Dolphins would've used journeyman Josh McCown or rookie Chad Henne. Neither was dazzling in early practices. Henne might have had the edge.

"I love Chad, and I love the Jets for deciding to get rid of him," Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder said.

(Read full post)

Behind the scenes, Parcells pulls Dolphins' strings

December, 31, 2008
12/31/08
3:15
PM ET
 
 Doug Murray/Icon SMI
 Under the Parcells regime, the Dolphins became the first team ever to go from winning a single game one year to being playoff-bound the next.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

DAVIE, Fla. -- The process began two days after Christmas 2007. A cataclysmic event took place at the Miami Dolphins facility. An observer arrived. He might as well have worn a black cloak and had a sickle in his grip.

He stood there, arms folded mostly, and watched from the sideline, taking mental notes that would decide the fate of dozens and alter the course of a franchise hurtling into NFL oblivion.

"I think the air in the practice field got a little thin," defensive end Vonnie Holliday said.

Bill Parcells had arrived to straighten out a team headed toward 1-15. He didn't say much on the field that day. He exchanged quick pleasantries with head coach Cam Cameron, spoke to a couple of trainers.

But the process had begun -- quietly, icily.

"Guys were nervous out there," Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter said.

Several Dolphins confessed they barked out their calls louder, ran faster and tackled harder under Parcells' surveillance.

A few veterans scoffed at the difference, claiming that if their teammates were playing harder just because Parcells was there, then they must not have been giving their all before.

Yet that, in fact, was the case, whether they wanted to admit it or not. Parcells' mere presence, forged by Super Bowls and high-profile turnarounds, whacked the Dolphins in their earholes.

He has remained virtually silent while overseeing the greatest single-season upgrade in NFL history.

On Sunday, one year and one day after Parcells first emerged onto the Dolphins practice field, they defeated the New York Jets at the Meadowlands to claim the AFC East championship.

As unfathomable as it seemed when Parcells agreed to renovate the dilapidated franchise, the Dolphins will host a playoff game next Sunday when they meet the Baltimore Ravens.

(Read full post)

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