NFL Nation: Wayne Huizenga
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Final Power Ranking: 22
Preseason Power Ranking: 11
Biggest disappointment: The Dolphins started the season with a pair of road games and won them both. At 2-0 and with all eight home games to go, they bolted to a gargantuan head start in the playoff race. Since the NFL went to its current playoff format 20 years ago, only nine teams had done that. Six went to the playoffs. Four won their division. The Dolphins went 6-2 on the road. Had they split their home games, they would have gone 10-6. If the New York Jets were one of those home victories, then the Dolphins might have gotten into the playoffs. Alas, the Dolphins posted a shameful 1-7 home record, losing in Sun Life Stadium to the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions.
Biggest need: The Dolphins crave offensive help. The defense did just fine under new coordinator Mike Nolan, ranking sixth in total defense, seventh in run defense and eighth in pass defense. The Dolphins probably will be looking for a new offensive coordinator with Dan Henning reportedly about to retire. They'll also be in the market for a running back. Brown and Williams are free agents. Williams recently made comments that strongly indicated he will be gone. Interior O-line reinforcements are a necessity. But there's still a major problem at quarterback. The Dolphins know what a reliable quarterback could mean. Chad Pennington parachuted into training camp in 2008 and guided them from a 1-15 season to the AFC East title. If the Dolphins can stomach bringing in another quarterback -- they've had 15 starters since Dan Marino retired -- then a steady free agent probably is the best way to pull the offense together.
Team MVP: Cameron Wake, outside linebacker. The Canadian Football League import broke out in his second NFL season. He recorded 14 sacks to rank third in the league.
Pivotal moment: Sept. 7 was a symbolic date for the Dolphins. Just five days before opening day, the Dolphins made a bizarrely timed announcement that Bill Parcells was stepping down as football operations vice president to become a mere "consultant." The Dolphins gave off the vibe of an adrift franchise from that moment on -- and played like it. Parcells packed up his office shortly thereafter, leaving general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano to fend for themselves. Parcells hired them while working for previous owner Wayne Huizenga. But with Parcells on a golf course or at the race track, jobs seemed increasingly tenuous under current owner Stephen Ross, and the uninspiring product on the field didn't measure up either.
The Patriots were up 38-0 with almost seven minutes left in the third quarter. The Dolphins avoided getting skunked when Davone Bess scored with 2:17 to play.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who publicly declared before the season that his team was Super Bowl bound, must be embarrassed.
Ross didn't attend the game and reportedly was out of the country. Sparano, his staff and his players should pray that wherever Ross was they don't show NFL games on television.
The Dolphins were 6-5 and still had hope after Thanksgiving. They lost four of their last five games. The Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions beat them in Sun Life Stadium before the preseason-mode Patriots gave the Dolphins a clear idea how far behind they are in the AFC East.
The Dolphins went 1-7 at home this season, tying their worst record in club history. The only other time they were so bad at home was when they went 1-15 the year before Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland arrived.
Ross didn't hire them. Former football operations boss Bill Parcells did with former owner Wayne Huizenga's consent. Huizenga sold the team shortly thereafter. Parcells supposedly still is with the Dolphins as a consultant, but he cleaned out his office months ago.
Ross put an emphasis on making Sun Life Stadium an entertainment destination from the moment he took over the Dolphins. One measly victory in an arena that was half-full toward the end of the season is unacceptable. And if Sparano can't motivate his players to play with any kind of edge, then how can Ross expect fans to respond at the box office?
The Patriots had nothing to play for Sunday other than tuning up for the postseason. It was like an exhibition for them.
But with jobs on the line, the Dolphins didn't show up.
Miami's offense, defense and special teams were equally disgusting. They gave up big plays all over the field. Their breakdowns were both strategic and mental. Tackling was poor. They committed bad penalties.
Chad Henne threw an interception on the opening drive and had a 29.2 passer rating in the first half. Dan Carpenter missed another field goal, this one from 40 yards. Ricky Williams fumbled, and Ronnie Brown ran six times for 14 yards in what might be the last games as Dolphins for the backfield mates.
Miami went into Week 17 with the third-ranked defense. Even with Wes Welker and Deion Branch not on the field, Tom Brady completed 10 of 16 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
The Dolphins' secondary also got torched by the immortal combo of Brian Hoyer to Brandon Tate for a 42-yard touchdown in the third quarter. One play before the bomb, the Dolphins' defensive line encroached on fourth-and-1.
The Patriots gained 502 yards -- that doesn't include Julian Edelman's 94-yard punt return for a touchdown -- and had the ball for over 36 minutes.
A call from the governor might not even save Sparano after a performance like that, and he has a direct line to Tallahassee. Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll's mother is Florida's new lieutenant governor.
When Ross gets around to examining what transpired Sunday in Gillette Stadium, it very well could be a lethal inspection.
He sat down for an introductory news conference and reluctantly met with reporters at an endorsement obligation for Gatorade. That was all we've heard aside from an extemporaneous comment here or there about his love for horse racing or some historical football perspective.
For the first time, reporters had the chance to ask him about his future. The Dolphins announced a few days before their season opener Parcells had stepped down as executive vice president and turned over football operations to general manager Jeff Ireland.
Parcells has stayed on as a consultant. But what's next?
"Well, that is a good question," Parcells replied. "I am not a sit-around-the-fireplace guy. I don't know. I am not certain about it. We will see what happens when the time comes.
"I know I want to do something even if it is not day-to-day or something like that, I know I want to do something. I don't like sitting around. I like to get up and go do something. We will figure it out when the time comes."
Parcells' comments are ominous given his history as a restless football soul and the fact he can walk away from his Dolphins contract with full pay whenever the mood strikes him.
His contract with the Dolphins runs through 2011. When new owner Stephen Ross bought the team from Wayne Huizenga, Parcells negotiated a clause that will allow him to leave at any time, collect every last cent and not be prevented from working for another team.
Under Ross, the Dolphins have turned into a glitzy operation that embraces celebrity and the South Florida lifestyle as much as it does touchdowns. Ross has sold pieces of the team to Fergie, Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony and Serena and Venus Williams. Jimmy Buffet got involved in a deal with the Dolphins last year that included stadium naming rights.
For Sunday night's home opener, the Dolphins rolled out an orange carpet for a slew of celebrities to walk past the paparazzi: Jennifer Lopez (Anthony's wife), Kim Kardashian, Enrique Iglesias, T-Pain, Anna Kournikova, Tara Reid and Helio Castroneves among them. attendees who avoided the orange carpet included Tiger Woods, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who, coincidentally, was the subject of a story for which Parcells once actually called me back.
As much as Parcells isn't a fan of the media, I'm sure even he rolled his eyes when he learned the Dolphins converted their press box into a nightclub-style suite.
Parcells is a football man. I'm sure he'd love to work for an organization that makes football the only priority and doesn't still consider Tara Reid a star.
Now that we know the league wants Stan Kroenke to own the Rams outright -- Saints owner Tom Benson said so emphatically this week -- we can safely assume something will get done.
Commissioner Roger Goodell continues to emphasize the importance of the NFL's cross-ownerhsip rules, noting that Kroenke, who also owns the NBA and NHL franchises in Denver, will have to comply. Precedent suggests NFL owners might give Kroenke some time. Huizenga owned NHL and MLB teams in Florida when he purchased the Dolphins in 1994. He promised to sell the Dolphins if cross-ownership rules didn't change by 1996, but the NFL liked Huizenga enough to change rules that prevented owning majority stakes in more than one pro franchise, regardless of market.
Then as now, the league wants to make sure its owners care about football enough to make their teams a primary focus. Their experience with Allen has been frustrating in some ways because the Microsoft co-founder has stayed away from league functions. Kroenke appears more directly engaged. Owners know him. They obviously like him. They'll almost certainly find a way to welcome him as full owner of the Rams.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Wayne Huizenga saw it coming.
Fifteen months ago, I spoke with him at a community event in Coconut Creek, Fla. He still owned the Miami Dolphins then and was stressed about how the economy was going to impact ticket sales in 2008.
It was only June, and his sales staff was meeting resistance from the club's most loyal customers.
Feedback suggested it wasn't the club's 1-15 record that was creating uneasiness at the box office.
"You have some people who say 'I'm really excited, but I can't afford it,' " Huizenga said at the time.
Huizenga saw it was time to get out for various reasons and sold his beloved team to Stephen Ross. At least part of the reason was Huizenga didn't like what he recognized as a developing trend of people not buying tickets to watch games in person because of the economy.
ESPN's "Outside the Lines" will air a report on the NFL's growing blackout problems Thursday afternoon.
USA Today this week published a blackout forecast for all 32 teams.
A reminder of how blackouts work: Teams have until 72 hours before kickoff to sell out their home games. Sometimes an extension is granted. If they don't sell every seat, then the game cannot be shown within a 75-mile radius of the stadium.
In the AFC East, the New England Patriots won't have anything to worry about. They've already sold out all eight home games. The New York Jets and Dolphins expect to sell out their home schedule, but Dolphins spokesman Harvey Greene told USA Today there were no guarantees.
The Buffalo Bills need to sell out only seven games because they exported one of their home dates to the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Bills reportedly have sold 55,000 season tickets, a figure that rates with what they drew during their Super Bowl years. Ralph Wilson Stadium seats 73,079.
Many of those tickets were purchased in the euphoric stage after the Bills signed receiver Terrell Owens. Thursday night's preseason finale against the Detroit Lions will be blacked out.
As mentioned in an earlier post on Forbes team valuations, average ticket prices for each AFC East club: Patriots $118; Jets $87; Dolphins $66; Bills $51.
DANA POINT, Calif. -- Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross won't be in attendance when the rest of his NFL colleagues gather for their annual meeting at the St. Regis Hotel.
Ross, who assumed control of the club in January when he purchased all but 5 percent from Wayne Huizenga, remained on the East Coast because he's sick.
That means half of the AFC East owners won't attend -- the rookie and the Hall of Famer. Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson didn't make the cross-country trip because he recently suffered a shoulder injury at home.
Dolphins spokesman Harvey Greene said he didn't know the extent of Ross' illness or whether Ross was at his home in Manhattan or Palm Beach, Fla.
If the Dolphins need to vote on any league matters this week, president Bryan Wiedmeier will fill in for Ross. Bills chief operating officer, Russ Brandon, will represent Wilson.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
The top issues facing each team in the division:
Primary issue: The Bills had the weakest pass rush for an NFL team that wasn't an out-and-out doormat. They recorded 24 sacks all season. Only the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs had fewer.
|Brendan Maloney/US Presswire|
|If available, Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo would fit in nicely with the Bills.|
A significant problem was the loss of Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel for all but the first five games because of a foot injury. But he managed only one sack when he was available. The Bills haven't gotten anything out of John McCargo, a defensive tackle they traded up to draft 26th overall three years ago. He has started zero times and has notched 2.5 sacks.
Solution: If Schobel recovers and Sanders can figure out a way to unlock the lackadaisical McCargo, then the Bills' defensive line might spring back nicely. The Bills hold the 11th overall draft choice, and top-rated pass rushers Brian Orakpo of Texas and Everette Brown of Florida State could be available.
Secondary concern: The Bills need to build some goodwill between themselves and their fans. Given the dreadful economy and the team's recent past, even the most ardent Bills supporter has plenty of reasons not to buy tickets. The Bills haven't made the playoffs in nine years. Fans are down on management's decision to stick with head coach Dick Jauron.
Solution: As much as Bills fans despised former general manager Tom Donahoe, they have to admit he knew how to get them excited with high-profile offseason moves such as the Drew Bledsoe acquisition and the first-round Willis McGahee gamble. Would it kill the Bills to provide a little excitement this spring?
|Mitchell Layton/Getty Images|
|California center Alex Mack could help solidify the Dolphins' offensive line.|
Primary issue: Miami's interior offensive line was a major source of frustration throughout the season.
At first, the Dolphins weren't happy with the depth, routinely circulating street free agents through the roster. Rookie Donald Thomas won the starting right guard job but suffered a season-ending foot injury on opening day. Left guard Justin Smiley, their top offseason free-agent acquisition, played well but went down with a gruesome leg injury in Week 13. The front office has decided center Samson Satele isn't sturdy enough to handle 3-4 nose tackles.
The Dolphins went into 2008 excited about their running-back tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, but their inability to run inside limited offensive options and forced the Dolphins to try the exotic Wildcat offense, which put two tackles on the same side of the line.
Right tackle Vernon Carey is a free agent. If the Dolphins re-sign him, there's talk of switching him to guard.
Solution: The Dolphins are searching for a center to anchor their offensive line. Free agency is an option, but drafting a center such as Alex Mack of California or Max Unger of Oregon creates a tantalizing proposition of a formidable line that can stay together for years. Satele could shift to guard and provide depth. Thomas will be back. No. 1 draft pick Jake Long went to the Pro Bowl.
Secondary concern: As ownership switched from Wayne Huizenga to Stephen Ross, football operations chief Bill Parcells renegotiated his four-year contract to include a permanent walkout clause with full pay. Parcells can leave whenever he desires for any reason he wants.
Solution: Leave him alone, Steve.
Primary issue: The three biggest concerns for the Patriots this offseason are Tom Brady's ACL, Tom Brady's MCL and Tom Brady's knee infections.
|Greg M. Cooper/US PRESSWIRE|
|The Patriots have $29 million in salary-cap dollars tied up between Tom Brady and Matt Cassel.|
Much of the Patriots' offseason -- and beyond -- hinges on Mr. Everything's status for 2009 because roughly $29 million in salary-cap dollars are tied up between him and his insurance policy, Matt Cassel.
That massive allocation will affect how flexible the Patriots can be when it comes to signing free agents or hammering out extensions to players they want to keep around.
Solution: The Patriots must clear Cassel's one-year, $14.65 million guaranteed contract off the books by trading him, but they might not be able to do so. They need to make sure Brady is healthy enough first, and they might not know for months.
Secondary concern: Brain drain hasn't been a problem for the Patriots yet, but recurring defections could catch up to them eventually. Vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli is the Kansas City Chiefs' general manager. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the Denver Broncos' head coach. Other respected assistants have shuffled about.
Solution: Head coach Bill Belichick has to maintain his remarkable knack for finding and nurturing football minds who always seem to thrive in the Patriots' already-established culture.
New York Jets
|Rich Kane/US PRESSWIRE|
|Kellen Clemens, right, will be one candidate to replace Brett Favre as the Jets' quarterback.|
Management insists it's focusing on the three candidates already on the Jets' roster. But Kellen Clemens has made only eight starts, most of them frightful. Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge have combined for zero NFL game snaps.
The Jets are downplaying their interest in locating another candidate through free agency or the draft, but banging those drums so soon would be demoralizing to the three hopefuls and possibly short-circuit a budding competition.
Solution: Rookie head coach Rex Ryan is a defensive mastermind, which means this mostly will be Brian Schottenheimer's problem to solve. Ryan said he wants to run an all-weather offense, which emphasizes the run. That should help alleviate pressure on a young quarterback.
Secondary concern: Despite star cornerback Darrelle Revis and impressive safety Kerry Rhodes, the Jets were miserable in defending the pass last season. They ranked 29th in pass defense, allowing 234.5 yards a game. Opponents completed 64.3 percent of their passes and threw for 23 touchdowns.
Solution: The Jets desperately need an effective cornerback to start opposite Revis. Getting sixth-overall draft pick Vernon Gholston playing like the pass rusher they thought he was at Ohio State wouldn't hurt either.
All of those Dolfans who breathed a sigh of relief last week when Bill Parcells declared he would return next year probably will be a little more anxious to learn he now can leave with full pay whenever he wants.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Friday afternoon that before former Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga surrendered control of the team last month, he adjusted a clause that allows Parcells to step down at any time as Dolphins football operations boss and collect the full worth of his four-year, $12 million contract.
The new walkout clause comes without restrictions. Parcells simply could retire and get paid. He also could leave Miami to take a coaching or front-office job with another NFL team, and the Dolphins would receive zero financial or draft compensation.
The clause essentially puts the Dolphins under contract to Parcells, not the other way around.
For the next three years potentially, Dolfans will have to endure hearing Parcells' name mentioned for every major coaching or football operations job around the league.
The latest Parcells drama began last month. Mortensen reported the future Hall of Famer had a 30-day window to take the money and run if Huizenga were to relinquish control. Parcells' contract specified he would answer to Huizenga only.
Real estate magnate Stephen Ross purchased an additional 45 percent of the team and Dolphin Stadium, giving him 95 percent ownership.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde takes a hard look at how much money Wayne Huizenga made by selling the Dolphins.
- Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero revisits the decision to draft receiver Ted Ginn over quarterback Brady Quinn.
- Buffalo News reporter and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Board of Selectors breaks down the chances for finalists Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and Ralph Wilson.
- Allen Wilson of the Buffalo News writes the Bills have reunited with scout Buddy Nix.
- BuffaloBills.com reporter Chris Brown writes they've signed two free agents to futures contracts.
New England Patriots
- Within seven minutes, 20,000 tickets were sold for the Patriots-Buccaneers game Oct. 25 at Wembley Stadium in London.
New York Jets
- Brian Costello of the New York Post relays a report from Sports Illustrated's Peter King that Brett Favre is "done."
Although we haven't heard officially from Bill Parcells yet, the Miami Dolphins' new owner on Tuesday declared Parcells will remain with the team after helping them pull off one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NFL history.
Billionaire real-estate developer Stephen Ross declared Parcells will remain with the club despite a walk-out clause that would allow the football operations boss to leave with full pay in the event Wayne Huizenga no longer ran the team.
|Marc Serota/Getty Images|
|New Dolphins owner Stephen Ross might want to hold off before declaring that Bill Parcells will be hanging around.|
Parcells, who has three years left on a contract worth reportedly $12 million, has 30 days to take the money and run. The clause also allows him to work for another NFL team without compensation to the Dolphins.
"Parcells is in charge, and he is staying," Ross said on a conference call with local media. "We're very fortunate to have someone like Bill Parcells, who I think people have to recognize as probably the best football mind in America.
"I'm very, very happy to have him, needless to say. As everyone has expressed with all the concerns, 'Is he leaving, or is he not leaving?' He's staying, and I'm fortunate to have him."
But Parcells wasn't nearly as definitive Tuesday when speaking casually with three Dolphins reporters in Mobile, Ala., where he is attending the Senior Bowl with general manager Jeff Ireland, head coach Tony Sparano and other Miami scouts.
Parcells refused to state unequivocally he would be back, striking a "You never know" posture.
Ross indicated at several points during the conference call he and Parcells still are getting to know each other, and sounded as though he was operating on assumptions, which can be dangerous when dealing with Parcells.
Ross was asked when Parcells expressly told him he will be back, and Ross' response indicated that conversation hasn't taken place.
"I've been talking to him for some time," Ross said. "I didn't say 'Give me a commitment.' In the conversations it just came out that we were building a relationship.
"I didn't have to say 'Are you staying?' I just wanted to make sure he was happy and [show him] what kind of person I was, and I got to get a better feel for him as a person. I think we are comfortable with that."
Ross "thinks" they're comfortable.
On a follow-up question, a reporter pointedly asked Ross "do you feel it's 100 percent [Parcells] will be back?"
"Yes," Ross replied.
But Parcells has a history of leading teams to believe he's in place only to pull an about face and join another team.
Atlanta Flacons owner Arthur Blank would have said he was 100 percent sure Parcells was joining their front office in December 2007.
Parcells led Blank and the public to believe he would be the Falcons' vice president of football operations. Blank thought both sides had agreed to terms. Parcells signed with the Dolphins two days later.
Or maybe Ross should ask Tampa Bay Buccaneers owners Hugh Culverhouse and the Glazer family how safe it is to operate on assumptions with Parcells.
He toyed with the Buccaneers in 1991 and 2002, enticing them to believe he would be their head coach. The latter instance reportedly led the Buccaneers to fire head coach Tony Dungy to make way. Parcells went to the Dallas Cowboys instead.
Parcells has been declining all on-the-record interview requests, even though he spent a little courtesy time with reporters in Mobile.
The fact Parcells is in Mobile has led to speculation he's there to be seen by the other 31 NFL clubs. He has a known dislike for attending events like the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine, and didn't go last year even though the Dolphins held the No. 1 overall pick.
Maybe as important as scouting draft prospects, the days leading up to the Senior Bowl are like a job fair for coaches, scouts and other football operations people.
"I think deep down in his heart, he still wants to coach," Miami linebacker Akin Ayodele, who also played for Parcells in Dallas, told the Palm Beach Post a few days before this year's playoffs began.
"He can still coach. He goes around, especially the last few weeks, and talks to guys, tells them what they're doing wrong and what they need to do. You come in Wednesday, and he's already watched film and telling you what to expect."
The Dolphins went from 1-15 to AFC East champions in a magical 2008 campaign.
Why would Parcells want to leave?
A significant reason he joined the Dolphins was because of his long friendship with Huizenga. Parcells was comfortable with the business arrangement and new he had full control of football decisions. Huizenga rarely let money affect decisions when there was an opportunity to improve the team.
Parcells' contract specified he would answer only to Huizenga and included a clause that would give Parcells a 30-day window to walk away with his contract paid in full.
Ross, when asked early in the conference call whether Parcells and the club were renegotiating his contract, said, "There is nothing to renegotiate." When asked again at the end of the conference call, Ross said, "Not at this point."
There were reports in early January that longtime Ross associate and former Kansas City Chiefs president Carl Peterson would be joining the Dolphins in some capacity. Peterson was Ross' guest and wore a Dolphins lapel pin at their first-round payoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Peterson eventually denied the rumors, and Ross dismissed them Tuesday.
"Carl happened to be there that weekend vacationing, and I invited him to the game," Ross said. "I think everyone knew at that point that I wasn't going to hire Carl Peterson and [he] wasn't going to be part of the Miami Dolphins. I know what I was thinking, and it was never a consideration."
But here's a piece of advice for Mr. Ross: Keep Peterson's number handy, at least for the next 29 days.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel business reporter Sarah Talalay provides an update on Wayne Huizenga's sale of the team and Dolphin Stadium to Stephen Ross.
- Palm Beach Post reporter Edgar Thompson notes an appearance from football operations boss Bill Parcells at the Senior Bowl suggests he's not leaving the Dolphins.
- Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan writes Bills "fans have been reduced to mournful observers, tormented by reminders of what they've missing."
New England Patriots
- The Boston Herald's John Tomase writes the Arizona Cardinals were at a crossroads when they left Foxborough in Week 16.
- Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe also reflects on the Patriots' 47-7 victory over the Cardinals.
|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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the visitors' locker room at the Meadowlands, the Miami Dolphins celebrated their incredible AFC East championship Sunday. They'd defeated the New York Jets, 24-17, and clinched a postseason invitation.
Off to the side, in a room used by trainers to repair the troops, Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland was a voyeur. He leaned against a wall and proudly watched his players enjoy their astounding payoff.
I asked Ireland if he'd be willing to grant a rare interview. He gladly moseyed over to talk about the team he helped build.
Can you put into words what you're feeling right now?
Jeff Ireland: I can't sum it up in words. It's a remarkable feeling. I'm so proud of these coaches, these players. Coach always asked us and the players right there in training camp, "Why not us?" Well, Why not us? I'm just so proud of the coaches and what they've done.
At what point did "Why not us?" evolve from mere words?
JI: These players took ownership of what Bill, Tony and myself were trying to get turned around. They took ownership right away, and they got it done. It seems like it's been maturing from Day 1. This whole team has just done a great job.
How proud are you to pull this off in your first year as a GM?
JI: It's nerve-wracking. You put your heart and soul into something, you put your life into this. To sit here and look back and watch these players as happy as they are, these coaches as happy as they are, I feel the same way. It's an unbelievable feeling to watch these guys bounce around. To do what they've done is a great feeling.
How did your team of so many castoffs come together?
JI: They love football. What we did when we came here was find the guys that love football. You really found that out about his team pretty early on. They want to be around football. They wanted to take ownership of something, and they absolutely did that. It's a great cast, and our coaches did a hell of a job of putting them in positions to be successful. That's why coach [Tony] Sparano is coach of the year, in my opinion.
Have you spoken to Bill Parcells yet?
JI: [Dolphins owner] Wayne [Huizenga] and I both called him together. He was excited for about 30 seconds, and then he said, "Let's get back to business."
Is it too soon to start thinking about the Ravens yet?
JI: We're going to let this soak in for 12 hours. Then we'll get back to work. You've got to be thinking ahead. We're a proactive group here.
The Ravens have beaten you already, but Tony Sparano noted in his news conference the Jets had beaten you before, too. Is next week a continuation of the "Why not us" theme?
JI: Why not? Hey, there's an old cliché, "Any given Sunday."
What was the scene like in the locker room before the reporters were allowed in?
JI: A lot of emotions. A lot of hard work that comes out in these emotions. You just can't say enough about what these players have gone through from last year to this year. The emotion came out. It's a great feeling to see these guys do what they've been able to do.
|AP Photo/Julie Jacobson|
|Quarterback Chad Pennington helped lead Miami's historic turnaround from a 1-15 season.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Miami Dolphins were reveling in their improbable accomplishment. From worst to first they went, a feat clinched with a 24-17 victory Sunday over the New York Jets at the Meadowlands.
Already they wore commemorative gray ball caps, emblazoned with their logo underneath "Division Champions" in block letters and with "Playoffs" displayed on the headband. White T-shirts told the same tale.
"Usually, my wife wants the T-shirt," Dolphins nose tackle Jason Ferguson said of his beloved swag, "but not this time."
Defensive end Vonnie Holliday took off his AFC East championship hat and slowly panned it, point blank, before a throng of camera lenses. He wanted the naysayers and the doubters to take a close look at it.
As the music thumped in the visitors' locker room, first-year Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland leaned against a wall, watched his players and soaked in the moment.
Moments before he and owner Wayne Huizenga phoned football operations boss Bill Parcells, who didn't make the trip, to share the celebration.
"He was excited for about 30 seconds," Ireland said of his brief chat with Parcells, "and then he said, 'Let's get back to business.' "
Miami's historic turnaround from a 1-15 season was 12 months in the making. Ireland said, "we're going to let this soak in for 12 hours. Then we'll get back to work."
For the first time in seven seasons, the Dolphins will play a 17th game. They will host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
While the Dolphins take a moment to rejoice, assistant director of player personnel Brian Gaine is hard at work compiling the advance scouting reports. Gaine won't have to start from scratch on this one because the teams already have met this season -- and it wasn't pretty for Dolfans.
Baltimore handled Miami like few teams this year, posting a comprehensive 27-13 victory in Dolphin Stadium on Oct. 19.
"In the playoffs, everybody starts off 0-0," Ferguson said. "So if they're holding that up, saying they beat us last time and we're going to be the same team. ... We're definitely going to be a totally different team. We worked hard since then."
Both teams have gone on torrid runs since then. The Dolphins won nine of their last 10 regular-season games, their lone loss coming against the New England Patriots.
The Ravens used their success over the Dolphins to kick off a stretch of nine victories in their last 11 games, beating the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys along the way. The Ravens' only losses in that span were to the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers.
"The Ravens are an outstanding football team," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "We know that. It's a tremendous defense, and they beat us already. The Jets beat us the first time they played us as well.
"We're well aware of how good a football team they are. They're playing tremendously
right now. I think our guys are playing pretty good, too."
With that in mind, let's take a glance at what transpired in Week 7 between the Ravens and Dolphins:
1. One of Chad Pennington's poorer games.
Pennington is worthy of MVP consideration for what he has provided the Dolphins, but his game against the Ravens was disappointing. His stat line looked decent enough: He completed 24 of 35 passes for 295 yards and one touchdown with an interception for a 92.0 passer rating.
But Pennington's interception changed the game. Perhaps his worst decision of the year came when he threw it directly to Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs in the flat. Suggs had nothing between him and the end zone 44 yards away to break a 3-3 tie and give the Ravens a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
2. The Ravens ran roughshod.
The Ravens gained 139 rushing yards, the most by a Dolphins opponent until the Kansas City Chiefs ground out 180 yards in Week 16. But the Ravens amassed 101 of their rushing yards in the second half to demoralize the Dolphins as the game wore on.
Willis McGahee ran 19 times for 105 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 47 yards.
This should make Dolfans swallow hard: Le'Ron McClain, who has been a bull lately, was used sparingly in Week 7. He had only six carries for 17 yards. In McClain's last six games he rushed for 531 yards and five touchdowns.
3. The Ravens defense made bigger plays.
The Dolphins' offensive line generally kept Pennington safe, allowing one sack. But in addition to Suggs' touchdown, the Ravens bottled the Dolphins' eccentric Wildcat offense and reduced running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to non-factor status.
The Dolphins ran for only 71 yards. One yard came from the Wildcat, which had been dazzling in the three weeks leading into that game.
"We got a lot of work ahead of us," Brown said Sunday after beating the Jets. "We can't make the mistakes we made today. We're going to have to come out and play fundamental football."
Brown also said the Ravens have "a lot of guys that can make plays, but the funny thing about it is on the offensive side of the ball we have guys that can make plays."
4. Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco wasn't disrupted enough.
The Dolphins got to Flacco twice all afternoon, and it wasn't enough. Flacco, making his sixth career start, completed 17 of 23 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown. He didn't
throw an interception and finished with a 120.2 passer rating, his best of the year.
"I know what we've got to do," Ferguson said. "Our defense has got to really try to play with their defense. Their defense plays with a lot of emotion. They make a lot of plays for them.
"We really got to match their defense. Our offense is going to handle their business, but we've got to help them out and play great."
5. Baltimore owned the fourth quarter.
The Ravens kept the ball for 10 minutes, 20 seconds in the final quarter. They ran 19 plays to the Dolphins' 11, including a three-and-out series.
The Ravens converted two of their four third downs, while the Dolphins failed on two third downs and one fourth down.
But the Dolphins have been solid in the fourth quarter over the past month. They've won several close games down the homestretch.
Asked Sunday about Miami's fourth-quarter prowess, Ferguson rapped his knuckles on the side of his locker stall while talking proudly.
"It sounds good," Ferguson said. "Let me get some wood ..."
"Because all I know we own the fourth quarter lately ..."
"And I'm going to continue doing it.
"We worked hard all through the game, and knowing in the fourth quarter we had a chance to win, we made plays on defense. The offense got a field goal. That was it then. We felt the momentum change."
We'll find out next Sunday if the Dolphins have changed momentum enough to knock off a team that beat them handily 10 weeks ago.
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