Dave Hyde: Do dismal Dolphins have sneaky good chance against Bucs?
Sure, it’s the week after for Tom Brady. The week after he returned to New England. The week after the biggest regular-season game in NFL history. The week after he faced Patriots coach Bill Belichick and won by the hair on his chinny-chin-chin.
Brady was so emotionally exhausted afterward he stood at midfield and said on national television, “I’m not tearing up. I already went through that.”
All this nudges the narrative to why it’s a sneaky good opportunity for the Miami Dolphins to pull an upset Sunday and right their season. Maybe at 1-3 it’s the final opportunity to right their season. But even that brand of desperation plays into their Sunday chances.
As much as Belichick knew Brady, as much as he laid traps and played cat to Brady’s mouse at times, Dolphins coach Brian Flores and defensive coordinator Josh Boyer know him like that from their time in New England, too.
They don’t say it that way, of course. They speak about Brady like his career deserves, like paying homage to the king who won you rings.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for Tom,’’ Flores said. “We were on the same team for 15 years. I learned a lot from him, for sure. It’ll be great to see him, great to compete against him. A lot of respect and admiration.”
Brady talks with similar verbal bouquets of them, too.
“Thousands of practices, probably 1,500 practices,” Brady said of working with Flores. “It’s a lot over a long period of time and ‘Flo’ does a great job. He’s a great football coach. Josh Boyer, who I know really well, he was coaching defense when I was with the Patriots for a long time. He does a great job with the secondary. He’s a great play-caller.”
National spotlight off.
Game still on.
Of all the dimension to this game, this X’s and O’s match between known quantities is as intriguing as it was for Brady in New England. Look to what Belichick did for some guidance. The Patriots defense kept Brady in check and the game in reach of a last-second field goal that doinked off the goalpost by sacrificing yards for points.
They gave Brady short passes to move the ball. They limited him to 1-of-7 passing in the red zone. New England played mostly man-to-man coverage against Brady like the Dolphins prefer. It was five, six and seven defensive backs at times, too.
And the different kinds of man coverage? Outside and inside leverage. Bracketing certain receivers and not others. Everything shifting from series to series.
This is just the style of play Flores and Boyer run, too. It’s why the health of cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones matter so much entering this game. Each missed some practice time this week.
Defensive tackle Raekwon Davis returns from the injured list. That’s a big bonus. The Dolphins defensive line can develop with draft picks and free-agent money into everything the offensive line hasn’t. It can be a force.
Third-year tackle Christian Wilkins has become a good player. Davis is a rising star. Veteran Emmanuel Ogbah is a strong pass rusher, and rookie Jaelan Phillips has shown signs of becoming a dynamic player.
The linebackers aren’t the Patriots linebackers. But if you play six or seven defensive backs you don’t need them as much, either. Here’s the defense’s added problem: The Dolphins offense. It’s not just the problem of scoring.
The Dolphins have lost the time-of-possession edge every game. Badly, most games. Its defense played nearly seven minutes more than the offense in three of their four games.
That’s a recipe for, well, a 1-3 record. It doesn’t help the Dolphins have gone from the No. 1 defense in opponents’ third-down conversions to the 31st in the league. That’s got to improve like so much from this first month.
Can it Sunday? Is it asking too much against Brady? Maybe. Probably it would be if this was a normal Sunday. But this is the week after all the emotion and commotion for Tampa Bay in New England. It’s the time you want to play Brady.
Here’s what Belichick said last week about Brady’s offense in Tampa: “It’s the offense he’s run his whole career. I mean, you could call almost every play from the flare control to the protection, you know, similar to the way we do it.”
Flores and Boyer know that offense. They know Brady. That gives a chance to this desperate Dolphins season. At 1-3, maybe it’s the last chance.