By Marc Cox – Miami Dolphins Writer
The idea of the direction life takes hinging on almost imperceptibly small decisions can be an appealing one. So much so that hugely successful movies have centred on the concept, one of which has planted itself in popular culture. A sliding doors moment was once just Gwyneth Paltrow getting on a tube train, or not. Now it represents all those roads not taken, the junctions of which are not clear to us as we travel.
Miami could have had its own sliding doors moment earlier this week. The coaching staff had prepared for all eventualities, which includes a scenario where the Dolphins have to drive in a two-point conversion on the last play of the game. In practice, running back Mark Walton receives a pass and punches the ball into the end zone. There were just six seconds left when the ball was snapped, five when the pass was delivered and four when the intended receiver put it on the deck. Was that such a sliding doors moment? The decision to place Kenyan Drake in the role of Gwyneth Paltrow could yet have determined the direction of the Miami Dolphins for the next 10 years. The thrilling nail-biting ending could have far-reaching consequences decades from now.
Yet such a finale looked wholly unlikely in the first quarter. In the game preview, your humble correspondent mused on the possibility that neither team would be willing or able to put any points on the board. In a tepid opening period, fans at Hard Rock Stadium were treated to a punt once every one minute and 45 seconds. I should declare that typically, I love a punt-fest. Super Bowl LIII was, despite the identity of the winner, how I like my football. A war of attrition that forces talented offensive units to scrap for every inch. Sure, a 100-point sugar rush is great as a once-in-a-while treat but slug-fests is where real football is at. The other side of that coin was on display in South Florida. Two attacking groups that are barely functional at the best of times struggling to make any meaningful connections. The two starting quarterbacks, Washington’s Case Keenum and the Dolphins’ Josh Rosen, both gave performances that explain their respective career trajectories.
Observers may argue that is unfair on Rosen. Thrown to the wolves behind a terrible offensive line in Arizona, a scenario now repeating itself in Miami is no way to judge the former first round draft pick. Yes, Rosen was sacked three times in his first five dropbacks. Yes, he could have been helped by receivers for his two interceptions. But two things are counting against Rosen. The first is the issue that has plagued his play in the first two years of his professional career – late throws. Only a step late but that’s all an NFL defensive back requires to make a play on the ball.
The second is that the Dolphins have changed the question asked of its guys under centre. Post-Dan Marino, the question has been “can this guy be a decent NFL quarterback?” For long periods, the answer has been Ryan Tannehill. Those answers get you a Wild Card berth every once in a while but no opportunity to gain the organisational knowledge of what being a regular play-off team means. The question is now “can this guy win a Super Bowl?” The answer for Rosen is no.
Josh Rosen isn’t even the answer to the question “who do you want to close out this game?” Head Coach Brian Flores benched Rosen, a move that got Miami into that last seconds two–point conversion shot. Flores had seen enough and put grizzled veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick into the game. I had initially thought this was a cynical ploy to provoke the media into asking questions about the identity of the starting quarterback for next week. NFL reporters are suckers for a quarterback dramatic narrative. More questions on Rosen/Fitzpatrick. Fewer questions on tanking the season. Instead, we were rewarded with a touch of the old Fitzmagic. An immediate nine-play, 55-yard touchdown drive was followed two series later by the fateful nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in under two minutes. That put Flores in the position to win a game for the first time as a head coach.
Whatever your view of the Miami Dolphins’ approaches to this season as an organisation, Flores is giving it everything. The defense, even when shorn of star cornerback Xavien Howard, is looking more and more sophisticated each week. Rookie defensive end Christian Wilkins is starting to play up to his first-round draft pick billing. Nose tackle Davon Godchaux is having a quietly productive time. Second-year tight end Mike Gesicki is showing that he might, after all, possess the physicality required to succeed in the NFL. Add those week-by-week improvements to picking up a first down on a fake punt and going for the win at the end of the game shows that the coaching staff and the players are giving it everything in difficult circumstances.
Which brings us back to that two-point conversion. For Gwyneth Paltrow, her sliding doors moment was, of course, Sliding Doors. For the Dolphins, their very own sliding doors moment means that they are still on track for the number 1 pick. What remains to be seen is whether this leads to a tearful Oscar-style speech over a Lombardi or a warehouse full of Jade Eggs.*
*If you don’t know what a Jade Egg is, be thankful. Don’t Google it. I said DON’T Google it. I told you not you.
Feature Picture – Credit: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee