THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Sure thing not exactly in place

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / October 4, 2010

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It is sobering to look at the Miami Dolphins roster and think about what they might become.

Put it this way: The Boston Celtics will have more 30-somethings on their 15-man roster than the Dolphins have on their 53-man contingent.

Something had to be done when the once-haughty Dolphins bottomed out with a 1-15 record in 2007. Bill Parcells, the NFL’s ultimate Mr. Fix-it, was brought in, and three seasons later the Dolphins have a completely new identity. They are younger, bigger, faster, and have become a team you don’t want to disrespect.

But just how good are the 2010 Dolphins, really? The truth is, we just don’t know. They started the season by winning close road games against Buffalo and Minnesota before losing at home to the mouthy Jets last week. But did that outcome tell us more about the Jets or the Dolphins?

We’ll have a lot better idea by 11:30 or so this evening, after they get through playing the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium, which used to be Land Shark Stadium, which used to be, oh, we really don’t have enough time to get into all that. Suffice to say it’s the multipurpose edifice located at 347 Don Shula Drive in Miami Gardens, and it’s where they’ve been playing since they got out of the decrepit Orange Bowl.

At no point in the Patriots’ history has one of their coaches looked forward to coming down here. The media and fans, well, yeah, sure. If we’re lucky, we get the high-80s sunshiny day we had yesterday and are expecting today. Miami has been a rival since coming into existence in 1966, so there’s been a trip down here every year. Ideally, of course, the Patriots-Dolphins game here gets scheduled for December, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

But from a coaching viewpoint, the trip has been a constant pain. After winning the first confrontation ever by a 20-14 score in 1966, the Patriots found life painful in Miami, losing the next Orange Bowl games by scores of 41-32, 38-7, 37-20, 41-3, and 52-0, with a 38-23 loss in Tampa mixed in. Starting with that 37-20 triumph in 1970 (the last year of the “Boston’’ Patriots), the Dolphins won 16 straight in the Orange Bowl before the Patriots finally broke through with that memorable 31-14 AFC Championship game triumph on Jan. 12, 1986.

But there would be another bad run, a six-game losing streak at the new place from 1989-94.

While not exactly a certified House of Horrors for Bill Belichick, the Whateveryoucallit Stadium has not been a place replete with glorious personal memories, either. The Patriots are 4-6 here in the Belichick era, with two losses standing out. The first was a bizarre 29-28 setback in 2004, when Tom Brady threw a completely inexplicable interception to lose the game, and the second was a 21-0 loss in 2006 in which the Patriots did absolutely nothing right. Last year’s comeback (from a 21-10 deficit) Miami victory is another game Coach Bill won’t be referencing when he makes his Hall of Fame acceptance speech.

All of which brings us to tonight’s game, a matchup between a pair of 2-1 teams who each have lost to the Jets and who do not wish to lose any more ground to the talent-laden New Yorkers. Miami didn’t start out as an offensive juggernaut, failing to break 300 yards in total offense while subduing the Bills and Vikings. But quarterback Chad Henne aired it out for a career-high 363 yards last week in a 31-23 loss to the Jets that was decided by a tipped end zone interception by Eric Coleman with 27 seconds remaining.

In that game, Henne connected with Brandon Marshall 10 times for 166 yards. The 6-foot-4-inch Marshall, coming off three consecutive 100-reception seasons, has been putting his head on the pillow all week dreaming of opportunities to ravage a Patriots secondary loaded with undersized defensive backs.

Brady is undoubtedly thinking it’s time he had a real Tom Brady game in this place. His record here is 3-5, and his numbers, particularly in the second half, are the kind that get ordinary QBs a chance to watch the following game from the sideline while holding the clipboard.

The Dolphins have their own issues, starting with some special teams problems. Coach Tony Sparano was grousing last week about giving up yards against the Jets by virtue of a blocked punt (the first against Miami since 2006), a Dan Carpenter kickoff that went out of bounds, and a 54-yard kickoff return by New York’s Brad Smith following Miami’s first touchdown.

A second topic of discussion down here is the celebrated Wildcat formation, which some suggest has outlived its usefulness.

We shall see about that. But Marshall’s menacing presence means the Dolphins can think “big play’’ out of traditional formations in a way they have not been able to in recent years.

So there’s plenty for each coach to fret about. The Patriots have been a defensive disaster since halftime of the Cincinnati game. What we all may need in this regard is pure patience, because it is evident the team has some young raw talent on the defensive side of the ball. The idea, of course, is to find a way to grind out Ws while the kids on D are learning their collective craft. When you think about it, wasn’t last week’s 38-30 affair the exact kind of game we all expected to see more often than not in the 2010 season?

Anyway, it’s Miami. Nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to play here.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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