- The Washington Times - Friday, November 5, 2004

Perennial contender Miami and ne’er-do-well Arizona have been near-opposites in the NFL. The Dolphins have had just two losing seasons since 1970. The Cardinals have had just seven winning seasons during that span. But as 2004 reaches midseason, Miami (1-7) is even more inept than Arizona (2-5), its visitor in the worst matchup of Week9.

The Dolphins have surpassed their average of six losses from 1990 to 2003 and are off to their worst start since 1967, their second season. After being outrushed 275-78 in Monday’s 41-14 shellacking by the New York Jets, Miami is last in rushing and 30th in run defense.

“It’s been tough,” said five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Thomas, who is in his ninth season. “I’m not used to this. I’ve never been on a losing team in my career.”

Running back Ricky Williams, the linchpin of the offense, stunned the Dolphins by retiring in July. Top receiver David Boston and defensive tackles Tim Bowens and Larry Chester suffered season-ending injuries in preseason. Lamar Gordon, acquired to replace Williams, and linebacker Junior Seau also are finished for the year.

A.J. Feeley, the untested quarterback acquired to spark the passing game, couldn’t beat out incumbent Jay Fiedler. Boston’s replacement, Marty Booker, acquired for disgruntled pass rusher Adewale Ogunleye, has been ineffective. What’s more, defensive mainstays Thomas, Seau, Jason Taylor and Sam Madison are all on the wrong side of 30, so a quick turnaround isn’t likely for the successor (Steve Spurrier?) to coach Dave Wannstedt, who is expected to be fired after the season.

Meanwhile, it’s never an easy fix in Arizona. After averaging just five victories in the five years since their stunning wild-card season in 1998, the Cardinals seemed on the verge of turning the corner under new coach Dennis Green.

After playing potent St. Louis, Super Bowl champion New England and NFC South leader Atlanta tough, Arizona sandwiched upsets over New Orleans and Seattle around an overtime loss at San Francisco. Bolstered by the additions up front of former Denver end Bert Berry and rookie tackle Darnell Dockett, the Cardinals have forced a league-high 18 turnovers and are tops in red-zone defense.

But the offense without injured No.1 receiver Anquan Boldin is lagging despite all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith’s resurgence at 35. Frustrated by allowing three sacks a game, Green fired line coach Bob Wylie last week and hired ex-Viking Everett Lindsay.

Neither that change nor Boldin’s return helped two days later in Buffalo. First-year starting quarterback Josh McCown was sacked three times, and the Cardinals were whipped 38-14 although the Bills threw for just 81 yards. The loss was Arizona’s 17th straight on the road, the longest current streak. The Cardinals had 14 penalties for 101 yards — the same total McCown passed for in persistent rain and gusty winds.

The weather should be more like home in Miami, but the Cardinals still have to face the Jets, New York Giants, Rams and Seahawks again. Seems like Green will need just one year to match the number of losing seasons he had in a decade in Minnesota.

Mr. First Down — David Givens, who emerged as New England’s most reliable receiver with 13 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the 2003 AFC Championship game and the Super Bowl, is thriving this year. All but two of his 30 catches have been for first downs.

“Whenever you throw it past the first-down sticks, David catches it, and if he catches it short of the sticks, he’ll turn around and run over some guys,” said quarterback Tom Brady. “He has really done a great job of running after the catch. He’s so strong, any time you throw it to him short he’s making guys miss.”

A chip off …? — Fullback/linebacker Casey Urlacher, brother of standout Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher, signed with Nashville of the Arena2 League. The younger Urlacher, who starred at Division III Lake Forest (Ill.) College, ran for 15 touchdowns while recording 61/2 tackles for losses and 31/2 sacks last season for league runner-up Peoria.

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