- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

Rookie coach Nick Saban’s Miami Dolphins finished 2005 with a flourish, winning their final six games to wind up 9-7 and just miss the playoffs. But this year’s Dolphins are the AFC’s worst team at 1-6 and surely will set a franchise record by missing postseason for a fifth straight season.

“The worst in the league,” is how six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Thomas described his team, which visits unbeaten Chicago on Sunday.

That’s arguable when Arizona is 1-7, Tampa Bay has scored just 88 points and Detroit has allowed 189, but Miami is certainly the most disappointing. True, Washington is 2-5 after making the playoffs in 2005, but the Redskins’ foes are 23-19 in the rest of their games. The Dolphins’ opponents are just 15-28 against everyone else.

As usual, the offense is the culprit in South Florida. The defense is fifth overall, 13th against the run and has allowed just 18.7 points a game. But only Tampa Bay, Oakland and Buffalo are averaging fewer points than Miami, at 14.6.

With former Minnesota star quarterback Daunte Culpepper coming off major knee surgery, new offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was expected to place a stronger emphasis on the run. But despite the presence of running back Ronnie Brown, the second pick in the 2005 draft, Miami is tied with Tampa Bay for the second-lowest number of carries (22.1 a game).

Although he split playing time with the now-suspended Ricky Williams for three of the first seven games last year, Brown only has eight more carries (122) at the same point this season. Miami, 12th in rushing in 2005, is tied for 27th.

“It’s just how our season has been going,” Brown said. “A lot of times we’re playing from behind.”

Indeed, the Dolphins have called passes on a staggering 83 percent of their fourth-quarter plays largely because they’ve led for just 13:28 of those 105 minutes. In a 34-24 loss to Green Bay on Oct. 22, Mularkey called 28 fourth-quarter passes without a single running play even though the Packers didn’t open a double-digit lead until 6:11 remained.

Culpepper’s aching knee and poor decision-making led to his benching after being sacked 21 times in four games. Replacement Joey Harrington, the former Detroit bust, has been sacked just five times but has thrown seven interceptions, including three that bounced off the hands of his receivers.

A closer look at the six-game finishing tear of 2005 reveals four victories by four points or less and four over teams that had mailed it in: Oakland, Buffalo, Tennessee and the New York Jets. Maybe Saban isn’t so smart after all.

“You give the guy a year and a half and run him out of town?” bristled four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor. “Give the man some time. They want a winner and they should. [But] when the stock goes down at Microsoft, I don’t call Bill Gates and say impeach him. Be patient and it will work out.”

Leinart takes his lumps

Life was good for Matt Leinart at Southern Cal. He dated models and actresses, went to one class — ballroom dancing — his senior year, won 37 of 39 starts and a Heisman Trophy while leading the Trojans to two national titles. Three weeks into his career as Arizona’s starter, Leinart already has suffered more defeats than he did during his entire college career. Including four weeks where he backed up Kurt Warner, the former big man on campus has been sacked 13 times in 166 dropbacks, completed just 51.6 percent of his attempts and is the NFL’s 30th-rated passer.

Packers plan ahead

Trainer Pepper Burruss deserves some credit for Green Bay’s 34-24 victory in steamy Miami on Oct. 22. Thinking back to a part-time job he had installing swimming pools while in college, Burruss found a way to get frigid air to the Packers on the bench in a more concentrated way than from the typical cooling fans. At one point, cornerback Charles Woodson had three hoses coming out of his jersey. Despite temperatures that reached the upper 80s, no Packer suffered cramps and only running back Ahman Green needed an IV. After receiving two bags of fluid during halftime, Green raced 70 yards for a touchdown in the second half.

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