The Miami Dolphins have been trying for years to be like the New England Patriots, reigning kings of the NFL and eternal potentates of the AFC East, when it’s a more realistic goal that is within reach.
Resolve first to reach the level of the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that after nearly a quarter century in operation still sounds like a semi-pro outfit to most of America but one that is playing postseason football this weekend, nonetheless.
This isn’t easy to admit, but the overall progress of the Jags and Dolphins hasn’t been all that different over the past 10 years.
One division title each.
A couple of seasons each with Chad Henne as the leading passer.
A slight edge to Miami with two winning seasons during this decade compared to only one for Jacksonville.
A slight edge to the Jags for having one playoff game victory to none for the Dolphins.
And now, naturally enough, Jacksonville is in Pittsburgh and about to get dismissed from the Super Bowl tournament by the Steelers. Isn’t that exactly where and how the Dolphins ended up one year ago?
None of this is pleasant to contemplate. After all, the Jags are so unappreciated that the NFL keeps trying to pawn them off on London, with a multi-year package of games there stretching from 2013-2020.
Jacksonville fans have been fine with sharing, too. More than 3,000 seats at EverBank Field were permanently covered during the 2017 regular season by tarps paid for by advertisers. The only reason the stadium ever included them was to accommodate the larger, more passionate crowd for the annual Florida-Georgia college game.
Really, though, there is no reason for Miami to look down on the Jags. Not now. If not exactly mirror-image twins, the franchises have behaved like close cousins the past few seasons, with the exception of Jacksonville’s more powerful defense.
The Jags’ quarterback is Blake Bortles, a former first-round draft pick out of UCF who certainly looks the part physically but never has won the love of fans. That description fits Ryan Tannehill and Jay Cutler, too.
Then there’s Leonard Fournette, the rookie running back whose No. 7 jersey is selling the fastest among Jags players. With good reason, too, since he needed just 13 starts to top 1,000 yards rushing and ran for 181 in an October rout of the Steelers. That 30-9 win, more than any other, showed that Jacksonville was through fooling around.
Hey, that’s pretty much the same thing that happened last year when Jay Ajayi busted loose for 204 yards and a couple of touchdowns in Miami’s midseason win over Pittsburgh, right? He never had broken 50 yards on a single Sunday prior to that, and the Dolphins had made no previous sign that they had a six-game win streak or a 10-6 finish in them, either.
All that turnaround momentum from Adam Gase’s first year as Dolphins coach is gone now, and so is Ajayi. If Miami fans are looking for an alternate target to boost from here to the Super Bowl, they could hitch a ride with the J-Train and his new team, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Or they could jump aboard the Jags Bus. It’s a double-decker, with plenty of room, like the ones they have in London.
It’s a good weekend overall for putting down roots in the TV room and watching the NFL do its postseason thing. If Atlanta can keep moving toward some kind of Super Bowl redemption story, and if the Falcons can keep doing it on the road as a No. 6 seed, that would be interesting.
There’s a soft spot, too, for Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum, who is making his first postseason start against former Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. NFL.com researchers point out that no quarterback in his playoff debut has beaten a quarterback with 10 or more postseason starts since Denver’s Tim Tebow stunned Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in 2011.
Doesn’t alter the inevitable picture of the Patriots making full use of their home-field advantage and getting another shot at a championship while the Dolphins go golfing.
So if it’s a drag identifying with the Jags, at this point, what can it hurt? At least they’re still playing, and still wondering if there’s a way to catch and pass New England on the way to the Super Bowl.