Jet QB Geno Smith summed up the Dolphins - Jets match up this Sunday by saying, "It's pretty much our Super Bowl." His words stretched south to Miami where the game may have as much impact on the Dolphins GM as it does on the New York coaching staff.
The Dolphins have not played past the regular season since 2008. The fan-base has become as fickle as a team that can create a stir with a sensational win against New England one week, only to gag in a devastating loss to Buffalo the next.
In his 2nd season as head coach, Joe Philbin needs to show improvement. It’s doubtful his job is as tenuous as that of Rex Ryan who will close out his 3rd consecutive season out of the playoffs. The Jets are the Dolphin’s greatest rival, a perspective not lost in Miami.
A victory ensures the first winning season for the Dolphins in 5 years. The game is pivotal for Boss Ross and Dolphin fans everywhere. Yet the man who stands to gain or lose the most by the outcome is Jeff Ireland.
The Jets have only one remaining hope for their season as Antonio Cromartie made clear, "This is our last game of the year, and we want to make sure it's their last game, too." Just four weeks ago, the Dolphins crushed the Jets but even then Cromartie felt, "we were the better team."
He feels the same now, "do I feel like we're a better team now? Yeah, we're running the ball better and we're playing the pass a whole lot better. I think the biggest thing for us is to put it all together and win a game on the road."
The Jets can finish .500, and win on the road for only the second time this season, but more importantly, they can knock Miami out of the playoffs. When the Jets search for ways to add meaning to a game without playoff implications, the Dolphins have a much more tangible need to win.
There were plenty of excuses for the Miami offense gaining only 103 yards in Buffalo last week and a listless defense yielding over 200 yards rushing. The bottom line is, Buffalo came to play and Miami did not.
Players play the game, but motivation falls squarely on head coach Joe Philbin, and his coordinators. Three consecutive wins prior to Buffalo found Miami on cruise control with easily winnable games against the Bills and Jets.
All the euphoria disappeared when the Dolphins stumbled badly in Buffalo and a fan-base attuned to disappointment jumped off the bandwagon. Even a victory Sunday could leave Miami out of the playoffs if circumstances fall more advantageously for other teams. The Dolphins lost control of their destiny.
2013 opened with a plethora of draft picks and mega-money for free agents, Jeff Ireland was dispatched to make a contender. The expectation from Boss Ross is higher than 8-8 and no playoffs for 5 straight seasons under Ireland’s reign as GM.
Ross, is the type of owner who comes to town with an open wallet anticipating money will buy results. The Ross mandate is, world class facilities and best in class operations will lead to best in class results, provided the people in charge are best in class. He can buy facilities and operations… The people must prove their competence or suffer the consequences.
Of the free agents Ireland acquired, only Brent Grimes has matched or exceeded expectations. None of Ireland's draft picks have made an impact and the only starter is a 5th round kicker. The 3rd overall pick in the draft played 15 snaps in the devastating defeat in Buffalo.
The Quarterback picked 8th two years ago spent most of the day on his back getting sacked 7 times. While teasing with moments of promise, Tannehill showed zero leadership when needing to be in the face of his lethargic teammates.
Joe Philbin brought a player development philosophy to Miami. Fans ingrained in a culture of instant gratification find it hard to understand why the 3rd player selected in the draft is not in the starting lineup. It is not an understatement to say Jeff Ireland has a lot riding on Sunday’s game.
In simple terms for Ireland, great players get on the field even if they have to throw someone else off to get there. Dion Jordan could evolve into a pro bowl player but for fans hoping to see greatness anywhere in the Miami lineup, he is another Ireland disappointment.
This season comes down to a single game with the outcome decided in the trenches, a place on the Dolphin 2013 roster where Ireland failed miserably. He showed no understanding of the dynamics when drafting an overly sensitive tackle to play next to an overly obnoxious guard.
On the opposite side, an afterthought tackle was thrust on to the field next to a guard mismatched to the system. To say the Miami Dolphin offensive line was a disaster is another incredible understatement.
On the positive side, Ireland has shown a slow progression of plugging holes in a depth chart bereft of talent five years ago. Going into this off-season with a glaring need at offensive line but talent at most other positions is a much easier recipe than building from scratch.
A winning season and a playoff appearance likely equate to job security for the entire Miami staff but falls short of the expectations for many pessimistic fans. In a sport predicated by which team comes into the game with the greatest desire, Ireland could be at the mercy of the team he built.
Geno Smith’s words may be a better fit for Jeff Ireland, "It's pretty much our Super Bowl." The office of the Miami Dolphins billionaire owner is nestled in one of those New York skyscrapers.
They say, “the bigger the boys, the bigger the toys.” In this land where livelihoods are decided by office bragging rights, Jeff Ireland’s future may teeter on whether the Miami Dolphins show up on Sunday.
Boss Ross is a patient man and understands the benefits of long term thinking but this is a toy after all, and if misfit toys are no longer fun to play with, change is a certainty...
If the Dolphins take another day off Sunday, Jeff Ireland could end up being more like Woody and less like Buzz Lightyear.