DAVIE, Fla. — Even on the verge of an improbable playoff berth, the Miami Dolphins believe the stench of their one-win season lingers.
Not that they have a problem with that. Underestimating the Dolphins made their remarkable resurgence easier.
“You look at our roster, and nobody scares you,” cornerback Andre Goodman said Monday. “I think everybody thought of us as a 1-15 team, and there was no point in the season where anybody took us seriously.”
Goodman said that’s still the case, even with Miami tied for the AFC East lead at 10-5 with New England. Because the Dolphins hold the tiebreaker advantage, they can clinch the division title and their first playoff berth since 2001 by winning Sunday at the New York Jets.
It’s a big change from a year ago this week, when Bill Parcells was hired as executive vice president of football operations to revive the franchise. Shortly after the season, he began cleaning house and fired coach Cam Cameron.
Now the Dolphins rank among the NFL’s hottest teams, winning four games in a row and eight of their past nine. They’re physical and keep mistakes to a minimum, which fits the Parcells blueprint.
How could such a team still be taken lightly?
“I think teams said, ‘They’re winning some close games, but they’re the same Dolphins. ... It’s just a fluke,”’ Goodman said. “We did go 1-15. You don’t come back from 1-15 and gain respect just because you have a new coaching staff and Bill Parcells is in the front office. And it’s OK that teams view us this way.”
It is tempting to sell short the Dolphins, who have mastered the art of winning close games against bad teams. Including Sunday’s 38-31 victory at Kansas City, they’ve won six times by a touchdown or less, and they’ve beaten only two teams with a winning record: New England and Denver.
They’ve outscored the opposition by a grand total of 21 points this season, an underwhelming margin that may help explain why only one Miami player — linebacker Joey Porter — was chosen to start in the Pro Bowl.
Coach Tony Sparano suppressed a smile when asked about any lack of respect.
“Maybe there was some of that, where people still look at you as a 1-15 team, and maybe we’re screwing some things up for them,” he said. “Right now, more and more people have to respect our effort. This team of no stars just goes out in workmanlike fashion and prepares very well.”
The Dolphins are the first team to win 10 games one year after going 1-15, and they’ve done it by saving their best for the fourth quarter. Sunday was the latest example.
With the score tied at 31, Miami mounted an 8 1/2 -minute drive that covered 85 yards for the winning touchdown on a pass from Chad Pennington to Anthony Fasano.
Lack of respect is difficult to document, and opponents have widely praised the Dolphins for their turnaround. The most inflammatory comment was pretty mild — Miami players took umbrage when Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said Cameron did a great job last year “with what he had to work with.”
Are teams skeptical that Sparano has much to work with? Fasano said yes.
“I think that comes from the way we won some of the games this year, thinking maybe it was a fluke,” Fasano said. “But when you win games in the fourth quarter and you are able to close teams out consistently, that shows signs of a good team.”