While the rest of the team had fluctuated between horrible and great, the Miami Dolphins run defense had been rock solid, forcing opponents to try to beat them through the air, rather than grind their way along the ground. This was the one area the Dolphins were not wavering in. Though they had bent a few times throughout the season, they did not break, and they came into Week 10 with the 2nd ranked run D in the league.
Then Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans came to town, with a giant chip on their shoulders. Fresh off of a fifty-one point butt whooping at the hands of the Chicago Bears, the Titans entered Sun Life Stadium with a focus and determination that caught the Dolphins flatfooted. The Titans had come to play, and the team that took the field was nothing like the one the ‘Phins had spent the week watching on tape.
The Dolphins fell apart, piece by piece. The running game was first, a fumble leading to the star running back warming the bench. The passing game disintegrated to the tune of three interceptions. The special teams started to forget the rules and inexplicably started defending their right to block in the back, by blocking in the back on every kick. The secondary became more interested in the cheerleaders, or maybe it was the vendors in the stands, or the empty seats. Whatever it was, they refused to cover, tackle, and catch balls that hit them in the chest.
It was a rout of the home team, but the Dolphins would at least be able to stand on their run defense. The team could get stomped in every facet of the game, but the guys would still be able to hold their heads high because of the rock solid run-stopping force that was the Miami front seven. After all, except for a couple of scrambles by Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker, and a short-field touchdown following the Reggie Bush fumble, the run defense had been holding its own. They were bending, not breaking, against Chris Johnson, the most recent member of the “2,000 yards in a season” club.
This was not the Chris Johnson that was a fantasy dud for most of 2011. It was not the Great Houdini that had disappeared for the better part of this season. This was the Chris Johnson, the one that put over a hundred yards on the stingy Chicago Bears defense in Week 9; even while they were committing grand larceny and beating the brakes off of his team. It was the Chris Johnson of old, the one that made him a no-brainer number one overall pick in fantasy leagues all across the land. It was this Chris Johnson they were facing, and they were holding their own. Sure they had given up a touchdown, but they had held him to 60 yards in the first half, and with the way the Titans were playing, this was something they could build on.
Then, the two teams came started the third quarter, and for the first time this season, the run game did more than bend, it downright busted. Chris Johnson blew past the century mark late in the third, a feat no running back had been able to do against the Dolphins in their last 22 games. The run-stoppers had failed to stop. Miami’s pride was crushed, spitefully smashed underfoot, as the defense joined the rest of the team in disheartened mediocrity.
Three full days separate that loss and tonight’s game against the Buffalo Bills. Three days to shake off the physical pain, and the mental anguish, following Sunday’s disaster. Now the Dolphins must stand under the bright lights of Thursday Night Football, with the eyes of the entire nation on them for the first time this season. They must stand under the spotlight and show that they are mentally tough enough to handle the adversity presented by last week’s failure.
Joe Philbin has been under fire for benching his offensive star, but if he can prepare his team for tonight’s match-up, it will go a long way towards keeping the faith of his team. There is no doubt the Dolphins will have their hands full with the elusive CJ Spiller, but the real challenge tonight will be overcoming themselves.
The biggest battle will be fought inside the minds of the Dolphins players, and we will watch the results play out on the field.
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