The Miami Dolphins enter Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots with unfinished business. A second-half collapse back in October in Foxboro prevented what would have been Joe Philbin‘s biggest win as head coach, Ryan Tannehill‘s biggest win as starting quarterback and arguably the franchise’s biggest win in four years, referring to the last time it bested New England.
Miami conceded 24 unanswered points with an array of sacks and turnovers that seemingly reiterated what has been known for over a decade: The Patriots own the AFC East and they own the Dolphins.
But luckily for Miami it will get a second chance to begin the process of turning the tide. While one win at home wouldn’t alleviate the stranglehold New England has had on the division it would be a necessary step in the right direction and would provide evidence for the Dolphins that they’re capable of beating a team they’ve lost to seven consecutive times.
Excluding what a win would do for the big picture in the AFC East, a victory would also position the Dolphins to make a run at their first playoff berth in five years. And qualifying for the postseason is undoubtedly Miami’s greater focus at the moment.
There’s really only one way for the Dolphins to conquer their demons and emerge victorious on Sunday afternoon: play a complete game of football, never relinquishing the upper hand if it’s attained.
The Dolphins have had difficulty fulfilling that requirement all season. In addition to blowing a 17-3 lead over the Patriots in Week 8, they also gave up a seven-point halftime lead over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5 and a 13-point lead over the Carolina Panthers in Week 12. And in victories over the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dolphins failed to pull away with 14 and 10-point leads, respectively, forcing fans to sweat it out until the final gun in both circumstances.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have earned their living erasing deficits in recent weeks. In their last three games, they’ve comeback from a 24-point deficit to beat the Denver Broncos, a 10-point deficit to beat the Houston Texans and a 16-point deficit to defeat the Cleveland Browns.
Given the two teams’ track records, the Dolphins are more than capable of jumping out to a commanding lead over the Patriots on Sunday. If they do they’ll need to develop an assassin’s mentality or history could repeat itself.
In the event the Dolphins hold a two-score lead at any point on Sunday afternoon, the onus will fall on both sides of the ball to put the Patriots away. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman must stay committed to running the football so the clock will expire faster while also remaining aggressive in order to go for the kill. Tannehill will need to be efficient for the entire game, avoiding costly turnovers that would invite a New England comeback.
The Dolphins’ defense must also keep its foot on the gas pedal. The unit has forfeited momentum too often in 2013 by allowing a touchdown drive just when it appeared the Dolphins were pulling away from their opponent.
The Patriots have owned the AFC East since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady‘s run began with a Super bowl title 12 years ago. The turning point could begin with the Dolphins playing their best football of the season for the entirety of 60 minutes on Sunday afternoon. Playing their best football for any fraction of 60 minutes might not be enough.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.