Time for Dolphins to be a team to trust

There's hope. But trust? Dolphins are anxious about Buffalo

X's and Omar. SFL's Dave Aizer and Dolphins Columnist Omar Kelley discuss the Fin's win against the Patriots and the upcoming game against the Bills.

Dear Miami Dolphins,

There's this vibrant hum of hope surrounding you today. And this undercurrent of civic fear. That's the intersection where this season idles as Dolphins fans feel the promise this Sunday and run fingers over scars of the last 10 years.

Beat a third-string quarterback at 5-9 Buffalo and you might be in the playoffs. Win again over the troubled New York Jets next week in the season finale at Sun Life Stadium and you're definitely in.

That's why fans are excited right now. The quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, is making visible strides, the defense keeps making timely stops and Michael Thomas going from zero to AFC defensive player of the week in five Dolphins days tells the good fortune of a season trending to January.


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And that's why fans are uneasy. It looks so good right now. This moment has been dangled before them too many times in the past several years only to crash over them like the Sunday That Stole Christmas.

Hope is one thing for Dolphins nation to have this Sunday. But trust? Belief? And "swagger," as school-marm Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was asked about this week, sending him to the dictionary to look up the word and read its definition the next day.

"'To strut or to boast or brag,''' Philbin said. "So, obviously, swagger doesn't fit us."

Obviously, it doesn't fit the fan base, either. It once did. Go back two decades, and receiver Mark Duper remembers strutting on game-day field beside Dan Marino, "knowing we were going to cut up whatever team we were playing."

The playoffs were a guarantee then. Now the Dolphins haven't been to the playoffs in five years, haven't won a playoff game in 12 years, haven't made the AFC Championship Game in 21 years – need we go on? - haven't attended a Super Bowl in 29 years and haven't won a title in four decades.

That's a lot of dark history to dump on a team in the cold of Buffalo. And, really, no one is shoveling that on the players this December. It's only the last, dank decade that remains relevant to fans who reflexively cringe when asked to trust what is offered.

No matter the last two wins at Pittsburgh and against New England set up this good position. No matter Buffalo and the Jets are working on next season. No matter analytical sites like playoffstatus.com give the Dolphins a 70 percent chance of making the playoffs.

Some fans have noticed: That's down from 77 percent before Baltimore's 61-yard field goal on Monday night.

It's not the thought of Buffalo's version of practice-squad quarterback Pat Devlin, Thad Lewis, that brings anxiety today. It's mostly the thought of being this close to something they haven't felt in a while.

There's a blueprint for actual football concern against Buffalo. Facing a rainy, windy forecast in Orchard Park, the Bills will throw the sixth-rated rushing game against a Dolphins defense that has been spotty against the run.

Buffalo's defense, too, has the league's best pass rush (49 sacks) against a Dolphins pass protection that brings concerns. But it's the bogeyman of history that makes Dolphins fans squirm most.

It's losing at New England a decade ago when Ricky Williams wasn't given the ball on a final series. It's watching a 2006 season picked to finish in the Super Bowl end with Nick Saban leaving.

It's believing something was building after the lone playoff berth in 2008, only to watch the next few seasons dissolve in a puddle.

"The past doesn't mean anything to us,'' receiver Mike Wallace said.

As it shouldn't.

"Only what we're doing right now does,'' he said.

As it should. He's in his first year. And every team has its own identity and belief system. The way this team played this past month inspires the thought something good is happening, too.

It also conjures up fears in Dolphins fans of what's waiting around the corner. The Dolphhins should win this game. They're playing well. They're the better team playing for far more consequences. They should take another step forward.

That's just how Dolphins fans hope it plays out. They're just too conditioned to pain to trust the moment too hard.

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