Surprising Dolphins face injury-plagued Seattle Print
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Thursday, 06 November 2008 11:59
NFL Headline News

 MIAMI (AP) -Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano refers to overconfidence as ``drinking the Kool-Aid.'' His players may be sipping something stronger, because they're talking playoffs.
The Dolphins last made the postseason in 2001. They've lost 22 of their past 27 games. They're at the bottom of the AFC East with a 4-4 record.
And yet a two-game winning streak has emboldened the Dolphins to embrace the notion of playing in January.
``It has always been the goal,'' receiver Greg Camarillo said. ``Now we need to start speaking about it more. We need to expect it. We need to reach for it.''
Working in Miami's favor is a soft schedule the second half of the season, starting Sunday against injury-riddled Seattle (2-6).
Sparano has no problem with his players saying they have a shot at the playoffs.
``I want them to have those expectations,'' Miami's first-year coach said. ``I'm not going to hide from those things. We just kind of threw ourselves into the middle of something here, and all we did right now is create an opportunity to have a real big game at home this week.''
It's the start of an inviting stretch for Sparano's surprising team, with the final eight games against teams who are a combined 24-40.
The Dolphins are only a game off the pace in the AFC East. If they beat the Seahawks and win the following week against woeful Oakland, their home game Nov. 23 against New England could qualify as a showdown - a rarity in Miami in recent years.
``We feel like we're right in the conversation of winning this division,'' said linebacker Joey Porter, the NFL sacks leader. ``If you said that at the beginning of the year, nobody would have believed it.''
And if the Dolphins lose Sunday, they'll be bums again - which may provide sufficient motivation to keep them from taking Seattle lightly.
``We were 1-15 last year, so we know what it's like to be sorry,'' Miami linebacker Channing Crowder said. ``Now that we have a little success, we want to keep it. If anybody gets overconfident after getting the hell beat out of us last year, it would be ridiculous.''
While the Dolphins are coming off wins over division leaders Buffalo and Denver, the Seahawks are staggering through coach Mike Holmgren's final season. Sixteen players have missed a total of 65 games, with seven injuries at receiver alone.
``I'm hopeful in the second half of the season that we can flip it a little bit if we get some of these guys back,'' Holmgren said. ``My training staff and my doctors are not cooperating with me very well.''
Struggling Seneca Wallace will start again for three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who has missed the past four games with knee and back injuries. Seattle ranks last in the NFL with an average of 141 yards passing per game.
``Right now, because of our unique situation and our roster, we almost have to play a perfect game,'' Holmgren said. ``When we get a chance to make a big play, we have to make it. We're not good enough right now offensively to sustain anything for very long and make up for a dropped ball or a bad penalty or a bad call by the officials maybe. That's too bad.''
To compound this week's challenge, the Seahawks must make a 2,700-mile flight. Teams from the Pacific time zone are 0-11 this season in games in the Eastern time zone, and Seattle is 0-3, losing on the road to Buffalo, the New York Giants and Tampa Bay by a combined score of 98-26.
The game will start at 10 a.m. Seattle time.
``If you have a good enough team, you can overcome that,'' Holmgren said.
And if the Seahawks' legs are rubbery, will the Dolphins be able to take advantage? They've gone from consistently awful last year to inconsistent this season.
The Dolphins beat last year's AFC finalists, New England and San Diego, as well as the Bills and Broncos. But two of the losses came against teams with losing records at the time.
``There's a lot of talk that we play down to the competition and we get excited for big games,'' Crowder said. ``Great teams don't do that. Good teams beat the teams they shouldn't beat, and kill the teams that they're supposed to beat. That's what we're trying to get to. We're trying to get back to that great Miami Dolphins franchise.''
They don't quite resemble the Don Shula juggernaut yet.
The defense has made strides in recent weeks, quarterback Chad Pennington is a model of efficiency and Miami has been finishing fast, outscoring opponents 49-23 in the fourth quarter. But the Wildcat formation is no longer puzzling opponents, the running game often sputters, the secondary remains suspect and kick coverage is awful.
It's tough to take the Dolphins too seriously until they can boast of a winning record. The franchise hasn't been above .500 since the end of the 2005 season.

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