|Season of disappointment ends for Dolphins and Bengals|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 27 December 2007 13:49|
Then the Miami Dolphins spoiled the fun with a win. That transformed their game Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals into a mere formality even Bill Parcells may find akin to an August exhibition.
Parcells reported to work this week as the Dolphins' executive vice president of football operations, and he'll get a firsthand look at a team that's 1-14 and in need of major housecleaning.
``It's not just the last game - `Get it over with,''' Dolphins running back Jesse Chatman said. ``You've got to make sure you're prepared, and not give him any reason to let you go.''
The Bengals are due for a shakeup, too. They're 6-9 and assured of their first losing season since 2002, the year before Marvin Lewis took over as coach.
``I'm shocked,'' said Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the NFL's leading receiver. ``Going into this year, I think everybody thought we were going to the playoffs.''
Instead, a long offseason beckons. So where's the motivation in the finale?
``It's a matter of pride,'' Cincinnati safety Dexter Jackson said. ``You don't want to go out as a loser.''
The game could have been so much more - or less. Mired in the NFL's worst start in 21 years, the Dolphins flirted with the league's first 0-16 season before beating Baltimore in overtime two weeks ago.
The Bengals had to be relieved. Now they don't have to worry about losing to an 0-15 team.
``It takes a little bit of pressure off ,'' quarterback Carson Palmer said.
From midseason on, the Cincinnati game was cited as one of Miami's best chances for a win. Lewis hasn't forgotten.
``It's an important game to us,'' the coach said. ``Early on there was a lot of pointing to this game - that since the Dolphins hadn't won a game, we would be easy prey for them. People don't feel like we're a good enough team, so our guys are excited to come down and play their best football of the season.''
At their best, the Bengals are pretty good. They beat Cleveland last week to prevent their Ohio rivals from clinching a playoff spot.
The Bengals rank among the league's worst defensive teams, and they haven't won two games in a row all season. But the passing attack can be potent and should benefit from South Florida's warm winter climate.
``I can't wait,'' Palmer said. ``The last five or six games have been either a ton of wind or rain or sleet, whatever it's been. Field conditions have been bad. So we're excited. We already checked the weather - it's supposed to be 80 degrees.''
Miami first-year coach Cam Cameron is feeling the heat, and it's uncertain whether Parcells will bring him back for a second season.
If the Dolphins lose Sunday, they would become the eighth team to finish 1-15. Of the seven coaches who started a season with teams that went 1-15, only two returned the following year - Jimmy Johnson in Dallas was 1-15 in his first season of 1989, but soon was winning Super Bowls, and Mike Riley was back in San Diego in 2001 after just one win in 2000.
``I know the business I'm in. I grew up in it,'' Cameron said. ``You focus on what you can control and do the best you can do.''
He'll try to avoid becoming the first Dolphins coach to lose to Cincinnati since 1968. The teams have played only six times since, and the game will be the Bengals' first in Miami since 1991.
It's a homecoming for Cincinnati receiver Chad Johnson, who grew up in Miami and is plotting one of his patented touchdown celebrations.
``I'm coming home to exhale,'' Johnson said. ``You know what that means? You just let it all out. Why not? I wish our situation was a lot better than it is going into the last game as far as making a run at the playoffs, but it's not, so why not come home and entertain the home crowd?''
Also worth watching will be any encounters between Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter and Bengals tackle Levi Jones. Porter was fined nearly $150,000 by the NFL for his part in a Las Vegas scuffle in March that involved Jones.
``Nobody knows where that stems from except for him,'' Jones said.
Despite the appeal of a Porter-Jones rematch, the stadium's likely to be half empty, a familiar late-December setting for both teams.
The Bengals have played one postseason game since 1991. The Dolphins' playoff drought is in its sixth season, a franchise record.
Coming at the end of yet another disappointing year, Sunday's game will be quickly forgotten.
``Once the season is over, coach Parcells may look back, and the organization may look back at the last game,'' Miami defensive end Jason Taylor said. ``But I'll never see it again.''