At the end of ROCKY I, a battered and bruised Apollo Creed is seen in his hospital bed, clearly worried.  He wasn’t thinking about his broken ribs or the swelling in his face.  He wasn’t even thinking about a rematch because “there wasn’t going to be no rematch.”  No, the Master of Disaster was in the darkness of his hospital room worried about one thing: “This dog knows how to hunt.”  When Rocky wheeled himself into Apollo’s doorway, what did he want to know?  “Did you give me your best?”

Yes, the Kansas City Chiefs left Hard Rock Stadium with another win in the victory column.  They demonstrated what separates champions from contenders.  But this game was nationally televised, and football fans across the world had to wonder if the outcome of this 33-27 Chiefs’ victory would have ended differently with just a few more minutes on the stadium clock.  Kansas City came away with the most important victory on Sunday, but the Dolphins tallied the game’s most victories.

Whether it’s golf, basketball, or football, if you want to know how you measure up against the elite competition, you have to play at “center court.”  Sometimes you make the schedule, and other times the schedule is made for you.  Anyone connected to this Miami Football Team knew that Sunday’s game against the Chiefs was “THE” game of 2020.  It was the Dolphins’ chance to play against the best.  We all circled it on our calendars and kept it in the back of our minds, like a fight you knew was coming after school at 3 o’clock.  This was not a season-deciding game, but it was season-defining.

The fight these Dolphins brought to the Chiefs on Sunday was nothing short of courageous.  The chess match between head coaches Brian Flores and Andy Reid had the makings for an excellent backstory, and very well may have been THE story in this football game.  Both could be considered the best at what they do: strategizing and scheming for their opponent.  Their coaching portfolios say it all, and we don’t need to itemize their accomplishments right now.  But their total bodies of work speak for themselves.

Before kickoff, the Miami Dolphins looked to be playing this game with one hand tied behind their back.  The game-time decision to sit starting linebackers Kyle VanNoy and Elandon Roberts was a blow many Dolfans did not see coming.  Both are leaders and vital cogs in this Dolphins defense, and their lack of availability forced Defensive Coordinator, Josh Boyer, to modify his normal rotation.  When you sit two starters like VanNoy & Roberts, other rotational/backup players are forced to play more snaps, which adds an element of vulnerability.

Take, for instance, the Chiefs’ scoring drive when Dolphins’ free safety, Bobby McCain, was forced out of the game and replaced by Clayton Fejedelem.  Fejedelem is a good player but was immediately exposed by Patrick Mahomes and the speed of Kansas City’s wide receivers in what may have been the game-deciding touchdown.  Yet, the Dolphins defense played valiantly and kept Miami competitive by forcing four turnovers while making Mahomes look mortal for one afternoon.

The Dolphins should be proud of rookie Tua Tagovailoa’s showing against the Chiefs.  Without a starting-caliber running back, Miami’s offense was forced to play a mix of 3rd down players and Special Team backups who contributed respectably.  The same can be said for the Dolphins’ receiver corps.  Down goes Parker!  Down goes Grant!  Down goes Gesicki!  But Miami was still in this game because Tua Tagovailoa displayed his “it factor.”  He completed passes to 3rd and 4th string players who got to where they needed Tagovailoa to deliver the football.  The Dolphins did not have enough time and firepower to bring down the mighty Chiefs.

Even when the Dolphins were down 18 points midway through the 4th quarter, you still felt like they could pull this one out.  The Chiefs knew they got away with one last Sunday.  They know the Dolphins gave them their best, and this should make the reigning NFL Champions concerned about their future at the top.