Dolphins Tame Bengals; Forge Identity with Chiefs Looming

Iron sharpens iron in the National Football League.  A game played by warrior men on stadium manicured grass is not for the faint of heart.  In a team defining 19-7 victory Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Miami Dolphins came away with more than just a victory.  Never mind the score or Cincinnati’s 70-plus yard touchdown early in the game.  The Dolphins left a permanent brand on the Bengals and put the rest of the NFL on notice.  Their message?  “Inside The Rock is a storm you don’t want to chase.”

The script in this contest had a variety of flavors.  Plodding offense, stifling defense, untimely penalties, and heated “skirmishes” leading to player ejections.  Throw in a handful of injuries with a full spectrum of emotion, and you have the makings for an interesting week of preparation for the Kansas City Chiefs.  First, let’s get a firm understanding of what this victory means for the developing identity of this Dolphins Football Team.

On the surface, you would expect a contest between these franchises to be rather uneventful.  Cincinnati and Miami?  Teams from two different divisions in the same conference not guaranteed to play each year?  Yet, for some reason, they have a prior history suggesting otherwise.

Perhaps, it began some 30 years ago.  Young Dolphins linebacker, Brian Cox, flew solo while challenging the entire Bengals sideline after coming to the aid of kicker Pete Stoyanovich.  Maybe it was the Shula vs. Shula game or the Halloween thrillers.  Of course, let’s not forget last year’s overtime shootout between two pretty bad teams.  They certainly share an odd history with the Dolphins coming away victorious on most occasions.  This past Sunday was no different.

Most Dolfans did not expect to see Tua Tagovailoa start at quarterback against the Bengals.  Head Coach, Brian Flores, played his cards close to the vest all week, finally deciding to start Tagovailoa within 24 hours of kickoff.  Dolfans know what the team has in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but they’re still honeymooning with Tua.  He’s smart, efficient, accurate, and demonstrates the “it” factor at times.

Yet, something seems amiss at the moment.  It’s hard to put the finger on it, but Tagovailoa hasn’t seemed to hit that 4th and 5th gear we’ve been waiting for.  Perhaps expectations are too high, and we should cut the rookie some slack, and rightfully so.  But the Dolphins are sitting pretty at 8-4, one game behind the Buffalo Bills, with four games remaining in the regular season.  Dolfans can taste how close they are to the playoffs and national relevance again.  It all rides on the left arm of Tua Tagovailoa.  As he goes, so go the Dolphins.

The return of Myles Gaskin at running back couldn’t have come at a better time.  It’s been a while since #37 toted the ball, and he reminded Dolfans of the chunk yardage he brings to the offense.  The “Seventh-Round Draft Pick That Could” plays bigger than he looks, and he always seems to be moving/falling forward.  While four and five-yard runs aren’t sexy, they open up the offense by providing opportunities for other skill players to be involved in Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey’s system.  Let’s hope Myles puts on some miles in the weeks to come.  That was most of the good if you include the insane Mike Gesicki one-hander.  But let’s shift our focus now to the ugly and how the ugly might help defeat the Chiefs this Sunday.

As the saying goes, “You should never poke a sleeping Dolphin,” and the Bengals did just that on Sunday.  Again, back to the bad blood between these teams.  It seemed to have started early in the game, sometime after “The Raptor” hauled in his league-leading eighth interception of the year.  The Cincinnati wide receiver corps and the Miami secondary exchanged plenty of jibber-jabber that would soon turn to swats, pushing, and borderline fisticuffs.  Each team’s pride and strength could not keep their cool, and player ejections were to follow.  But the real story is what these ejections might do for a Dolphins team forging an identity.

In the second half, Jakeem Grant opened himself to a clear and intentional cheap shot attempting to return a Cincinnati punt on his own side of the field.  Bengals special teamer, Michael Thomas, applied a shoulder blow to Grant’s midsection before he could field the punt.  What followed may become a defining moment in this Dolphins season.

As the 5’6″ Jakeem Grant lay flat staring into the Miami sky, Dolphins Head Coach, Brian Flores, led a charge of Miami players across the field reminiscent of a scene right out of Braveheart.  Flores’s act of leadership and support for his players went on to ignite the Dolphins in ways not seen since Don Shula.  Put simply, “Flores Forged the Fish,” and with Patrick Mahomes Kansas City squad coming to town, battle lines will be drawn in South Beach.  Let’s see what the ugly does for this Miami team fighting to earn respect as contenders.