Dolphins off to best start in 5 years
DAVIE, Fla. (AP)
The Miami Dolphins are off to their best start in five years.
All it took was one win.
A fast getaway was a point of emphasis by coach Tony Sparano throughout training camp, and when the countdown clock hanging all summer in the locker room reached 0:00, the Dolphins were ready - ready enough to beat Buffalo, at least.
With a 15-10 win, Miami is 1-0 for the first time since 2005. For Sparano, the glow lasted a couple of minutes.
''On my way in from the field yesterday to the locker room, I was thinking, `OK, how do we get to 2-0?''' he said Monday.
The answer: win Sunday at Minnesota (0-1). The game marks the start of a daunting stretch for the Dolphins, who might be underdogs in their next seven games.
''Any time you get the taste of victory the first week, it's going to boost your confidence,'' cornerback Jason Allen said. ''We're even more hungry to have that taste again.''
The Dolphins earned few style points in their opener. An anticipated increase in offensive firepower never materialized, and instead Miami won with a grinding ground game and a defense that dominated the Bills' woeful offense.
''Now we have a bigger thing with Minnesota,'' linebacker Channing Crowder said. ''They have a lot more playmakers than the Bills have.''
Crowder watched the opener from home, nursing a groin injury that has sidelined him since Aug. 17. He declined to discuss his chances of playing against Minnesota.
Top draft pick Jared Odrick joined the injury list when he was sidelined in the second half by a bruised right leg. If Odrick is unavailable for the Vikings game, veteran Tony McDaniel would be his likely replacement at defensive end.
Miami had lost five games in a row at Buffalo since 2004, which is one reason Sparano found plenty of cause for encouragement in the victory, however unsightly.
''There were a lot of good things done, a lot of wonderful steps in the right direction,'' the coach said. ''That's a really good team win - to go into that environment, to win that way, to watch your offense run the ball well enough, to watch your defense make stops.
''This group is coming together nicely. As I told them the other night before the game, one of the greatest compliments I can pay them is that I trust them to do the right things in the right situations. And they're going to do them hard. They're just grinders.''
The Dolphins' season debut would have been more handsome if not for three squandered scoring chances. Allen and Benny Sapp dropped potential interceptions with only the end zone in front of them, and Chad Henne underthrew a long pass to a wide open Brandon Marshall, who hit the brakes and dropped the ball.
Allen's misplay came when he was only two steps from a touchdown.
''I got a little too happy, a little too anxious,'' he said. ''I dreamed about it all the way back home and all last night: What if?''
The Dolphins acquired Marshall in part because of his big-play potential, and they're counting on an aggressive new defensive scheme to create more takeaways.
But they need to catch the ball.
''It's frustrating because to me those are green-light specials,'' Sparano said. ''They can really put the thing out of reach. You don't have to make all three of them, but you've got to make one of them, and we didn't make any. That's an area where we've got to get better.''
On the plus side, the Dolphins had an advantage of nearly 14 minutes in time of possession and committed no turnovers. Newcomers Marshall, Odrick, Karlos Dansby and Koa Misi all played well, as did Allen and Chris Clemons, both new starters in a revamped secondary.
Beating Buffalo beats last year, when the Dolphins started 0-3. Or 2008, when they started 0-2. Or 2007, when they started 0-13.
That's why running back Ronnie Brown entered the locker room Monday wearing a grin.
''We didn't have a game this morning,'' he said, ''so we're still 1-0.''