DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Joe Philbin cracked a few smiles Monday while critiquing the Miami Dolphins’ latest game, his mood buoyed by one of the most successful weekends yet for the first-year coach.
He won a game, and some important endorsements. Perfect-season coach Don Shula and several of his players, in town for their 40th reunion, said Philbin has the Dolphins headed in the right direction.
Despite Sunday’s 24-3 victory over woeful Jacksonville, the Dolphins (6-8) are virtually out of the playoff race and will finish at .500 or worse for the fourth consecutive season. That’s a far cry from perfection, as several 1972 Dolphins noted.
But they voiced support for Philbin, and also for the team’s two often-criticized decision-makers, general manager Jeff Ireland and owner Stephen Ross.
“Joe Philbin’s on the right track,” said `72 linebacker Nick Buoniconti, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “There are no illusions here that this is a good team. It’s not a good team. There are certain aspects of the team that are really solid, but you’re not going to fool Philbin or Jeff Ireland or Steve Ross. They’re going to make the changes that are needed, and this team will come back as winners.”
Shula is also optimistic, saying Philbin and rookie Ryan Tannehill can put an end to years of steady turnover at the head coach and quarterback positions.
“I like Philbin,” Shula said. “I like his mannerisms. And I like the young quarterback. You see some good things. You know they’re headed in the right direction, and I think that’s all the fans can ask for. You want them to be a team that we’re proud of.”
Former coach Jimmy Johnson chafed at the franchise’s perennial focus on the `72ers, and celebrating that season does provide a distraction from more recent results. Miami will miss the playoffs this year for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons.
“These teams here live in the shadow of the `72 Dolphins, and it’s a real big shadow that casts itself across the field,” Buoniconti said. “And it’s very difficult for them to measure up to those standards. And I feel for them, because when you’re getting measured against perfection, it’s pretty tough.”
Philbin insisted he doesn’t mind. He said he enjoyed visiting before Sunday’s game with fellow Springfield, Mass., native Buoniconti and other members of the 1972 Dolphins, and was glad to see his players do the same.
“It was great,” Philbin said. “It’s a class group. When you meet those guys, it’s not a surprise they had great success. … They set the bar high. That’s what you want to do — you want to be the best. I think it’s a fantastic legacy they left.”
Philbin’s just getting started on his own legacy, and hoping to finish the season on an upbeat note, with games Sunday against Buffalo and the following week at New England.
The victory over Jacksonville was only Miami’s second win in the past seven games.
“We don’t want anybody to think, `OK, so we might not be in the playoff hunt. We’re going to lay down the rest of the way and start thinking about the vacationing,'” cornerback Sean Smith said. “Nah. We have guys with great, great character, and we’ll have fight until the end.”
Brian Hartline reached the 1,000-yards receiving milestone for the first time in his four-year career, and Reggie Bush surpassed 100 yards rushing for the first time since Week 2, leaving him 105 yards shy of 1,000. Their status next year is in doubt, because both can become free agents.
Certain to return is Tannehill, who is showing progress again after a midseason slump that included a spate of turnovers. His passer rating and completion percentage against the Jaguars were season highs, and in the past three games he has thrown three touchdown passes with no interceptions.
“You can’t let every mistake weigh heavily on your shoulders, and Ryan doesn’t do that,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “He’s very critical and he accepts criticism, but he moves on. And I think that’s the sign of a good quarterback who has a chance to be a great quarterback.”
Four decades removed from their perfect season, the Dolphins will settle for good and getting better.