(Sports Network) - OK, Miami Dolphins, it's time to show you belong with the
Second-year coach Joe Philbin's squad opened the 2013 season on the road with
an anticipated win (by many) at Cleveland and a surprising triumph (to some)
Now, when the Dolphins return home this week to face recently perennial NFC
powerhouse Atlanta, they'll do so as a team suddenly viewed as a playoff
contender and a potential divisional challenger.
Miami last opened with three straight wins under Dave Wannstedt in 2002,
before finishing 9-7 and
missing the postseason; and was last 2-0 in 2010, en route to a 7-9 finish in
what turned out to be Tony Sparano's last full season with the No. 1 headset.
Early prosperity has been harder to come by in the last two season, which the
Dolphins began at 0-7 and 1-3 on the way to final marks of 6-10 and 7-9.
"It's only two games," said cornerback Brent Grimes, who played 59 games with
the Falcons in six
seasons before arriving in South Florida as a free agent on March 30. "But we
played well and got two road wins to start the season, which is a big deal,
and we showed a lot of promise of things we can do if we keep our heads on
To further test the Miami mettle, following the playoff-focused Falcons on the
schedule will be the resurgent New Orleans Saints and the reigning Super Bowl
"Any time you start 2-0 it's a confidence builder, and we're going to feel
like we can beat anybody," linebacker Philip Wheeler said.
In defeating a Colts team that hadn't lost at home since last September,
second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill appeared to have made the step from
inconsistent rookie to comfortable contributor. He also played nicely with new
pass-catching weapon Mike Wallace, who'd expressed some discontent after his
initial game with the Dolphins, in which he caught just one pass.
Wallace had nine catches for 115 yards as part of Tannehill's 23-for-34 day
that yielded 319 yards and a TD strike to the former Steelers speedster.
Additionally, the ground game that
had been bottled up by the Browns was more a factor against Indianapolis,
churning out 101 yards and a score.
The success, Philbin said, came from adhering to patient preaching.
"You have to stay true to the film," he said. "The film tells us from Sunday's
game we did a lot of good things. But the film also says there are major areas
of improvement that need
to be addressed quickly. I think our guys are level-headed and know film is
the biggest barometer of success."
The Falcons arrive as dinged-up adversaries following a seven-point defeat of
St. Louis last week that followed a Week 1 loss to NFC South rival New
In particular, Atlanta will be without Steven Jackson after the running back
sustained a thigh injury that could be a more prolonged issue than just one
"He will not play this week. I know that," coach Mike Smith said. "It is short
term. When I say short term, I don't know if it's two weeks or three weeks."
Also limping out of the Rams game and straight to season-ending injured
reserve were defensive end Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing, who have
Achilles and shoulder problems, respectively.
Another thigh injury could keep cornerback Asante Samuel off the field, while
the Falcons already know they'll be without linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for
eight weeks, thanks to a foot issue.
Filling in behind Matt Ryan in the backfield will be Jacquizz Rodgers and
"We've not had anything close to this (many injuries at once)," Smith said.
"There have been games where we've had guys who have not been able to play and
it's been the next-man
up mentality, and I think that's really what our guys understand."
Still, even with the training room full, the offense is hardly without healthy
Wide receiver Julio Jones is near the top of the NFL leaderboard with 18
catches and 258 yards after hauling in 11 passes for 182 yards and a TD
against St. Louis. Ryan completed
33-of-43 passes for 374 yards and two scores and has completed 71.6 percent of
his attempts through two weeks.
Meanwhile, tight end Tony Gonzalez has seven catches for 69 yards and a TD in
two games. The Dolphins have proven vulnerable to pass-catching tight ends
through two games,
allowing a combined 177 yards on 13 catches against the Browns and Colts.
"Julio and Matt seemed to be in sync, seeing the defense the same way," Smith
said. "When you have your receiver and quarterback doing that, you have a
chance to be successful."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
With Steven Jackson out of commission, the Dolphins will be more inclined to
pin their ears back in an effort to harass Ryan, meaning substitute running
back Rodgers will play a role in keeping the heat off. The fifth-round pick
from 2011 has been a capable receiving
threat in 34 NFL games -- catching 79 passes for a pair of touchdowns. He'll
have a chance to add to those numbers Sunday.
The continued maturation of Tannehill will go the longest way toward
success, both this week and beyond. While he doesn't have the All-Pro array of
skill players that
counterpart Ryan boasts, the second-year man has established a relationship
with Wallace and can
also look to holdover Brian Hartline as his Wes Welker-type safety valve.
The Dolphins cleared a big respectability hurdle in traveling to Indy to down
the favored Colts last week, so momentum is on their side in a home opener
with a beaten-up visitor.
Though it's often been the sort of game that's revealed pretenders in
contenders' clothing, it says here that Philbin will keep his unproven squad
on an even keel that'll allow them to get this week's job done, too.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Dolphins 23, Falcons 20.
The Sports Network