There may be no hotter team in the NFL than the Miami Dolphins. Since firing Joe Philbin and naming Dan Campbell interim head coach, they have blown out the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans in consecutive weeks by a combined score of 82-36. But next up, they have to deal with the New England Patriots, who have just continued their methodical, undefeated march.
Since taking over in Miami, Campbell has instituted more physical practices and the results have been a more amped up team that is taking advantage of the talent on the roster. Ndamukong Suh is finally making plays, Ryan Tannehill set a record for consecutive completions and the Dolphins are suddenly back in the postseason hunt, despite starting the season 1-3.
But the Patriots are especially adept at taking a team with momentum and slowly choking the life out of them.
Bill Belichick has won his last six games against interim coaches with his last loss against one coming in 2004 to the Jim Bates-led Dolphins after Dave Wannstedt resigned. On Thursday nights, Tom Brady is 8-0 as a starter and has won eight of his last 10 matchups against the Dolphins.
The Patriots have been in this situation before and have thrived on it.
For the Dolphins, the environment is very unfamiliar, but that might not be the worst thing for a team that suddenly found its stride when all the circumstances around them were changed. Now, after tougher practices helped them to two blowout wins, the Dolphins will have to make it three in a row on a short week that forced them to cut out the hitting that sparked their momentum.
Campbell told Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald that the Dolphins won't do "anything physical this week":
"It's more of an emphasis mentally because you aren't going to be able to get the physical work that you want to get. It's just too short of a week."
Regardless of the week's length, there's little doubt the Patriots will be prepared to play Thursday night. The Pats' biggest advantage when they take the field is that they have Tom Brady, but a close second is the apparent tendency of opposing coaches and players to lose their minds whenever they match up against Belichick.
The most recent example of this phenomenon occurred two weeks ago, when the Indianapolis Colts decided to run the worst fake punt ever in the third quarter of their 34-27 loss to New England. Wide receiver Griff Whalen, who had never practiced the play before, inexplicably decided to snap the football to safety Clayton Geathers despite the fact that he was left to block multiple Patriots defenders all by himself. The play went as well as you would expect.
Even when a team plays the Patriots close, as the Jets did last week, they still seemingly find a way to beat themselves at the end. Jets head coach Todd Bowles was able to devise a defensive game plan that stifled the Patriots' offense for the first three quarters of the contest, but when the clock management factored into the equation late in regulation, he was overmatched.
The Jets didn't call a single timeout during the Patriots' penultimate drive, which whittled the clock down to 1:13. The Patriots increased their lead to 10 after scoring a touchdown, and the game was essentially over. Bowles kept his timeouts in his pocket rather than using them to stop the clock.
Up until this point, Campbell's late-game coaching acumen hasn't been tested because the Dolphins have taken such commanding leads in both games. There's a chance Thursday's contest will be a lopsided affair, but odds are, it'll be in the Patriots' favor. Belichick seldom lets any coach get the better of him, especially a neophyte whose signature strategic achievement so far is cutting down the playbook.
Campbell may have been able to help resuscitate the Dolphins' season, but beating the Patriots is an entirely different challenge. History shows Miami will probably come up short, despite its recent success.