The Dolphins open the playoffs convinced nobody but themselves can stop a strong run in the postseason.
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 13, 2002
MIAMI -- The defending Super Bowl champion Ravens and their daunting defense would seem to be enough to be worried about. But as the Dolphins open their fifth consecutive postseason this afternoon at home against Baltimore, they also are taunted and tormented by two other issues -- their past and themselves.
"The AFC," Miami defensive end Jason Taylor said, "is wide open. There's not a team that concerns me.
"The only team that worries me is ourselves. If we don't beat ourselves, we can beat anybody."
The concern is legitimate. While the Dolphins won 11 games for the second season in a row and earned the AFC's No. 4 seed, they did so at times in spite of themselves.
Even while operating a considerably less than wide-open offense, the Dolphins continually caused themselves problems. They finished minus-10 in turnover ratio (better than only four teams), and, unlike St. Louis, which was also minus-10, clearly were hurt by their mistakes. In the Dolphins' five losses, they had 20 giveaways and no takeaways.
That's a tough way to operate, especially against an intense team like Baltimore in an pressurized situation like a playoff game.
"You have to earn everything you get on Baltimore," Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler said. "You have to hope the special teams and defense set us up with some short fields and create some little better opportunities.
"You have to go in expecting it to be a close game where the team that makes the least mistakes will come out on top."
Holding on to the ball is one thing.
Letting go of the past is another.
While the Dolphins are the only team to reach the playoffs for five seasons in a row, they have not exactly made the most of their opportunities. It's been nine seasons, and seven postseason appearances, since the Dolphins last reached the AFC Championship Game, and they haven't won more than one playoff game in a postseason since the 1984 season.
The past three seasons, the Dolphins won their opening-round game then went on the road and were blasted in the divisional round by a combined 127-10. The two times before that, they were knocked out in first round.
"We've got to be a lot more desperate," linebacker Zach Thomas said. "In the past, we'd get caught up in, "Hey, we won one game' and think it's a success. It's not that until you get to the Super Bowl. I just want to make it there.
"We've been to the second round the last three years, and in the playoffs the last five years, so it's been disappointing. It takes so much work to get to this point, and then all of a sudden things fall apart. It ought to be a whole different mentality, do or die."
The Dolphins expect such intensity from the Ravens, who successfully used an us-against-the-world approach last season in their march to the championship, and hope to match it.
That attitude, it turns out, isn't the only similarity between the teams.
Both have inconsistent offenses, turn the ball over too much and rely heavily -- at times too heavily -- on a dominating defense.
"When I look at them on film, I see us in teal and orange because that is what they hang their hat on, on defense," Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said.
"They've gotten in trouble kind of like we have. When they've turned the football over, they've lost. When we've turned the football over, we've lost. For both teams, possessions are at a premium and taking care of the football is paramount."
Said Miami coach Dave Wannstedt: "It's like looking in a mirror."