Miami remains inconsistent

From the Associated Press

The last two weeks have been a microcosm of the Miami Dolphins' season.

On Dec. 10, they beat the New England Patriots, 21-0.

Last Sunday, they lost to the Buffalo Bills, 21-0.

"This is a week-to-week, a day-to-day job," center Rex Hadnot said. "You're only as good as your last game, and obviously, we didn't perform well in our last game."

Inconsistency has been the most consistent theme for the Dolphins in 2006, which will wind up being the franchise's fifth consecutive year without a playoff berth. Even though these final games are moot now, the Dolphins say they'll spend the season's last two weeks trying to fix what went wrong.

"There have certainly been times this year when we've shown that and proved that we can play with consistency and play winning football," Dolphins Coach Nick Saban said. "That's certainly what we'd like to end the season with. Every part of our team has played well at some point and time."

Saban's first two seasons in Miami have been filled with wild ebbs and flows.

The Dolphins -- who were 4-12 the year before Saban arrived from Louisiana State -- started the 2005 season 3-7 before ending the year with a six-game winning streak, even though players knew there was little to play for besides pride.

This year followed a similar script.

Miami -- which hosts the New York Jets on Christmas night -- was 1-6 at the start, then went on a four-game winning streak to revive what were slim chances at reaching the postseason, then were dreadful last week in Buffalo and officially fell out of the playoff picture.

"We gave the season away," Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor said. "We threw it away."

It would be easier for Taylor to stomach if the Dolphins were lacking in talent.

Clearly, though, that's not the case.

With Taylor -- a defensive player of the year candidate -- and fellow Pro Bowler Zach Thomas leading the way, the Dolphins have given up the third-fewest yards in the NFL. Having a defense playing that well makes the equation simple: When the Dolphins score, they win.

Miami is 4-1 when scoring 21 points or more, 2-7 when scoring fewer than 20. The Dolphins' offense ranks 24th in yards per play, are tied for 27th in the 32-team league in touchdowns and is 28th in average scoring per game.

"We showed glimpses of some of the things we're capable of," running back Ronnie Brown said. "And other times, little mental mistakes or little things kind of get us backed up and put us in bad situations. It's tough to understand why it happened that way this year."

Even the Dolphins' opponents seem a little puzzled.

"They present problems in every area," Jets Coach Eric Mangini said. "As soon as you turn the tape on, there's no question how good they are,"

The two best teams on the Dolphins' schedule to date are Chicago, which has wrapped up the top seeding in the NFC playoffs with a 12-2 record, and New England, which is 10-4 and closing in on another AFC East title.

Yet the Dolphins manhandled both of them.

Miami's two biggest victory margins this season came against those elite teams, first a 31-13 stunner at Chicago on Nov. 5, then the 21-0 home blanking of New England five weeks later. The Bears' other loss so far this year was a four-point defeat at New England, while the Patriots' other three losses came by a combined 20 points -- one fewer than the margin the Dolphins enjoyed.

"We've been able to beat the best in the league, on the road, and we've lost some games that we really shouldn't have," Dolphins quarterback Joey Harrington said. "I think this Monday gives us a chance to show what kind of team we are on national television on Christmas night."

If the season ended after Week 15, the Dolphins would have played only two playoff qualifiers -- the Bears and Patriots. Miami finishes the season at Indianapolis.

They've gone 4-7 against everyone else, a record that includes a 17-15 road loss to Houston (4-10) and a 34-24 home defeat against Green Bay (7-8). And those are the games the Dolphins probably will remember most after this season, not the wins over the Bears and Patriots.

"We don't have anybody to blame but ourselves," Hadnot said. "So we can be as mad as we want to be, but the best person to be mad at is the one in the mirror."

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