A 365-day turnaround: Brian Flores’ Dolphins go from NFL worst to good

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It’s a question that would have left many falling out of their chairs with laughter exactly one year ago. On Nov. 2, 2019, the Dolphins were 0-7, being mocked as a laughingstock and accused of tanking. Very few people would expect that 365 days later, the Dolphins (4-3) would be above .500, would have the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense (18.5 points per game allowed) and are in the thick of a playoff hunt in the AFC East.

Dolphins coach Brian Flores is the engineer behind the Dolphins’ turnaround. In 16 games and 365 days, Flores has helped turned this team from one of the NFL’s worst to a good four-win football team. It’s finally time, here in Week 8, to consider the Dolphins a good team because they play like one, look like one and win like one.

Over their past 16 games, the Dolphins have a 9-7 record with marquee wins against the 2019 AFC East champion New England Patriots, 2019 NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles, the 2020 San Francisco 49ers (who are months removed from a Super Bowl appearance) and the 2020 Los Angeles Rams (who entered Sunday’s game with a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Aaron Donald). Good teams beat those opponents.

“We just kept getting guys who were just buying in and keep working hard and it starts up top because Coach Flo [Flores] does a good job of setting the mindset for the team — for the organization — and we all just kind of take on that personality,” said defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who had an interception in Sunday’s 28-17 win against the Rams.

“This team has got a lot of guys who work hard and just love each other, and we enjoy working with each other every day. When you’ve got that kind of energy and the right people around the organization and in the building every day, you’re bound to do some good stuff. We’re in the hunt, like you said, but our work is not done,” Wilkins said.

The Dolphins are a half-game behind the Cleveland Browns (5-3) in the race for the AFC’s final wild-card spot. More importantly, Miami has players who believe playing in the postseason is an attainable goal.2

Even if they don’t make the 2020 playoffs, the Dolphins’ rebuild is headed in the right direction. Rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who made his first career start Sunday, is the face of the team already, and he has superstar potential. Once it all comes together, we could be looking at this Dolphins franchise moving to the next level, but for now, it’s worthy to note the first significant jump in the Dolphins’ rebuild.

It’s difficult to find another team with more turnover over the past year and a half than the Dolphins, which has one player on the roster who is 30 years old or older (Ryan Fitzpatrick). Miami added six players among the top-70 picks in the 2020 NFL draft, and allocated a NFL-high $150 million in guaranteed money during free agency.

The one constant at the center of it all is Flores, and he has prioritized bringing in players who fit what he’s trying to build in Miami.

“Man, we’ve got a lot of talent. We’ve got a lot of guys that truly care about each other. We’ve got a lot of guys that sit there and we play together,” said Dolphins wide receiver and returner Jakeem Grant, who scored an 88-yard punt touchdown Sunday that made him the franchise’s all-time leader in return touchdowns. “There‚Äôs a lot of leadership on offense, defense and special teams. It’s not just because you see a guy being a captain doesn’t mean he’s just the only leader out there. Everybody on our team has their leadership role, and I feel like that’s what’s making our team a good team.”nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

Flores referenced the team’s “mental toughness” to handle the most recent adversity, including a change from Fitzpatrick to Tagovailoa, and still perform well on Sunday. The Dolphins’ defense made a statement, too, and the result was Rams quarterback Jared Goff looking shocked and confused.

“I felt like it was 11 guys on the line of scrimmage and they had all our wide receivers one-on-one and once [Goff] snapped the ball everybody was coming,” Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers said of the Dolphins’ defense. “To be honest, I’ve never seen that before, that many times.”

The Dolphins are doing something their fans haven’t seen before, either — at least in a long while. Flores is leading a dramatic turnaround, and it seems the best is still yet to come. The Dolphins aren’t just sneaking up on teams who overlook them anymore, but they are forcing other teams to respect them, and maybe, just maybe, that’s because they are … good.