DAVIE — When Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase was asked about the importance of not losing before a national television audience for a third consecutive week, he said it was important for the players to focus more on the process, and less on the outcome.
That may be true, but a positive outcome on Monday Night Football at the Carolina Panthers (8:30 p.m., ESPN) would make a statement, a positive statement after too many negative ones with the world watching.
“Throughout my career, no one has ever really given us a chance,” Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said. “And that’s kind of the disheartening part of it. This year we’ve had a lot of primetime games. We’re playing at night. So we get to showcase our talents. But we can’t do what we did last time we were on national TV.”
In a home loss to the Oakland Raiders last Sunday night, the Dolphins actually put on a somewhat more encouraging performance than they have in recent spotlights.
Since taking over the Dolphins last year, Gase’s Dolphins are 13-6 in regionally televised games, but only 1-5 in contests on national television.
It all started with a 22-7 loss at Cincinnati on a Thursday night last season, followed by a win at the Jets and a playoff loss to the Steelers. This season, the Dolphins have been humiliated by the Saints (20-0 at London) and at the Ravens (40-0).
“We want to show the nation every week,” safety Reshad Jones said. “We’ve got to go and take that respect, regardless of if we’ve earned it or not. Nobody is going to give it to you.”
Gase feels Miami’s offense has turned a bit of a corner, with Jay Cutler passing for seven touchdowns in his last eight quarters, and Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams providing a more explosive dynamic (if not as proven) than jettisoned Jay Ajayi did.
Miami’s performance against Oakland on offense (despite too many back-breaking penalties) actually encouraged Gase, who has been a frustrated play-caller all season.
“I felt like guys were in a good flow,” Gase said. “I loved the energy that we had. We made mistakes, but we were giving ourselves a chance… If we can keep trending in that direction, I feel good where we’re going.”
Miami must limit penalties and missed assignments and hope new left guard Ted Larsen and new starting right tackle Jesse Davis hold up against a ferocious Carolina defense, ranked first in the NFL. Defensively, Miami must contain Cam Newton with better tackling and find a way to limit catches by rookie back Christian McCaffrey.
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There is a reason the Dolphins are nine-point underdogs on Monday night, and it extends beyond the fact that the entire football world is watching.
For the most part, Miami’s players have tried to take a cue from Gase about it not really mattering when the game is played, or where, or who is watching. But it’s kind of hard to ignore.
“I mean, yeah, it’s been talked about,” defensive back Michael Thomas said of Miami’s struggles on national television. “It’s tough to lose those national games, because that’s when people who usually don’t see, see.”
If an NFL fan watched the Dolphins only in those six national games since Gase’s arrival, they’d be missing key chapters of the story. Their perceptions and narratives are probably along the lines of, “Man, that franchise is still so far away from the Patriots” and “No wonder they’re not talked about more on ESPN and NFL Network.”
This is Gase’s first Monday night game as a head coach and even he concedes, in general, “It just has a different buzz to it.”
A loss in humiliating fashion must be avoided at all costs.
What an opportunity for the Dolphins. It’s an opportunity offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen can’t help but want to embrace. A win could be monumental.
“It’s a good challenge, a good challenge on a third national TV game in a row,” Christensen said. “We have to prove we can win one. This is the kind of game that if you want to get where we want to go, you’ve got to go win one of these games in a prime time, prime team and a team that’s playing extremely well. This is a big game.”
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