Different Dolphins face Jets

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 24, 2008

By Antonio Gonzalez
Associated PressDAVIE, Fla. ó When the Miami Dolphins missed tackles, blew coverages and ended their final offensive play with an interception in a Week 1 loss to the New York Jets, they looked a lot like the team that went 1-15 last year.
The stigma of the sorriest season in Dolphins history was still fresh, and they struggled early to shake that embarrassment. The Dolphins believe they’re now a far different team, and they’ll need a different result in the regular-season finale Sunday at New York to complete their surprising turnaround and win the AFC East.
“I think a lot of confidence has come,” Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano said. “Besides personnel change and kind of finding our identity on all sides of the ball, I think our confidence and our attitude going in there now is expecting to win instead of hoping to win.”
As often happened in 2007, the Dolphins found comfort in coming close.
A frantic rally came up short when Chad Pennington’s pass was intercepted in the end zone with five seconds left as the Jets won 20-14 in Brett Favre’s debut for them.
Miami had all the makings of that kind of team a year ago, yielding long passing plays with broken coverages, including a 22-yard touchdown heave by Favre on fourth-and-13 that somehow landed in Chansi Stuckey’s hands.
These new Dolphins (10-5) are surprisingly efficient. They have won four straight games and eight of their last nine. They have only 12 turnovers, tied for the single-season record set by the 1982 Chiefs. And they are a win away from their first playoff berth in six seasons.
Even though they haven’t won at New York since 2003, the Dolphins believe they’re the better team now.
“Honestly, without taking anything away from the Jets, we felt like we lost that game,” cornerback Andre Goodman said. “They did what they had to do in terms of making the plays; the fluke play that was in the end zone and then the first play was just a boneheaded play on my part. You take away a couple plays in that game and we’re on top of that game.”
The compelling subplot from that first meeting has only thickened.
Pennington, jettisoned from New York in August to make room for Favre, can get revenge against his former team and the man who took his job. The Jets (9-6) need a win and a loss by New England or Baltimore to make the playoffs.
The aftershocks of Pennington’s release have had five months to simmer down, and though emotions will be running wild again Sunday, the Dolphins believe the former New York quarterback will keep his cool.
“The thing that I think is different is we’ve already been down that road and already done that, so there was already this whole hoopla about Chad and the Jets and all that good stuff,” Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. “This is about something completely different now.”