I remember the parallel game against Houston earlier this millennium.
No, not the 2007 game where the Miami Dolphins quarterback du jour, Trent Green, went to make a block and was knocked out so completely he was actually snoring on the field.
Nor was it Ryan Tannehill’s first NFL start in 2012 where six passes were blocked at the line of scrimmage and the big question was about some mechanical defect.
I’ve chosen to forget a lot about the Dolphins the past two decades.
Some games come back to me anyway.
I can’t forget the 2003 meeting against Houston where Dolphins players were so full of themselves they taunted some lowly Houston players upon entering the stadium about having a “three-hour practice.”
That came out afterward, about the time Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt debated if the game cracked his list of five worst defeats.
That Dolphins were favored by 14 points that day, their largest margin of the past three decades, dating to a 15-point spread against New England in 1992.
They’re favored by 13 1/2 points Sunday.
“No game is more lopsided this week,” reads one Las Vegas tout sheet.
The tabloid New York Times actually wonders with three road games coming next whether the Dolphins will, “rest key players if they get out to a big lead.”
Here’s where some might think such talk should be doused as jinx-worthy and overflowing with overconfidence. Forget that. Bring it on. Handling expectations are the next progressive stage for a winning team — and they’ve handled them just fine to this point.
The Dolphins (7-3) are favored on full merit, too. They’ve scored more than 30 points in three consecutive games — the only team to do so this season. They hold teams to 15.4 points at home (and a whopping 32.8 on the road to underline the importance of a home-field playoff advantage).
Houston is 1-8-1, too. It has two fewer wins than any other team. Its offense ranks last in yards gained and its defense ranks 30th in yards allowed. Complementary football?
Houston also has a 79.8 chance of getting the first pick in the 203 NFL draft, according to analytic sites. Perhaps to ensure that it’s replacing quarterback Davis Mills on Sunday with Kyle Allen, who hasn’t thrown a pass this season.
So here’s another Sunday to measure just how far the Dolphins have come since September. They’re not just expected to beat a lesser team like the previous four Sundays against Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland (combined record: 13-29).
They’re now expected to drub the worst of them, Houston. Coach Mike McDaniel hasn’t so much as addressed that with his team, as the mission statement hasn’t changed.
“We’re trying to progress and get better as a team each week, and you do that through very good prep and detailed prep for an opponent,” he said. “But who we’re playing doesn’t matter. What matters is that we continue getting better at what we do and try to win football games in the process.”
Everywhere the Dolphins look should tell them of Sunday’s importance. New England (6-5) and the New York Jets (6-4) suddenly are sinking. Buffalo (8-3) escaped Detroit on Thanksgiving Day with a chinny-chin-chin win.
Then there’s the schedule. After Sunday, the calendar turns to December and the schedule turns cold. At San Francisco (6-4). At the Los Angeles Chargers (5-5). At Buffalo.
There’s only one losing team ahead the rest of the way for the Dolphins after Sunday. That’s 4-7 Green Bay. You still get a little “queasy,“ as Joe Philbin once said, seeing Green Bay on the schedule, right?
So this is probably it for the Dolphins: Their last easy game of the season. Houston is where the Dolphins were last year, wanting to lose as an organization and how to tank for the No. 1 pick.
You replace quarterbacks.
You put in a career backup who hasn’t thrown a pass all year.
You ensure that 13 1/2 point spread, the Dolphins’ largest in two decades, might not be big enough. Sure, they lost to Houston that parallel time in 2003 before that “three-hour practice.”
Sunday isn’t a practice. It counts. And it should end the Dolphins stretch of five losing teams with another statement of how far they’ve come.