One hurdle lying on its side, rusted and shattered, 11 more left.
Yes, the still-winless Miami Dolphins proved yet again that even when you try, the fact that your bosses don’t want you to try that hard is often too powerful. The Washington Indigenous Yet Insulting Helmet Decals, who were trying because Bill Callahan’s reputation was on the line, or something, held on to an early lead Sunday against the Fish and failed to become the new model for football incompetence.
Moreover, the New York Jets put a fist through Jerry Jones’s diminishing comfort with his own football team to remove themselves from the debate to be the worst team in the sport. That the Jets needed mononucleosis to put themselves in jeopardy and a note from Sam Darnold’s doctor to escape it isn’t so much the thing, it’s that Dallas is being exposed for yet another year as a team whose owner talks it way better than its players can walk it. Which, frankly, is okay by most folks.
This leaves essentially Cincinnati, which has lost too many close games to truly be the worst, and Atlanta, which keeps overcoming Matt Ryan’s fantasy stats to lose games it used to breeze through, as challengers to the Dolphins. And given the increasingly random nature of the NFL, that leaves the Dolphins free and clear to run the table, get the first pick in next year’s draft and take a long snapper from Florida Atlantic.
Sure, in some ways the Dolphins looked ready to steal a win from the equally shambolic Non-Nationals, which meant that Sunday’s game wasn’t the breathtaking disaster we as a nation deserved. But at the moment when our clarity could have been destroyed, Head coach Brian Flores ran some kind of Bizarro World two-point conversion pass that Kenyan Drake actually ennobled by dropping.
I mean, imagining that an organization’s entire long-term plan could potentially be undone by some rash act of strategic and tactical inspiration is actually more damning than the way it turned out, with Stephen Ross ending up with the nothing he has wanted all year long. Good for him.
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Now we feel a bit for Ryan Fitzpatrick and for Drake, who are not tanking because players don’t benefit from tanking. They get unemployed by those who do tank, so it can be assumed as fact that the drop was not an act of treachery. They were just victims of BTHTBTS—bad things happen to bad teams syndrome.
And sometimes, BTHTUP—bad things happen to unlucky people. Josh Rosen is watching his career undone by the simple fact that he has gone from bad operation to worse operation, which suggests that his next career move will either be the Toronto Argonauts or New Mexico State. He appears to be a fly trapped in amber, the amber being the raging incompetence/disinterest of those above him.
But it is comforting to know that we now have clarity about who wants to be the worst team ever. By DVOA, the Dolphins are among the worst of the worst teams of the last 40 years of football, and the only reason they’re not among the worst of the worst in all football history is that nobody wants to break down the Columbus Panhandles on a free Saturday. And now that Washington and the New York Virus have cleared the path, there really is only Miami itself. The task is clear, the reward less so, but the Dolphins are already sweat-invested. They must do this, and then screw up the draft pick, thus achieving what they wanted and reaping what they deserved.
The remaining hurdles are clear, and they are tantalizingly backloaded. Week 12 against Cleveland and the smoldering Browns; the New York Jets two weeks later (though if they beat Miami in Week 9, they may pick up momentum and become not-quite-so-poor) and then the Giants and Bengals. Week 17, against New England, would just be held to see whether Bill Belichick thinks he can help Flores while still maintaining his team’s perfect record, which I believe he regards as a useless bauble. By then, we’ll know if we are home free or not, though with a standard Patriot beating (four-touchdown favorites, covering by halftime), the Dolphins might not just playing for the record, but the record book.
Of course, life is never that tidy, and they’ll probably win two games and just become nondescriptively bad. But losing them all without regret or even care and then getting hosed at the end is how this should end. You know it, your friends know it, total strangers know it. Give us a reason to care; this cannot just be another season of yawning through the New England Patriots.
Or can it?
Ray Ratto embraces the deliberate failures of others as just one more sign that the species has outlived its sell-by date.