It is permissible now and even encouraged to look ahead and to do so with impunity, not with the guilt you’d have felt glancing forward before the Miami Dolphins comfortably dispatched the New England Patriots on Sunday in the obligatory precursor.
Ja, jetzt kann man auf die Chiefs in Deutschland blicken!
[Yes, now it is OK to look ahead to the Chiefs in Germany!]
Next Sunday will be Miami’s greatest test and measuring stick of this NFL season vs. Patrick Mahomes and the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in Frankfurt, Germany.
It is the game that at long last will answer the one question on everyone’s mind:
Will Taylor Swift finally see the Dolphins play in person!?
(Wouldn’t that be wunderbar?)
It will also answer with some definition where the Fins stand on the scale of good to great, of playoff team to contender.
It will frame how high the hopes for this season have the right to be as the schedule takes the midseason turn for Miami with eight games in and nine left.
“Never been to Germany,” said Tyreek Hill of facing his former team. “Looking forward to going up against my old quarterback. I’m light years ahead of where I was back then.”
Miami with Sunday’s commanding 31-17 home victory over the Patriots is now 6-2 for the first time since 2001. But the Dolphins have lost their only two games vs. teams with a winning record, at Buffalo, and at Philadelphia last week.
Kansas City will be the third, the biggest and the best.
Coach Mike McDaniel praised the leadup game as a huge division win completing a season sweep of the Pats.
His players’ minds were “100 percent not on anything but today,” he said of Sunday’s task.
Miami had gotten good enough (and New England fallen far enough) that the narrative into Sunday was the Fins not looking ahead or taking this opponent too lightly -- luxuries of strength that have seldom been a Fins concern the past 20 or so years.
There was no such need on Sunday.
Miami’s defense, fortified by the season debut of cornerback Jalen Ramsey, dominated in dropping the Patriots to 2-6. Bill Belichick’s guys managed barely over 200 yards of total offense, and their first 10 points came courtesy of two Dolphins turnovers.
The Pats only reached the Miami end zone the first time because Tua Tagovailoa’s underthrow-interception set them up at the Fins 30 and led to a (very brief) 7-0 lead. (Tua was otherwise brilliant with 324 air yards and three TDs.)
It was 7-7 fast on Tua’s 42-yard scoring strike to Hill.
Then 14-7 on a 1-yard pass to Jeff Wilson Jr.
After Ramsey’s interception and 49-yard return set up a 17-7 lead on a 30-yard field goal, New England settled for a short FG to make it 17-10 after a Raheem Mostert lost fumble at the Miami 19 gifted the Pats but Miami’s defense shut ‘em down.
Ramsey’s faster-than-expected return from knee surgery is a grand boost for the defense and team.
“December was never gonna happen,” said Ramsey of his initial expectation to return. Of his pick: “I should have scored, “ he said, smiling.
“It’s dope to see him back doing it already,” said Hill of Ramsey.
Mostert made amends with a 1-yard run that made the lead of 24-10 feel safe.
It wasn’t, quite. Not yet.
New England’s offense scored on its own for the only time all day with an 81-yard drive ending in Juju Smith Schuster’s 2-yard scoring pass to narrow Miami’s lead to 24-17, mid-fourth quarter.
But then a long Fins drive capped by Jaylen Waddle’s 31-yard TD catch put a bow on the afternoon before 65,836 mostly thrilled fans at Hard Rock.
That was the game’s biggest drive, to take a suddenly close game and quickly lay claim to it again.
With the lead down to one score, ”It’s important to not go out and poop the bed if you will, “ as Tagovailoa put it.
Miami is now 4-0 at home this season by a combined margin of 174-74. The team’s current 16-2 run at home is the franchise’s best streak in the 3-0-5 since a 23-2 run at the Orange Bowl in 1983-86.
Tua is now 6-0 in his young career vs. Belichick and his 324 yards passing saw his season total rise to 2,416, most ever by a Dolphins QB through the first eight games of a season. (Yes, including Dan Marino.)
Hill’s 112 yards receiving put him past 1,000 in a season not yet half done for Miami as the magical 2K plateau remains in sight for him.
The Dolphins have been an offensive juggernaut this season but did not need to be Sunday, thanks to the defense’s solid showing along with the cooperation of an opponent that is 2-6 for good reason.
Wait, they scored 31 points. That used to be cause of a parade around here. Now it feels like so-so. Imagine.
Miami is handling all of its inferior-record opponents like Sunday’s this blossoming season, itself a good, necessary thing.
But the doubts will rte remain until the question no longer does:
Can the Dolphins beat a good team?
Can they do that while also handling being the in-season team chosen for Hard Knocks, which McDaniel said “leads the league in potention distractions. So we will find out a lot about ourselves.”
Can they beat a good team? Didn’t in Buffalo. Didn’t in Philly.
Now come Mahomes and the champion Chiefs.
How high do the hopes for this promising season dare have the right to be?
With or without Taylor Swift in Frankfurt watching, we are about to find out.