MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Now that the Dolphins are officially eliminated from the wildest of playoff dreams, are you more in the mood for rumors or stark reality?
Revel, then, in the Sunday report from ESPN's Chris Mortensen that Bill Cowher is ready to return to coaching and that he lists the Miami Dolphins as one of three teams he would like to run.
That's right. We're talking about the possibility of another sweeping regime change, and at the hands of another accomplished NFL authority figure.
Has anybody really got a problem with that, just because the Dolphins already have failed to win championships under the direction of Jimmy Johnson, Nick Saban and Bill Parcells? I don't.
Matter of fact, Jon Gruden wouldn't be such a bad target, either, for Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.
This is meant as no clanging disrespect for Tony Sparano, whose overall regular-season record as Miami coach is a respectable 25-21. Consider it a show of respect, instead, for Dolphins fans who have bought tickets for seven games at Sun Life Stadium this season and gone home happy just once.
As Miami quarterback Chad Henne put it Sunday after another afternoon of booing and losing and longing, "It's a sick feeling for us. Not to have home-field advantage in this league, it's tough."
So true, but then again he's being paid to show up at the stadium. Of greater concern to Ross, who has turned portions of the stadium into imitation South Beach night spots and welcomed celebrity entertainers into the ownership group, is stoking the commitment of paying customers.
The Dolphins, 7-7 overall, are really pushing his buttons, particularly with Parcells leading the charge away from this project by resigning 3 1/2 months ago as executive vice president of football operations.
If there's anything or anybody worth saving here now, Sunday's punchless and frequently clueless effort against the 4-10 Bills is a poor endorsement.
The play of the day was Brandon Marshall apologizing on behalf of the entire Miami offense, and that was after an 11-reception game by the team's lone true star.
He was talking about an entire season of settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, and of leaning too much on the quirky Wildcat formation, and of letting shaky teams like the Browns and the Bills off the hook when just a drop or two of bold playcalling and professional-quality execution would have meant a Miami victory instead of a 17-14 defeat.
The pattern is one that Sparano and offensive coordinator Dan Henning have been powerless to change, with the inability to develop Henne's quick-strike confidence the most glaring example.
Two wins to close the season would make Miami 9-7, of course, but would it change the pattern?
The answer comes quicker, and harsher, if the final record is 7-9, or even 8-8. Sparano and General Manager Jeff Ireland have been treading water for a couple of seasons now, and in a division where the tide keeps rising, that isn't good enough.
Dan Carpenter missing four field goals instead of driving every attempt straight and true was Sunday's trap door, although it must be noted that Sparano sent him out there for a pair of wishful tries from 61 and 53 yards.
That's just another demonstration of Miami's standing at the outer reaches of contention, close enough to win but only if absolutely everything goes right, including the direction of the wind.
The Cowher report, based on unnamed sources by an ESPN league insider, can't scare Sparano any more than that. Tony knows the score. That was evident in a rare flash of anger during Sunday's post-game press conference.
Told by a reporter that a lot of people, including the on-site CBS television team, were befuddled by Henne throwing a short, check-down pass to Davone Bess on a third-and-9 play just inside the two-minute warning, Sparano shot back, "Who's a lot of people?
''All those people out there giving you the information, they're not sure exactly what the call was out there."
Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't care what the call was when he had the Bills marching. His touchdown pass to David Nelson on third-and-goal from the Miami 18 probably shouldn't have been thrown at all. Better to take a field goal and an early 3-0 lead than to risk an interception and get nothing.
The ball came out anyway, with Miami linebacker Karlos Dansby right in its path near the goal line. That it whizzed past him for a score after nearly hitting Dansby smack in the forehead was a touch of luck and a taste of the blind aggressiveness that sometimes carries desperate teams.
The Dolphins are too lukewarm to be desperate, even in a virtual elimination game like this one.
Guys like Cowher and Gruden would bring the heat, if nothing else.
Go get one of them if you can, Dolphins. Keep defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, if that works for them.
After three seasons of shuffling every major and minor component of the Miami roster like so many playing cards, it can't really come as a total surprise to Sparano and Ireland if they're the next ones to be dealt out around here.
Dave George writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Story Filed By Cox Newspapers
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