DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins are 3-0 for the first time since 2002, and they've accomplished the feat in such an impressive fashion they could now be considered a serious threat to the New England Patriots for the AFC East title.
That talk has been bandied about the team's headquarters since the Dolphins spent close to $200 million in free agency. But that's winning in the offseason. Miami's 27-23 victory over Atlanta on Sunday, which included quarterback Ryan Tannehill hitting tight end Dion Sims on a 1-yard touchdown pass with 38 seconds left, proved the Dolphins are also learning how to win in the regular season.
The Dolphins won their first two games (Cleveland and Indianapolis) on the road. In the past two weeks Tannehill has out-dueled two of the NFL's top passers - Indianapolis' Andrew Luck and Atlanta's Matt Ryan. The Dolphins have beaten two playoff teams from last year, the Colts and Falcons. And Miami's defense, tied for third-most in the NFL with five interceptions, hasn't allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Players are remaining calm, especially in light of this week's Monday night game at undefeated New Orleans.
"We're only 3-0," cornerback Brent Grimes said. "We have a lot of positives, but we have a lot of work to do."
Locally and nationally, however, the buzz is starting to build that the Dolphins might finally be equipped to win the division that the Patriots (3-0) have ruled for more than a decade.
The Dolphins are 6-for-7 in red zone touchdowns, and the other red zone opportunity resulted in a field goal. That means when they get inside the opponent's 20-yard line they almost always get touchdowns, and have yet to fail to get points.
So far, the good far outweighs the bad with this Dolphins team, and at this point it looks as though Miami has all the tools to go head-to-head with the mighty Patriots.
"We have a special team," wide receiver Brian Hartline said. "We have a lot of talent. We continue to progress and come together as a team on an individual basis. Offense, defense, and special teams all complement each other. The sky's the limit."
--The Dolphins quietly extended general manager Jeff Ireland's contract during the off-season to keep him with the team through the 2014 season, according to the Miami Herald. Ireland, brought in by former executive Bill Parcells, was in the final year of his deal.
There was fan unrest with Ireland before last season. Some thought he should have been fired in 2011 when former coach Tony Sparano was dismissed. But Ireland endured, oversaw the offseason rebuilding program and now has a 3-0 team on his hands.
There was some thought that Ireland might not survive the season if the Dolphins didn't make the playoffs or have a winning record.
--DE Cam Wake (left knee) left the Falcons game in the first quarter and didn't return. The Dolphins, as per team policy, don't comment on injuries. Wake's status for this week's game at New Orleans is unknown.
--DT Paul Soliai (knee) missed last week's game and could miss this week, too.
--CB Dimitri Patterson (groin) missed his second consecutive game. His status for this week is unknown.
--LB Koa Misi (shoulder) left the Falcons game in the third quarter. His status for this week in unknown.