Porter right where he belongs in Dolphins' D

Michael Silver
Yahoo! Sports

For all the havoc he causes on the field and the controversy he provokes in relentlessly blunt interviews, Joey Porter is a surprisingly breezy soul. Viewing absolute truth as the ultimate arbiter, the Miami Dolphins' extroverted outside linebacker tries not to get bogged down in negativity or to spend time worrying about things he can't control.

That philosophy was tested last season, as the Dolphins lost their first 13 games and went 1-15 while Porter endured one of the worst statistical seasons of his career. There was widespread talk that Porter, signed to a five-year, $32-million deal after eight standout seasons with the Steelers, was a free-agent flameout whose best days were behind him.

"I try to tune that stuff out," Porter says, "but sometimes you can't help but see someone talking about you on TV or in the papers, and I heard everybody say I was a bust. Here in Florida they'd just beat me up, saying I'd lost a step and that I couldn't do it anymore.

"It made me frustrated at the whole situation because people who really knew football could see what was going on. [The coaches] weren't utilizing me in the right way. They had me in a situation where I couldn't succeed."

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Porter was out in the cold in '07.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

It's an argument that, had Porter pressed it last season, would've been discarded as the self-serving rationale of a former star on decline. But hearing it in November of 2008, with the 6-4 Dolphins having emerged as unlikely playoff contenders and Porter having a season that could earn him NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, the 31-year-old linebacker's case seems like an airtight one.

Exhibit A: Heading into Sunday's pivotal AFC East rematch with the New England Patriots, Porter has an NFL-leading 13½ sacks, three forced fumbles and a recovery – gaudy numbers recorded while playing for coaches who favor a more aggressive defensive approach than did their predecessors.

Now for an expert witness: Asked earlier this week if the current staff is "unleashing" Porter more than the previous regime, first-year Miami coach Tony Sparano told reporters: "That is definitely fair to say. Joey came into this league really as a 3-4 outside linebacker. We were able to get him to as close as he was to his natural position when he was back in Pittsburgh. This does help him do that and it helps us use some of his talents to the best of our abilities. That is important for us. In our scheme, it is not much different from the Patriots or these other 3-4 teams; if your outside linebackers can't get to the passer then you really don't have much of a chance."

Conversely, when a disruptive player like Porter can get to the passer frequently, the opposing offense doesn't have much of a chance. That's what the Patriots and first-year starting quarterback Matt Cassel found out on Sept. 21 in Foxborough, Mass., as Porter's four sacks keyed a 38-13 upset that convinced the Dolphins their nightmarish 2007 season was indeed behind them.

What made Porter's play even more significant was the swagger he displayed before that game. The 2-0 Pats – 15 games better than Miami during their record-setting 16-0 regular season of '07 – were favored by 12½ points over the 0-2 Dolphins despite the fact that Tom Brady had suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. That left Cassel, who up until Week 2 of this season hadn't started a game since high school, as Brady's replacement.

Four days before the game, Porter was asked about facing Cassel and instead of giving bland and complimentary responses, he answered honestly. "I know he's not a Tom Brady," Porter said. "So if it's not Tom Brady, it shouldn't be that hard. You treat him like you treat a backup. How do you prepare for a backup? He [doesn't] get that many snaps, right? So you throw the kitchen sink at him. That's what we're going to do." Later Porter said, "It'll be good to go out there and get our first victory."

Miami has since won six of eight and is tied with New England for second in the AFC East, a game behind the division-leading New York Jets. I'm not saying Porter's defiant words prodded his team into changing the dynamics of the division, but the Dolphins clearly approached that game with an intensity that caught the Pats off-guard.

"They probably took us lightly," Porter says of the Patriots. "I don't think they were prepared for the fight they were about to get from us – before they even knew it was a fight, we were on 'em. This time, I know they have to respect us. Before, I felt they denied us that.

"When we won that game, that was a big confidence boost for us. I think guys saw that anything's possible. It's good to see some of our young guys grow up fast."

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Porter kept close tabs on Cassel in Week 3.

(US Presswire/Stew Milne)

This week, predictably, Porter has continued his verbal onslaught on the Pats, complaining that they continued to run plays while holding a 21-point lead at the end of a game against Miami in Foxborough last season and taking New England's players to task for cutting through the Dolphins' pregame stretch before the two teams' first meeting in September. It's the type of bravado he often displayed in Pittsburgh, including his infamous bashing of then-Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens before the Steelers' Super Bowl XL victory. Last season, however, Porter stayed mostly mum, largely because he felt he wouldn't be given a chance to back up his boasts.

In the spring of '07, Porter received a playbook from defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who had been brought in by first-year coach Cam Cameron. Immediately, the linebacker's stomach dropped. Switched from the weak side to the strong side and often dropped into coverage, Porter realized he was set up for a personal fall.

"As soon as I got the playbook," he recalls, "I saw it wasn't set up for my position to make a lot of noise. I thought, 'Maybe they'll find some other ways to get me involved. But it never happened. I got frustrated. I was thinking, 'Y'all brought me here and paid me to come here, why aren't you putting me in a position to succeed? I mean, you came and got me … Wouldn't you want me to play well so you can look good, too?"

With one game remaining in a season in which he would record only 5½ sacks, his lowest total since 2003, Porter finally snapped. After an incident on a team plane in which Cameron was slow to intervene during a fight that involved veteran defensive tackle Keith Traylor, Cameron and Traylor clashed in a one-on-one meeting, and the coach kicked the player off the team. According to a foxsports.com report, Porter then confronted Cameron in a team meeting, calling the coach's behavior cowardly. Cameron was fired shortly after the season.

Porter won't corroborate the report, but he doesn't hide his happiness over the coaching change to Sparano, a former Cowboys offensive line coach hand-picked by new executive vice president of football operations Bill Parcells. From being switched back to the weak side to having faith in the new regime's track record, vision and authority, Porter is down with the program.

"Everything we do is like night and day from last year," he says. "The way we attack people and come at people, our mentality is so aggressive now."

Most of all, the new staff has consistently put Porter in a position to redeem his reputation and, he says, "to prove the naysayers wrong, which is a player's dream. I've been playing this game at a high level for a long time, and I'll let you know when I can't do it anymore.

"But trust me – I'm far from that."

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

Led by a very grumpy Ray Lewis, the Ravens will out-slug the Eagles in Baltimore, dropping Philly to – you guessed it – .500. … Jared Allen will introduce himself to David Garrard repeatedly as the Vikings add more misery to the Jaguars' season. … The Chargers will summon every ounce of their remaining pride and prevail over Indy Sunday night – and, in the end, it will turn out only to have been a tease.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

The most glorious place on earth – California Memorial Stadium on Big Game Saturday, with friends and family by my side and what I hope will be a 36-hour smile plastered upon my face. If you see me in Berkeley and The Axe is once again ours, greet me with open arms or, better yet, drinks … for all my friends. Not that any of this has anything to do with work. That'll happen Sunday when I greet the Giants as they return to that strange spaceship in the middle of the desert, this time merely to battle the presumptive NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals, rather than history.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Informed that former Vikings wideout Troy Williamson wants to "duke it out" with him on the field before Minnesota's game at Jacksonville Sunday, Vikes coach Brad Childress retorted, "He'll have to catch me first – and, trust me, catching is not his forte."

2. When asked to explain his insistence that Norv Turner's job is not in jeopardy, Chargers president Dean Spanos said, "His winning percentage isn't high enough for us even to consider firing him."

3. Forced to apologize for the nasty email response he sent to a critical Browns fan, Cleveland general manager Phil Savage explained, "I'm very sorry to have offended the fan in question. I thought he was Kellen Winslow."

WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL

Rap impresario Luke Campbell fed off the carcass of the Detroit Lions last Sunday, advancing to pick for a third week after the Panthers fended off the league's only winless team by a 31-22 score. Now he's picking on the 49ers, who play the Cowboys at Texas Stadium, though the former 2 Live Crew frontman does have a soft spot for San Francisco interim coach Mike Singletary: "My man dropped his pants, which is cool, but he showed his team the wrong thing. He didn't need to show 'em his (rear); he needed to turn around and show 'em his (family jewels), cause those are what make you win. But whatever he does, I can't see them doing that in Dallas, 'cause it's a must-win for the Cowboys. They're Desperados. If they lose this game, I'm OK with going out like that. I just can't see it happening."

MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE

My man Malibu was sitting with his teenaged daughter at the Hollywood premiere of "Twilight" on Monday night when he experienced a heart-stopping moment. No, he's not scared of glittery vampires. Rather, he had checked out the running tally of the fantasy matchup between his team, Hand of Doom, and The Suck It Easy's and been confronted with some startling news. "It was halftime of the Monday night game, and I thought I had it all locked up," Malibu later explained. "But then I saw that Josh Cribbs – Josh Cribbs! – had scored a bunch of points to make it close. And that made it hard to concentrate on vampires." By the movie's completion, Cribbs had done enough to defeat Hand of Doom by a single point. In fairness, though, Suck It had the Steelers' defense, which got jobbed by the officials at the end of that Chargers game. Now 7-4 and tied for third in his 12-team league, Malibu battles Bangas (Kyle Orton, Clinton Portis, Ronnie Brown, Chris Johnson, Braylon Edwards, Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn Jr.) this week and is making one lineup tweak: He's playing Devin Hester (at St Louis) ahead of Chris Chambers (vs. Indy). That may be the surest sign yet that Malibu, a psychotic Chargers fan, has come to terms with San Diego's lost season.

As for UCSB coach Lindsay Gottlieb, the exhilaration of defeating the University of San Diego, 75-66, last Sunday in her coaching debut – and the sweaty postgame embrace and twirl she got from one of her players, Whitney Warren – was soon tempered by the news of Gaucho Madness' 104-70 drubbing at the hands of Bolts. Keyed by big games from Anquan Boldin, Brandon Jacobs and the Giants' defense, Bolts dropped Gaucho Madness (5-6) – whose high scorer was a kicker, Neil Rackers – into a four-way tie for seventh place in the 12-team league. In other words, it's desperation time for Gottlieb, whose rematch with 5-6 Vidiots (Peyton Manning, Matt Forte, Clinton Portis, Hines Ward, Wes Welker) looks challenging. Helping Gottlieb was the deactivation of Chad Johnson for Thursday night's game, which forced Vidiots to turn to its bench (Isaac Bruce). Gottlieb, who sat Jonathan Stewart last week – "And he had a breakout game, naturally," she complains – is putting him back into the lineup (with Willie Parker) and making a couple of other changes: Broncos defense (vs. Raiders) instead of the Jets (at Tennessee), and Ginn Jr. (vs. Pats) for Steve Breaston (vs. Giants). "Ginn has been really hot," Gottlieb reasons. "It's quite possible I've missed the wave and that he'll score two points this week. But I've got to take the chance."

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

I'll give O.J. Simpson this: Compared to MC Mo Ron, the former football star is a criminal mastermind.

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Pete Newell, one of the greatest basketball minds the game has ever known. Newell, who coached Cal to the 1959 NCAA championship and the 1960 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in Rome, died Monday at the age of 93. His legacy was captured wonderfully in a column by his biographer, the San Francisco Chronicle's Bruce Jenkins, a Cal alum who'll be toasting the legend in the Three-Dot Lounge. I'm also passing around some Grand Marnier for former NFL assistant Marc Trestman, who has guided the Montreal Alouettes to the Grey Cup in his first CFL season. On Sunday the Als, who face the Calgary Stampeders at Olympic Stadium, will attempt to become the first team since the 1994 British Columbia Lions to win the Grey Cup as the host city.

THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

I just found a hand-scrawled, blood-stained letter affixed to a trembling tree, and here is what it said: "Dear Stanford … You have something that belongs to us. We would like it back. Please bring it to Berkeley on Saturday, and expect a lighter load on your drive home. We do not take these matters lightly. We believe that our many virtues – utilitarian intelligence, diversity, creativity, an aversion to conformity, unabashed pride and a relentless insistence upon winning the party, among many others – will allow us to conquer any foe, even one consisting of Satan's spawn. Blue is bliss. Red is revulsion. The Axe shall be ours. Thanks for visiting. Sincerely, Golden Bear Nation."

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

Big game goal post

ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS

Reading remained third in the Football League Championship table with an impressive 2-0 victory over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane last Saturday, a game that featured first-half goals from Kalifa Cisse and Kevin Doyle and a magnificent Marcus Hahnemann shutout. But the day was marred by tragedy: Stewart McEwen, a 13-year-old goalkeeper who had recently signed with the club (as part of its youth academy), died after a canoeing accident on the River Usk in Brecon, Wales. McEwen will be honored at Saturday's game against Southampton at Madejski Stadium with a minute's applause; the players will wear black armbands during the game.

TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)

"Hey, I just wanted to say in response to your No. 2 question 'If the Ravens can't stop the Giants' running game, who can?' … The Steelers can and did, hello! And will do again if necessary! Thank you."

Kyle Lutz
Pennsylvania

That's fabulous, except for the fact that the Steelers lost the game in question, 21-14. I remember late in Super Bowl XXX when Pittsburgh pass rusher Kevin Greene started talking smack to Emmitt Smith, boasting that the Steelers had shut down the Cowboys' running game. Given that Dallas was up 27-17 at the time, which was the way the game was about to end, some of the Cowboys were a bit perplexed. Consider yourself (and the many others who sent similar retorts) the Kevin Greene of emailers. Goodbye!

"God you're an idiot! How can you rank the 49ers [below] the Seahawks? They split their games and the 49ers are doing much better than when they faced them! Cards creamed the 'Hawks and they were just barely able to beat the 49ers … went down to the last play! It's official … you are the worst writer on Y! Sports."

Max
San Anselmo, Calif.

It's official … you are the only person on earth who cares whether the 49ers are ranked above or below the Seahawks.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you! As a diehard Patriots fan, the crowning of Matt Cassel after his performance against the Jets is a bit ridiculous. Why are NFL teams so eager to dole out the $65M contract? Granted he's shown marked improvement since the KC game, but let's be realistic. I've read elsewhere that if Favre retires, he may be a target for the Jets. Good grief! He has some wheels compared to a lot of QBs the Patriots have had throughout their history, but let him consistently lead the team to victory before anointing him! And thanks for the great columns. You are always a must read for me."

Pete
Charlotte, N.C.

Keep sending emails like this one, and you will become a must-read for me.

"I didn't even bother to read this article because the headline said enough. Tony Romo is not good. In his first game back after injury, he throws two picks and doesn't even get 200 yards. Why do we again anoint him as some god of football? Without Marion Barber, they may not even win that game. Don't be one of the media idiots who just writes stories based on celebrity news. It's not like people out there are talking about Jeff Garcia, who continues to make teams better but I guess since he doesn't date Jessica Simpson it's not worth talking about. Be honest with people and give me a call when Tony Romo wins a playoff game. Maybe next year I'll get that call since this Dallas team isn't making it in this year."

Cory
Bethlehem, Pa.

First of all, stop lying: You totally read the article, and you'll be back for more. Look, we may disagree about Romo's worth, but that Jessica Simpson argument of yours is a little dubious, given that Garcia is married to Carmella DeCesare, the 2004 Playmate of the Year. Back when the two were dating, DeCesare and Garcia's former girlfriend, Kristin Hine, reportedly got into a physical altercation in a Cleveland bar. If that's not worth talking about, what is?

"'Tony take the wheel' was hilarious. Especially if you picture Jessica standing there glaring while Romo's former flame, Carrie, is singing lovingly to him."

Joe
Madill, Okla.

Oh, I do – with DeCesare and Hine in their respective corners.

"Michael, I just read your article 'Staph infections hit home with former big-leaguer.' This is a serious issue, and more dangerous than people give it credit. This past summer, John Grant Jr., probably the greatest lacrosse player since Gary Gait suffered from an infection that spread through his body. The effects are career-threatening and nearly cost him his life. [Kellen] Winslow and [J.T.] Snow are right. It's generally not athletes that are prone to this, but maybe they can bring more attention to this problem. Thanks for bringing up this topic."

Joe

De nada. Thanks for bringing Grant's plight to my attention, and let's hope he makes a complete recovery.

"'If so, we just had eight years of Ryan Leaf.' That's an insult to Ryan Leaf."

Chris Newton

Scarily, you might be right.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

Two months ago in Foxborough, the Dolphins sprung the Wildcat formation on the Patriots and, with apologies to a certain interim coach in San Francisco, caught Bill Belichick and his assistants with their pants down. With the rematch coming Sunday in South Florida, here's trippy offensive coordinator Dan Henning doing the Lou Reed thing, to the tune of "Walk On The Wild Side" (not to be confused with the book Dennis Rodman and I released in 1997).

Dolphins came from Miami F.L.A.
Hoodwinked the Pats while Brady was away
Tweaked the playbook on the plane
Snapped to Brown, and then he was QB
We says, hey Bill, take a look at the Wildcat
Said, hey Bruschi, take a look at the Wildcat

Chadwick came from out on Long Island
Got the boot cause Favre was everybody's darling
But he never lost his pride
We decided to split him wide
Said, hey Chad, take a look at the Wildcat
Said, hey Penny, take a look at the Wildcat
And the other teams go

Wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha?
Wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha?
Wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha?
Wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha?
(Wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha?)
(Wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha?)
(Wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha?)
(Wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha?)
(What?)

Sparano never once gave it away
Punctuates his sentences with "hey"
Direct snap here, halfback pass there
Gillette Stadium was the place where they said
Hey babe, take a look at the Wildcat
I said, hey Bill, how you likin' the Wildcat?

Sugar plum Ricky wore a weddin' dress
Quit football, smoked weed and got depressed
Went to play in Toronto
You shoulda seen him grow grow grow
We said, hey Ricky, take a look at the Wildcat
I said, hey Vrabes, how you likin' the Wildcat?
All right, huh?

Ted Ginn is just speeding away
They wished he was B Quinn on draft day
Watchin' Cam I had to laugh
Lithium would've helped that staff
I said, hey Cam, take a look at the Wildcat
I said, hey Capers, take a look at the Wildcat
And the Patriots say
Wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha?
Wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha, wha?
Wha? …