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A perfect season 35 years ago ensured the Miami Dolphins football immortality. They have three more opportunities to ensure this season won’t be remembered forever for the opposite reason.
The Dolphins will try to avoid being just the third team in NFL history to start a season 0-14 on Sunday when they host the Baltimore Ravens, who have lost a franchise-worst seven straight games.
The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 1980 New Orleans Saints are the only two teams to have lost their first 14 games. For Tampa Bay, that was the entire season - it wasn’t until 1978 that the NFL expanded to its current 16-game schedule. The ’80 Saints won their 15th game before dropping the season finale to finish 1-15.
Miami (0-13) has lost 16 straight dating back to last season, which is only the eighth-longest losing streak in league history.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for the Dolphins, who hired San Diego offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to be their head coach, brought in veteran quarterback Trent Green to pilot the offense and signed former All-Pro linebacker Joey Porter to strengthen the league’s fourth-ranked defense from a year ago.
But the first loss came in overtime in Week 1 at Washington, and it’s gotten worse from there.
“They’re all frustrating. And they all weigh on you more and more,” defensive end Jason Taylor said after last week’s 38-17 defeat at Buffalo. “You lost another game. You wish it was the other way around.”
Miami hasn’t been completely overmatched, as six of the losses have been by three-point margins. The Dolphins have lost by an average of 10.9 points - barely more than half the 20.5 average margin of defeat for the 1976 Tampa Bay team.
“I think (losing) reveals character,” Cameron said. “I think it makes you tougher. It makes you think through why you do what you do, and I think that’s the thing that you learn to love about this business.”
As the Dolphins run out of chances to get a win, they’ll turn to a quarterback who started in five losses earlier this season. Cleo Lemon, who took over when Trent Green suffered a concussion in Week 5, started the next four games before giving way to rookie John Beck.
“(Cleo) gives us the best chance to win this game,” Cameron said.
Defensively, the Dolphins have been devastated by injuries. Seven defenders - including star linebacker Zach Thomas - are on injured reserve, including four safeties. A year after giving up just 17.7 points per game, Miami is allowing 27.3 this season.
Considering that the Ravens (4-9) have gone from being the 13-3 AFC North champions last season to the basement of the division in 2007, they can at least somewhat relate to the disappointment the Dolphins feel. Not that they have much sympathy.
“You don’t want to be the guy on Miami’s record,” Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott said, “…where the only team they beat was the Ravens.”
The Ravens may have played their best game of the season in nearly knocking off undefeated New England two weeks ago, but were humiliated by Indianapolis 44-20 last week. Baltimore fumbled twice and quarterback Kyle Boller threw three interceptions.
“It’s the same old scenario: You can’t win when you turn the ball over against any team, let alone a team like that,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “It’s hugely disappointing to our fans, the players, the organization, everybody, to not follow up last Monday with a better game than that.”
Billick will stick with Boller as the team’s starting quarterback even though he inserted rookie Troy Smith late in the loss to the Colts. Boller has started the last four games since Steve McNair tore his rotator cuff and was lost for the season.
While Baltimore’s quarterback play has been inconsistent, running back Willis McGahee has been thriving. His 1,093 rushing yards rank third in the AFC, and had scored a touchdown in seven straight games before failing to reach the end zone against Indianapolis.
The Dolphins have won four of five regular-season meetings with the Ravens, including all three in Miami.