Published: Monday, November 26, 2007
Imperfect season looms as Dolphins hit Heinz
PITTSBURGH (AP) Thirty-five years after they became the only unbeaten Super Bowl champions in NFL history, the Miami Dolphins are getting nervously close to a perfect record again.
Perfectly awful, that is, with the zero as the first digit in their won-lost record. There would be no joyful popping of champagne bottles with this imperfect season, no favorable comparisons to Don Shula's long-celebrated 1972 team that began the season with no losses and ended it that way 17 games later.
The Dolphins' 2007 line score: 10 games, a lot of close calls, but a zero in the wins column going into tonight's game in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers (7-3) are 5-0 this season while outscoring their opponents 150-54.
Only the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) have gone winless through an NFL season of 14 games or more. The expansion 1960 Dallas Cowboys (0-11-1) are the only other winless team of modern vintage.
The Dolphins will be reminded of this repeatedly if they keep losing, with each loss piling on more pressure to win before they go down in NFL history for all the wrong reasons a full-season equivalent of former Vikings lineman Jim Marshall's famous wrong-way run. Miami's start is the worst since the 2001 Lions were 0-12.
If they didn't have enough to occupy them, the Dolphins also have these sideshows to deal with tonight: running back Ricky Williams' possible first game action since 2005, and mouthy linebacker Joey Porter's return to Pittsburgh.
"People are going to say what they want about us," defensive end Jason Taylor said. "They can say what they want. We're not playing real well.
"We're not winning any games right now, but I know what we're putting forward. I know what we're putting into it, and we'll get the results one day."
If they don't win tonight and they are 16-point underdogs the Dolphins' best chance might come next Sunday against the Jets. After that, they finish against the Bills, Ravens, Patriots and Bengals, a stretch that includes several winnable games but no guarantees.
Which is exactly what the Steelers learned last week during an improbable 19-16 overtime loss to the Jets, who went into the game 1-8. The Steelers looked flat, played sloppily and never found either a running game or a way to protect Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked seven times.
Playing successive games against teams that owned one win between them until a week ago appeared to be the closest thing possible to a two-week bye, but the best the Steelers can go now is 1-1.
"If you don't go out and do what it takes to win, you can lose," cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "We know that firsthand."
The Steelers will be without injured wide receiver Santonio Holmes (sprained ankle) and safety Troy Polamalu (sprained knee).
Losing Holmes takes away Roethlisberger's best deep threat; losing Polamalu will alter defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's blitz package against inexperienced quarterback John Beck.
Beck played shakily in his first career start last week, going 9-of-22 for 109 yards in a 17-7 loss to Philadelphia. The blitz-reliant Steelers figure to come at him at every angle, something Porter no doubt has warned him to expect.
"You see them creating plays on defense, creating turnovers and not giving up a lot of yardage," Beck said.
Porter, a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker and a member of the Steelers' 75th season all-time team, signed with Miami in March after being let go by Pittsburgh in a salary cap move. He hasn't been in a winning game in 11 months, but his former teammates don't expect that 0-10 record will quiet one of the NFL's most habitual trash talkers.
"I hope he does [talk]," cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "That adds some excitement and enthusiasm to the game."
So could Williams, who played in Canada last season following at least his fourth violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. He practiced last week, but coach Cam Cameron isn't saying how much he will be used.
Dolphins running back Jesse Chatman averages 91.6 yards as a starter, but is questionable with a sore ankle. His injury may create the need for Williams to play only his 13th NFL game since 2003.
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