It’s the same cold storyline Saturday of the Miami Dolphins and ambition in a Buffalo winter. Dan Marino stood by the end zone in 1990 on a frozen December day just like Saturday — aren’t they all the somber same in a Buffalo winter? — and surveyed the field hours before kickoff.
He hadn’t changed into his uniform, so he was in jeans and jacket with a pinch of tobacco he’d spit into the snow. He smiled at the weather.
“Let’s play two,” he said.
The Dolphins lost that December day to change their season. That’s the part the Dolphins try to change Saturday night. It’s not a futile history in the cold. They’re 5-8 in Buffalo after Dec. 1 over the past three decades. That says winter isn’t a conclusive factor as much as a forever conversation around this game.
Still, the big days and lasting memories are of lost Dolphins chances there in the winter. Don Shula lost his final game there in the cold. Ricky Williams ran for 228 yards there in the snow and lost. Bryan Cox extended his middle fingers to the crowd in pregame introductions — “I was telling them they’re No. 1,” he said — and then lost.
Somewhere in the early 1990s, when both teams were good, the Dolphins said the season didn’t really start until you go to Buffalo. It speaks well of both franchises that we’re back to that point again, as well as who has the ability to play under severe conditions.
Saturday’s forecast calls for nine inches of snow and Buffalo being favored by seven points. The Dolphins have spent years building to a game like this, and a prime one is how this roster plays in the cold starting with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Is he the quarterback who led the many passing categories through November and was touted as a Most Valuable Player candidate? Or is he the quarterback who went 0-for-California with one bad game in San Francisco and another in Los Angeles, where he posted the lowest completion percentage (35.7) for a Dolphins quarterback since David Woodley in 1982?
So, there’s not just AFC East ambitions at stake Saturday. There’s more, if you’re inside the Dolphins. Much more. This is the roster you sacrificed three seasons to build, and this is the opponent you had to keep in mind while building.
This, too, is the wintry weather that can make you change styles at kickoff in a way you have to prepare for in the AFC East. The Dolphins play at New England in two weeks on New Year’s Day. So a lot of the end to this season will come down to the kind of team the Dolphins built, not just the team itself.
Are they a tough team? They’ve proven an exciting team, an entertaining one. Tough is one of those immeasurable intangibles that comes out in a two-game losing streak when you go back on the rough road like this.
They’ll need to run the ball in this weather. Can they? Coach Mike McDaniel arrived with the ability to choreograph a run game to set up the pass game. He’s done the opposite with the Dolphins because of the talent of receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
They ran just eight times at San Francisco. They were again pass-happy against Los Angeles, despite averaging 4.8 yards a carry. Some inside NFL circles suggested all that passing in Los Angeles was an organizational one to prove Tagovailoa could outplay the quarterback the Dolphins passed in the draft, Justin Herbert. The opposite happened.
This Dolphins season won’t end with a loss to Buffalo, like some have. The last time was in 2020, when coach Brian Flores and the rookie Tagovailoa had a chance at the playoffs and lost , 56-26, in the season finale.
“Nobody wants to get beat like that,” Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard said that day.
Howard and Tagovailoa remain, but so many others don’t for Saturday night. These Dolphins players don’t know the history and don’t see the ghosts hanging around this stadium.
But this franchise knows it. Dolphins fans know it. They know former coach Joe Philbin sat on the ball the final 2:21 of a half in 2014 rather than try to score in a loss. They know Buffalo quarterback Doug Flutie felt so fresh after a win he came out afterward for a pick-up game with friends on the field.
For all that came before it, the season starts in some form in Buffalo, just like Dolphins teams once said. The question again is if they come in from the cold.