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Dolphins can Sparano, begin chase for top talent; more notes

Coach hunting season is upon us, and the Dolphins decided to get in the game.

It was going to take a miracle for Tony Sparano to keep his job, and with a couple of losses the past three weeks, any remaining flicker of hope expired. It became a matter of when the move would be made. With Jacksonville and now Kansas City officially open for coaching business, it made sense for the Dolphins to do the same.

Of course, as was the case with their pursuit of other coaches with Sparano still under contract last year, this was handled awkwardly by the Dolphins. The decision came late in the day, after Sparano already had fulfilled his Monday media obligations, and came very much on the heels of the Chiefs' decision. But again, it was essentially inevitable based on that 0-7 start.

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Last year, owner Stephen Ross flirted with Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher and then went all out to lure Jim Harbaugh, and failed on all counts. If he is going to go after Cowher, Gruden or Jeff Fisher this time around, the only way to do it is to first have a vacancy, because no coach will negotiate for a job that isn't open out of professional respect to the existing coach.

With Miami's season lost, Ross and long-time associate Carl Peterson can work on rebuilding their staff and organization and getting on with what will be a busy offseason. The competition for the top coaching candidates will be steep, and the Dolphins, trying to recapture a South Florida fan base that has grown disenchanted with the product, will have to compete with the Heat and Marlins for that fickle entertainment dollar.

This could be a defining winter for the Dolphins, with major decisions looming in the front office and at coach and quarterback. They have their work cut out for them and at this point, there's no time to waste.

Falcons' defining moment

If the Falcons make the playoffs, and do any damage, look to Sunday's comeback win as a catalyst. Down 23-7 to Carolina and reeling, Atlanta pulled off an improbable second-half comeback that reminded me in some ways of Baltimore's rally over Arizona from earlier this season.

The Falcons went into the second half with Ryan having struggled mightily for six straight quarters and their playoff life was fading. The Falcons had no semblance of a downfield attack in the first half, with Ryan completing 11 balls for 88 yards and a score. In the second half, he threw three TD passes and amassed 232 yards. He owned third down in the second half, converting four of his first six chances, going for 26 yards on third-and-three, then 13 yards on third-and-five on a drive that ended in a 31-yard TD pass. He went on to throw touchdowns of 17 and then 75 yards, the latter to Julio Jones to ice the win.

Ryan has had an up-and-down season and has dealt with some real adversity, but he made some special things happen in Carolina that saved the season and will propel the Falcons into the playoffs.

Tebow time

The first issue of NFL Magazine, which features Tim Tebow on the cover, hits newsstands Tuesday. Want to subscribe? <a href=http://www.thenflmagazine.com/>Click here.</a>
The first issue of NFL Magazine, which features Tim Tebow on the cover, hits newsstands Tuesday. Want to subscribe? Click here. (Special to NFL.com)

I feel compelled now to update what this kid does in the fourth quarter every week. It's ridiculous. So now only Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers have a higher fourth-quarter passer rating in the NFL (Tebow has a 110 rating). Check this out, Tim Tebow by the quarter:

» First: 48.3% completions - 5.9 yds/attempt - 1 TD/1 INT - 64 rating
» Second: 33.3% completions- 2.55 yds/attempt - 1 TD/0 INT - 50.3
» Third: 37.5% completions - 6.05 yds/attempt - 3 TD/0 INT - 83.5
» Fourth: 61.3% completions - 9.15 yds/attempt - 6 TD/1 INT - 110

Don't know how to explain that. He's barely a rote quarterback, from a traditional perspective, in the first half of games, and then Joe Montana at the end. All I know is this is must-watch television week in and week out.

Odds and ends

» The 49ers are going to have a tough time scoring points against legit teams. They aren't built to play from behind, Alex Smith is very limited in what he can do, and the red zone offense has been atrocious. The Steelers defense will be tough Monday night. It's been a tremendous season already, and San Francisco's defense is no joke, but I'm not sure how long of a playoff run it will be. Also, am I the only one thinking that a Lions/49ers wild-card game would be something else? How about that for a possible rematch?

» Keep an eye on the Seahawks and Cardinals flirting with .500 all of a sudden.

» Still don't see any evidence as to how/when/why the Colts will win a football game in 2011. Try watching that team for any extended period of time. It's difficult to do.

» Detroit needs to find a way to right its defense. Play in the secondary is slipping and it goes beyond just Ndadmukong Suh's absence up front. Going to have to win a few more shootouts, I figure, to get in the playoffs.

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @JasonLaCanfora

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