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Hot or Not

NFL Hot or Not: Dolphins on fire; Broncos' QB question looms

In the wake of Week 10, Marc Sessler dishes on what's hot -- and what's not -- in the NFL:


No ceiling. Only sky.

That's my sense of the frisky, frolicking Dolphins, winners of five straight and authors of chaos in a crammed AFC playoff portrait.

Their 29-21 downing of the Chargers was typical. A smothering defense, just enough offense and a dash of bewitching special teams. I've fallen hard for a squad that promises something unique each week from linebacker and special teams ace Andrew Van Ginkel, a moniker ripe for an Austrian pamphleteer or hushed mathematician from Bradford-on-Avon. We're avoiding math here, though, unless you'd like to count the way Miami's flowing-locks X-factor enjoys dropping hammers.

On Sunday, Van Ginkel's magic came early with a blocked Chargers punt on their opening drive to set up Miami at the Los Angeles 1. Seconds later, the Fins were up 7-0.

This is the same Van Ginkel who devastated Jared Goff with a 78-yard fumble recovery to pay dirt in Week 8 while forcing fumbles against both the Cardinals and Niners. When I ponder the turnaround of the long-putrid Dolphins, I think of Van Ginkel.

A role player snatched up a year ago in the fifth round. The kind of asset coach Brian Flores saw his former employer, the New England Patriots, hone in on time and again.

Dolphins scribes drew the comparison right away, with Joe Schad of The Palm Beach Post writing in May 2019: "Perhaps Andrew Van Ginkel ends up as a core Miami Dolphins special-teamer and nothing more. But ... the general manager, head coach and defensive coordinator were aligned in the vision of a specific, potential role for Van Ginkel. It's probably a role some Patriots players have held over the years. Tiresome storyline, yes, but true."

Van Ginkel weaves into this nagging feeling I've fostered since the Rams tilt: When I watch the Dolphins, I see the Patriots. A few aesthetical flourishes separate them, naturally, but of all the coaches plucked from One Patriot Place, Brian Flores is the mirror. 

A reflection of Bill Belichick. 

Not to suggest that Flores specializes in grumpy exchanges with flustered media types -- he doesn't -- but the similarities reveal themselves on the field. Miami's five-game win streak tells the evolutionary tale of a well-coached club with a growing mastery over situational football.

Their approach to turning Goff into dust leaned heavily on throwing a whirlwind of Cover-0 looks -- blitzes paired with man-to-man coverage and no deep safety -- that beguiled the veteran quarterback into a pair of lost fumbles and two picks while leaving normally brainy Rams coach Sean McVay without a solution.

"They were bringing zero pressures," McVay said. "We had some answer[s]. We didn't execute them, and ultimately, the answers were not good enough on my part."

The Dolphins were at it again Sunday, winging disguised pressure at Justin Herbert and seeing immediate results with a takedown by cornerback Nik Needham that cost the Bolts a 13-yard loss and tossed them into a third-and-20 hole two plays into the game. Moments later, Van Ginkel arrived to block the punt and set Miami a sail.

For the first time all season, the spectacular Herbert appeared uncomfortable. After averaging a heady 306 yards per game through the air, the Chargers rookie managed a measly 187, with most of it coming on after-the-grab real estate, as Dolphins cover men Byron Jones and Xavien Howard allowed a combined 45 yards to outside targets.

It was popular and fair in the offseason to wonder if Flores could deliver an enjoyable second act. His first season in Miami ended powerfully, with a 27-24 nipping of the Patriots, wiping out New England's chances at a bye as Ryan Fitzpatrick carried teammates off the field, piggyback-style, in the happiest ending to a 5-11 campaign ever recorded.

A 1-3 start this autumn triggered deeper suspicions: The Dolphins aren't there yet. Those suspicions, though, have fluttered into the ether.

With upcoming tilts against the Broncos, Jets and Bengals, there's a realistic scenario where the Dolphins sit at 9-3 heading into their Week 14 clash with the Chiefs. That's fodder for tomorrow, but it's not impossible to imagine Miami's Week 17 meeting with the Bills as a showdown that will decide the AFC East, a division that, just weeks ago, felt like Buffalo's for the taking. 

I'm trying my best. Trying not to get carried away with what this Dolphins team can -- and will -- become.

Yet, I see no ceiling. Only sky.


Dark days in Denver, where John Elway's search for a quarterback rages on, barring an eye-popping turnaround from Drew Lock.

Surrounded by an intriguing cast of skill-position talent, the second-year passer melted down in real time Sunday with four ghastly interceptions in a 37-12 loss to the white-hot Raiders. The turnovers helped put Denver's banged-up defense in precarious waters, as Vegas started four straight second-half drives in Broncos territory.

"(----) being 3-6," salty Broncos guard Dalton Risner said in defeat. "We know we're way better than that."

That's the spirit; yet, it's another week of deeper questions around Elway's ability to pinpoint a franchise quarterback not named Peyton Manning. The idea of Drew Lock has always been juicier than the on-field play, but Elway never sought competition for the 2019 second-rounder. Cam Newton was available. Jameis Winston. Andy Dalton. Denver had a chance to draft Jordan Love or Jalen Hurts.

Yes, it's easy for me to preach while pecking away at a keyboard. Lock gave us a scattering of moments last season that suggested something brighter. The problem facing Elway, though, is one of perception and patience -- something football fans, talking heads and blogger-boys lack in 2020.

Hall of Famer Joe Theismann landed with Washington in 1974, yet didn't make more than six starts in a season for the team until 1978. That would never happen today, when signal-callers are launched into the fire as newbies and their results are immediately compared with the feats of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.

We aren't willing to give a young passer four seasons to bloom. In today's NFL, franchise quarterbacks arrive fully developed. Fans in Denver don't want to experiment with lukewarm Lock while watching Justin Herbert look like the child of Superman six minutes into the job.

Ryan Tannehill is a reminder that not every one of these football-flinging wonderboys follows the same narrative. Still, the guys who drafted and coached Tannehill in Miami are no longer in Miami. When the quarterback doesn't work, front offices and staffs are overhauled. Families are suddenly yanked from one city to the next. Everyone involved takes a PR hit.

Elway is something else entirely. A legend in his own city. The Super Bowl-winning quarterback who single-handedly convinced Manning to become a Bronco. Another Lombardi followed, but Denver is 30-43 since, with zero postseason bona fides. 

If his name were Chet Waxley -- not John Elway -- this most recent quarterback gaffe would be his last.

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