Once upon a time, the Miami Dolphins were famous for late-season collapses. Nick Saban changed that last season. Under Saban, the Dolphins are in their second consecutive late-season push for the playoffs.
Last season, the Dolphins finished with six consecutive wins to post a 9-7 record that made them this year's darlings of the preseason publications. The pickers, however, weren't expecting the Dolphins to lose six of their first seven games.
Left for "dead," the Dolphins are in the midst of their second consecutive resurrection. They've won four in a row and will attempt to even their record at 6-6 this Sunday by beating the visiting Jaguars.
"It is still not what we want," defensive end Jason Taylor said. "We have to find the formula somewhere in between where we are consistent all year, and we haven't done that.
"The last two years, by starting off bad we really put ourselves behind the eight ball and almost out of it, and we try to rally at the end to try to make something happen. It is fun to have something to play for in December," Taylor added.
Quarterback Joey Harrington is getting credit for leading the resurrection, but the Dolphins' winning ways are clearly the result of the defense's performance. The Dolphins are the league's fifth-ranked defense (sixth against the run and seventh against the pass). Taylor, of course, is Miami's defensive star, with nine sacks, two interceptions and two touchdowns.
"The place is a lot more upbeat and a lot more positive. Guys are believing again. Losing is tough. It takes a toll on you. It makes you question yourself sometimes and makes you question a lot of things. When you start winning, everything is better," Taylor said.
A win is what the Jaguars need following last Sunday's heartbreaking loss in Buffalo. The 6-5 Jaguars fell behind several teams in the AFC wild-card race and they can't afford to lose any more ground.
David Garrard will make his sixth consecutive start, which means he will have been the Jaguars starting quarterback in half of the team's games this season. Garrard posted an impressive passer rating in the loss in Buffalo, but he was not effective on third down and his role may need to be increased against a defense capable of limiting the Jaguars running game.
"He's got some work to do. He is a good football player that we've proven we can win with. Is he operating with the efficiency of a Peyton Manning that's been a starter for (nine) years and playing at a Pro-Bowl level? No, but is he playing good football for us and getting better with each opportunity? Yes, I believe that," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said.
The Jaguars' strength is their running game, which is third-ranked in the league. Fred Taylor and rookie Maurice Jones-Drew have combined for 1,330 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. Garrard has added another 153 yards rushing.
Jones-Drew has also become the Jaguars' most explosive receiver since the team's bye week. He's currently tied for the team lead in receptions with 32.
Miami lost running back Ronnie Brown to a hand injury. Sammy Morris and Travis Minor are attempting to pick up the slack, but the Dolphins may have to lean harder on Harrington and receivers Wes Welker, Chris Chambers and Randy McMichael. Welker leads the Dolphins with 53 catches; Chambers and McMichael have each contributed 44 receptions.
Following Sunday's game, the Jaguars will face a rugged four-game closing stretch of schedule that will bring the Colts and Patriots to Alltel Stadium and send the Jaguars to Tennessee and to Kansas City on the final day of the season for a game the Jaguars hope will offer a win-and-in playoffs scenario.