Barely a year has passed since a defeat to the Miami Dolphins in London prompted the Oakland Raiders to fire head coach Dennis Allen.
Twelve months later, the shoe might just be on the other foot. After being decisively beaten by division rivals the New York Jets at Wembley, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin is at risk of losing his own job.
That scenario had been floated before kickoff, the Miami Herald reporting that team owner Stephen Ross was running out of patience after a poor start to this season. The Dolphins were humiliated 41-14 by another of their AFC East adversaries, Buffalo, last weekend and have now lost three of their opening four games. This was not how things were supposed to go after an offseason of heavy investment.
Miami added new faces at wide receiver, tight end and cornerback, seeking to upgrade a team that has finished in the middle of the pack for three years running under Philbin into a playoff contender. But it was the six-year, $114m contract handed to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh that truly captured fans’ attention – making him the best-paid defender in league history.
A 6ft 4ins, 320lb force of nature, Suh had wreaked havoc on opposing offenses over the last five seasons in Detroit, but his impact in Miami so far has been minimal. On Sunday he was manhandled by a backup guard. Brian Winters fwas drafted into the Jets lineup following an injury to Willie Colon, but more than held his own. Suh finished with three tackles and no sacks.
“The guy’s a tough minded kid, a tough player, and he’s mentally tough. And he came up with some plays today. I was proud of him,” said the Jets head coach Todd Bowles of Winters after the game.
Perhaps Miami’s money would have been better spent on the other side of the ball. The Dolphins are well-supported in the UK, a legacy of those years when NFL games were broadcast free-to-air on Channel 4 in the 1980s and 90s. A sizeable portion of this pro-Miami crowd fell for the sport while watching Dan Marino tear up the record books. It was he who drew the loudest cheer at Saturday’s fan rally in Trafalgar Square.
Nobody has yet mistaken the Dolphins’ latest quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, for the second coming of Marino, but the 2012 first-round pick had shown sufficient promise to earn a $96m contract extension in May. He is capable of thriving in this league but was never given the chance here behind a porous offensive line that allowed the Jets’ pass rushers to harass him at will.
Instead it was left to Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to channel Marino as he launched a 58-yard pass down the left sideline to former Dolphin Brandon Marshall on New York’s first offensive play. Chris Ivory ploughed past Suh and into the end zone two plays later. The running back lost control of the ball as he was going to ground, but replays confirmed officials’ initial ruling that he had crossed the line before fumbling.
New York added a pair of field goals before Miami began to muster a response. Tannehill gave a glimpse of his quality as he stood firm in the face of an unblocked Jets linebacker, floating the ball over his opponent and into the hands of tight end Jake Stoneburner for an eight-yard touchdown.
The Dolphins, though, had only got into striking distance with the help of back-to-back pass interference penalties against their opponents that moved the ball more than half the length of the field. By half-time, Miami had accrued just 65 net yards, as against their opponents’ 282.
They trailed 20-7 at that stage, New York having added a further touchdown on a 10-yard dart from Fitzpatrick to Eric Decker. The Jets increased their lead further in the third quarter, Zac Stacy capping a 78-yard drive by forcing his way over the line from close in.
Miami, to their credit, kept fighting. Or perhaps they were only just waking up. Both of these teams must have been fighting significant jet lag after only flying into London on Friday for a game that kicked off at the equivalent to 9.30am back home.
A long punt return from Jarvis Landry early in the fourth quarter set Miami up on the Jets’ side of the field. Tannehill connected on passes to Jordan Cameron, Kenny Stills and then Stills again for a 10-yard touchdown.
The Dolphins got the ball back quickly and marched back down the field. Wembley roared as Greg Jennings pulled in another Tannehill touchdown pass, only for the play to be wiped out by an offensive pass interference penalty. New York made the most of their reprieve, Darrelle Revis making a brilliant interception in the end zone. Miami would get the ball back once more, but once again the Jets stole it back with a pick.
At his post-game press conference, Philbin insisted he was not anxious about his job security. “No. Not at all,” he said. “I’m worried about getting this team straightened out, fixed, and getting this team ready to face the Titans.”
He was similarly firm in dismissing suggestions that he might consider replacing defensive co-ordinator Kevin Coyle, as well as a report from the Palm Beach Post which quoted an unnamed player as saying that the team was ready to “throw in the towel” if they lost in London. “I was on the field in fourth quarter, watching the guys compete out there. But we’ll watch the tape and look at everything.”
It will not make for pretty viewing.
This article was written by Paolo Bandini at Wembley Stadium, for theguardian.com on Sunday 4th October 2015 18.41 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010