DAVIE, Fla. (AP) – The Miami Dolphins have gone through four coaches and 13 quarterbacks since their last 2-0 start.
That was back in 2002, when a team built on defense and ball control harbored playoff aspirations. The situation's similar now, with consecutive road victories stamping Miami as a potential contender in the AFC East.
"Nobody really gave us a chance to be sitting where we are now,'' running back Ronnie Brown said Monday. "We've got to keep grinding, but I like our chances, and everybody on the team is believing in what we're doing.''
Unbeaten status this late in September is a big change for the Dolphins, who started 0-2 each of the past four years. The 2-0 record with Miami is a new experience for every player but one – running back Ricky Williams, the lone remaining link to 2002.
"It's exciting,'' Williams said. “As a young team we're gaining a lot of confidence, and it makes it much easier to buy into what the coach is saying when you're winning.''
What coach Tony Sparano says is that his Dolphins are a work in progress, and it's yet to be determined whether they're ready for prime time. They'll find out Sunday night against the archrival New York Jets (1-1), who are coming off a win over New England.
Miami's two victories have been impressive partly because of where they took place. First the Dolphins won at Buffalo, where they had lost five games in a row. On Sunday they beat the Minnesota Vikings, who went 8-0 at home last year.
The last time Miami started a season with consecutive road wins was in 1977.
"That's way before me,'' said linebacker Cameron Wake, who wasn't even alive then. "Every day since March, we were working toward starting fast. I know the last few years it hasn't happened.''
Wake is one of seven new starters on a swarming defense that has been the primary catalyst in Miami's success. In the 14-10 win at Minnesota, the Dolphins had three sacks and four takeaways, and Brett Favre endured his worst day with the Vikings.
A collective effort started with the secondary. Cornerback Vontae Davis had an interception at the 1-yard line, broke up two other passes and made six tackles. Cornerback Jason Allen was even better with two interceptions, one at the 2, three passes broken up and 11 tackles.
Linebacker Karlos Dansby made nine tackles, including a stop on fourth and goal at the 1 with less than 3 minutes to go. Wake had 11/2 sacks and forced a Favre fumble recovered for a touchdown by rookie Koa Misi, one of five first- or second-year pros seeing significant playing time under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
"These first two games are a great start for our defense,'' Dansby said. "These young guys are playing hard and are relentless.''
Minnesota's lone touchdown drive covered only 1 yard after a fumble. Despite that score, the Dolphins have allowed two teams only 20 points while totaling six sacks, and opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 58.3.
"We still don't know how good our defense could be,'' Davis said. "We just try to get better and better.''
On offense, there's definitely room for improvement. Despite the addition of Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall, the Dolphins are averaging only 135 yards passing per game, and Chad Henne has thrown for just one score.
The ground game has been better, but running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams earned demerits when each fumbled deep in Miami territory against the Vikings.
"You thank God when you can fumble and still come out with a win, specially in crucial situations like we did,'' Williams said. "We're going to work on it, and it's not going to happen again.''
The Dolphins have totaled only 29 points, and with the next three games against 2009 playoff teams, more firepower is needed.
"I'm concerned,'' Sparano said. "I want to score more points than that, no question about it, and I think we have to. I have great confidence this group will continue to get better. I just don't have a crystal ball. They have to understand the urgency. We've got to get over the hump, and I think we will.''
If there's any temptation to be satisfied with a 2-0 start, the Dolphins might want to note that their 2002 team failed to make the playoffs.
Photo above: Ricky Williams