Have you heard the story about the ship captain who led a search expedition for a sunken vessel that had gone down with millions of dollars' worth of treasure aboard? The crew marveled as the old captain avoided use of all the advanced technological equipment; never glanced at the charts of the ocean floor, much less the sonar readings; and kept driving the boat for many hours out to sea, with no land in sight. When he killed the motor and pulled the ship to a halt without warning, then flicked on the sonar, it was clear that the wreckage lay on the ocean floor below. In awed wonder, a fellow member of the crew finally asked, "How did you know where to look -- you never even glanced at a compass?"
"Easy," the captain said. "I was at the wheel when she sunk."
Captain Tony Sparano seems to have found some treasure on the SS Dolphin, a ship many believe he sank. Miami started 0-7, but has since rattled off three wins by a combined 86-20, before a 20-19 Thanksgiving Day loss at Dallas, a game it could well have won. That wasn't the only heartbreaker for the Dolphins. They should have beat Cleveland in Week 3, lost by themselves more than at the hands of Tim Tebow in an epic collapse in Week 7, and blew a two-score lead against the Giants in Week 8.
In a way, the Dolphins suddenly look like the Dallas Cowboys or Detroit Lions of 2010, the awful-starting team that gets hot after being knocked out of playoff competition, and gets the "Rising" label headed into the next season. A bad performance on Thanksgiving aside, Detroit actually has lived up to those expectations. It went 6-10 last year but finished hot, and already has seven wins in 2011 and a good shot at the playoffs with a young team. Same for Dallas, which started 1-7 last year, fired the coach and finished 6-10. It has also seen a carryover effect.
This raises a question for Miami: If Sparano was a new coach hired to take over an 0-7 team, the 2010 version of Jason Garrett, who inherited Wade Phillips' 1-7 Cowboys, we'd say he deserved the credit for righting the ship. Instead, we know he also crashed it. So does he get rewarded, or ridiculed? And what about the carryover effect? Does a good second half by a bad team really say something about next year?
The evidence says that if Miami finishes strong, it would be smart to stick with Captain Tony, and possibly even quarterback Matt Moore, for 2012. Here's why.