No matter how many times we look at the image of Ikaika Alama-Francis holding the football in his hand out of the pile, bash the two refs responsible for all of this madness, and tell ourselves over and over again that we got screwed, what's done is done. There is nothing that can be said that will make anything better. The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Dolphins on Sunday, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Having said that, the outcome of such a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching defeat is still undecided. Sunday's game is a thing of the past, but the impact of Sunday's call will surely influence more than just one game. That impact will either be positive or negative. The physical equation is only half of football. The mental and emotional part of the game hold equal influence in a parity driven league.
When teams suffer a loss like the Dolphins did on Sunday, two things can happen. The first being they could crumble under the adversity and fall apart. Maybe, just maybe, though, they could come together and rally around each other with the "us against the world" mentality. That saying has become cliche in the sporting world, but it could serve as a springboard to a miraculous playoff run if the leaders in that locker room can unite this team like they need to.
I think most mature fans realize that the call didn't cost the Dolphins the game. Like I mentioned yesterday, they did settle for five field goals after all. And that's not even taking into account the fact that the Dolphins probably would have went three and out from their own twenty, and punted the ball away to the Steelers with plenty of time on the clock in a two point game.
Even though it may be an exaggeration, the Dolphins probably should believe the refs took that game from them, though. If they have the type of character we hope they do that is. Because if they do, the only response to getting cheated is to come out and play emotionally charged football. Not the kind that induces personal fouls out of frustration, but the kind that is derived from a healthy anger.
The kind of anger that's going to give 100% every play and not leave the door open for a ref to take away a game with one call. Of course, though, that's only the optimistic side of me hoping we see this from the Dolphins. The reverse is just as possible.
Take the Denver Broncos for example. A week after a pass interference call cost them the game against the Jets, they came out and laid down for the Oakland Raiders in a 59-14 beat down. How's that for a wake up call? Similarly, after the Dolphins lost to the Jets in the final minute in Week 3, they looked thoroughly unprepared in 41-14 massacre against the Patriots.
And that was to a division rival on Monday Night Football. If they couldn't get over the week before then, how exactly are they going to come out firing on all cylinders against the Bengals in Cincy? They really don't have a choice, though, if they want to save this season.
At the beginning of the year I said they needed to stay at .500 through the first eight games to position themselves for a playoff push in the second half of the season. And while they are doing just that, it doesn't appear good enough anymore. You really can't even count on both the Patriots and Jets losing more than three games for the entire season, so the division title is looking less and less realistic.
And the prospect of landing a wildcard spot is also in danger of slipping away. You have to figure either the Jets or Pats will snag one spot, and either the Ravens or Steelers will get the other. And even if one of those teams falls off, there are three AFC South teams that are playoff caliber.
The bottom line is, the Dolphins can't afford to dwell on this loss. They need to fight their way back into the AFC discussion, and these next four games will provide an avenue to do just that. All four are winnable games, with the Ravens in two weeks being the biggest test. If the Dolphins can escape 3-1 or better yet run the table, they will be set up nicely for a playoff push as the schedule softens up quite a bit with teams like the Browns, Bills, Lions, and Raiders on the late season slate.
But it all comes back to how this teams responds emotionally. If they feel defeated, these next four games will likely ultimately doom their season. If they come out angry and desperate, however, don't count out these Dolphins just yet.