Dolphins and Broncos have things in common - really

Saturday, December 11th 2004, 3:23 pm
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) - The team is underachieving, the tight end is carping, the coaching situation is in flux and the fans are getting fed up.

Despite their divergent records, the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos have more in common than one might have guessed.

The two troubled teams meet Sunday.

The Dolphins (2-10) are merely seeking a bit of respect in this, their most embarrassing season in a generation. The Broncos (7-5), who once appeared en route to the AFC West title, are fighting for their playoff lives, on a two-game losing streak, two games behind San Diego in the division and tied with Baltimore for the last wild-card spot.

"I don't want to give the impression that we're out there jumping around and happy and clicking our heels and buying each other Christmas presents," quarterback Jake Plummer said. "We're (angry). But you've got to get focused. Our anger, if it's too much anger, isn't going to do anything but distract us."

The main distraction of the week in both camps was made by tight ends - the current one in Miami and the recently departed one in Denver.

Miami's Randy McMichael, a three-year veteran, said he wasn't happy with his role in the offence. Over the first eight games, he caught 42 passes. Over the last four, he's caught 11.

"It's a really difficult time for me now because, you know what, this is the third year in a row this happened," McMichael said. "Start out so hot and then all of a sudden I become an offensive tackle and it's really frustrating."

Coach Jim Bates said he's doing the best he can, but wasn't thrilled with McMichael's outspoken critique of the play calling.

"We don't want it," Bates said. "I'm sure Randy, he was just voicing out to everybody how he felt."

Also frustrated is Shannon Sharpe, the former Broncos tight end, who ripped Plummer and Mike Shanahan during the week, saying Shanahan's mission to turn Plummer into a winner has largely been an ego-driven effort that has failed.

"Jake Plummer is what he is. He is who he is," Sharpe said. "If you take a grizzly out of the wilderness and put him in the zoo, he is still a grizzly. Changing his habitat doesn't change who or what he is."

The comments caused a stir in Denver where, after last week's 20-17 loss to the Chargers, speculation about Shanahan's future is running rampant. Many feel 10 years with a team is long enough. When Shanahan was asked directly if he would return next year if it were up to him, he avoided the question.

"What I'd like to do is talk about the Dolphins," he said. "We have a chance to finish the season and do something special."

Denver's next three opponents - Miami, Kansas City and Tennessee - have a combined record of 10-26, which should be an encouraging sign. But three of the Broncos losses have come to the Raiders, Jaguars and Bengals - none of whom are over .500 - proof that nobody is quite sure which Broncos team will show up each week.

"We've got seven wins, our backs are against the wall, we know they are," Shanahan said. "We have to play our best football."

The Dolphins have been much less of a mystery. They're pretty much bad every time out.

Bates took over for Dave Wannstedt in November, but the results haven't improved much. Miami, long a symbol of consistency in the NFL, is guaranteed a 10-loss season for the first time since 1988.

"People don't think we have a lot to play for, but we still do and we still play hard and I think everyone knows when they play the Dolphins it will be a tough game regardless of the record," defensive end Jason Taylor said.

The Broncos, 11 1/2-point favourites, need a victory to keep their hopes alive. Shanahan hasn't won a playoff game since John Elway retired and if the Broncos don't make the post-season this year - or even if they do, but fail to advance - there will be calls for his job.

"I'm aware that when you lose to the Raiders and San Diego, two games you should have won, people are going to be upset," Shanahan said. "That's the standard of this organization. People are going to scrutinize you."