Philbin wins game, and endorsements from '72 team


Philbin wins game, and endorsements from '72 team

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Joe Philbin cracked a few smiles Monday while critiquing the Miami Dolphins' latest game, his mood buoyed by one of the most successful weekends yet for the first-year coach.

He won a game, and some important endorsements. Perfect-season coach Don Shula and several of his players, in town for their 40th reunion, said Philbin has the Dolphins headed in the right direction.

Despite Sunday's 24-3 victory over woeful Jacksonville, the Dolphins (6-8) are virtually out of the playoff race and will finish at .500 or worse for the fourth consecutive season. That's a far cry from perfection, as several 1972 Dolphins noted.

But they voiced support for Philbin, and also for the team's two often-criticized decision-makers, general manager Jeff Ireland and owner Stephen Ross.

``Joe Philbin's on the right track,'' said `72 linebacker Nick Buoniconti, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. ``There are no illusions here that this is a good team. It's not a good team. There are certain aspects of the team that are really solid, but you're not going to fool Philbin or Jeff Ireland or Steve Ross. They're going to make the changes that are needed, and this team will come back as winners.''

Shula is also optimistic, saying Philbin and rookie Ryan Tannehill can put an end to years of steady turnover at the head coach and quarterback positions.

``I like Philbin,'' Shula said. ``I like his mannerisms. And I like the young quarterback. You see some good things. You know they're headed in the right direction, and I think that's all the fans can ask for. You want them to be a team that we're proud of.''

Former coach Jimmy Johnson chafed at the franchise's perennial focus on the `72ers, and celebrating that season does provide a distraction from more recent results. Miami will miss the playoffs this year for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons.

``These teams here live in the shadow of the `72 Dolphins, and it's a real big shadow that casts itself across the field,'' Buoniconti said. ``And it's very difficult for them to measure up to those standards. And I feel for them, because when you're getting measured against perfection, it's pretty tough.''

Philbin insisted he doesn't mind. He said he enjoyed visiting before Sunday's game with fellow Springfield, Mass., native Buoniconti and other members of the 1972 Dolphins, and was glad to see his players do the same.

``It was great,'' Philbin said. ``It's a class group. When you meet those guys, it's not a surprise they had great success. ... They set the bar high. That's what you want to do - you want to be the best. I think it's a fantastic legacy they left.''

Philbin's just getting started on his own legacy, and hoping to finish the season on an upbeat note, with games Sunday against Buffalo and the following week at New England.

The victory over Jacksonville was only Miami's second win in the past seven games.

``We don't want anybody to think, `OK, so we might not be in the playoff hunt. We're going to lay down the rest of the way and start thinking about the vacationing,''' cornerback Sean Smith said. ``Nah. We have guys with great, great character, and we'll have fight until the end.''

Brian Hartline reached the 1,000-yards receiving milestone for the first time in his four-year career, and Reggie Bush surpassed 100 yards rushing for the first time since Week 2, leaving him 105 yards shy of 1,000. Their status next year is in doubt, because both can become free agents.

Certain to return is Tannehill, who is showing progress again after a midseason slump that included a spate of turnovers. His passer rating and completion percentage against the Jaguars were season highs, and in the past three games he has thrown three touchdown passes with no interceptions.

``You can't let every mistake weigh heavily on your shoulders, and Ryan doesn't do that,'' offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. ``He's very critical and he accepts criticism, but he moves on. And I think that's the sign of a good quarterback who has a chance to be a great quarterback.''

Four decades removed from their perfect season, the Dolphins will settle for good and getting better.


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Wolfpack overcomes 10-minute scoring drought to top Virginia

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Wolfpack overcomes 10-minute scoring drought to top Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- D.J. Funderburk scored 14 points before fouling out and North Carolina State overcame a second-half scoring drought of more than 10 minutes in a 53-51 victory against Virginia on Monday night.

C.J. Bryce added 13 points for the Wolfpack (14-5, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), including a jumper with 27 seconds left after allowing the shot clock to race to near 0:00. The victory ended an eight-game losing streak against the Cavaliers.

Viginia (12-6, 4-4) used a 15-0 run during the N.C. State scoring drought that lasted 10:13 to take a 46-42 lead, bringing the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena back into the game. But Jericole Hellems hit a 3-pointer for N.C. State with 3:38 left and, after a free throw by Mamadi Diakite for Virginia, Markell Johnson hit a 3-pointer and then Hellems' putback gave the Wolfpack a 50-47 lead.

Johnson and Bryce both missed the front end of one-and-one free throw opportunities, and Kihei Clark hit a pair for Virginia. Braxton Beverly made the first and missed the second for the Wolfpack with 7.2 seconds left, and the Cavaliers Casey Morsell was short on a contested 3 at the buzzer.

Clark led Virginia with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Wolfpack had used an 8-0 run to go ahead 42-31. Virginia helped out by going scoreless for more than 6 1/2 minutes. Francisco Caffaro, who had just been inserted into the game, ended the drought with 11:13 left.


N.C. State: The Wolfpack seemed on their way to a solid victory until the drought, during which they were 1 for 8 from the field with five turnovers and repeatedly let the shot clock run down into single digits, forcing bad shots.

Virginia: In the Cavaliers' continuing search for scoring help, freshman Casey Morsell had as many as three field goals for the first time since a 65-56 victory against Navy on Dec. 29. He was 4 for 20 from the field in his last five games. He finished the night 4 for 9 and his buzzer-beater attempt was closely guarded.


The Wolfpack remains on the road and plays at Georgia Tech on Saturday.

The Cavaliers go on the road and play at Wake Forest on Sunday.

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Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

WASHINGTON -- This may be the most realistic and self-aware Wizards team we have seen in a while. It wasn't long ago they had a penchant for talking big about what they believed they could accomplish. Nowadays, knowing where they are in the standings, their expectations are much more measured.

They know they are 12th in the Eastern Conference, even after beating the Pistons on Monday. They know their 14-28 record, which is 14 games under .500 and has them on pace to win 27 total games, isn't good.

But the Wizards are allowed to dream and they say making the playoffs is still something they would like to do.

"That's the goal, that's every day for us. [It's] in the back of my mind," shooting guard Bradley Beal said.

"I watch the games, I watch the standings and everything. We're not talking about it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "If that comes into play [we'll see]. The seventh and eighth seeds, the records aren't great."

There is certainly a case for that. The two teams currently occupying the bottom two playoff spots in the East have sub-.500 records. The seventh-ranked Magic are 20-23 and the Brooklyn Nets are in eighth with an 18-24 mark.

Last season, the Charlotte Hornets held up the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with a losing record as the eighth seed. They went 39-43, not good but still a much better pace than the Wizards are currently on. To win 39 games, they would have to go 25-16 the rest of the way.

Though they have shown some positive signs, going 4-4 in their last eight games, that would require going to a completely different level in the second half of the season. Still, there is no harm in maintaining their goals.

Beal, for one, has envisioned a way it can happen.

"Especially once All-Star hits, that second half is just flying. We have to tighten up and try to get some wins here before the break because that's usually the time when teams like to ease off the pedal a little bit. We have to take advantage of [that], that advantage of our schedule, take care of our bodies, and rally together," he said.

If the Wizards really, really wanted to go for the playoffs, they could try to add some pieces before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. But that should not be expected. In fact, this year's deadline for the Wizards likely won't be affected much at all by the playoff picture.

It's hard to envision them being buyers and they may not be able to be true sellers, either, due to injuries and other factors. Also, there is a belief in the front office that keeping a close distance in the playoff race could be a nice incentive for their young players, that having something to work for later in the season could help their development.

If the Wizards did somehow make the playoffs or even get close, that would be quite the surprise and it would say a lot about the direction of the organization. But in the long-term, it would seem to be more beneficial if they continue on their current course and end up with a top draft pick.

The Wizards right now have the fifth-worst record in the league. That would net them a lot of ping-pong balls for the draft lottery.

It seems likely that's where this season will end. But it doesn't hurt to try.

"We just want to play. We just want to finish the second half of the season playing better," Brooks said.

The Wizards are only 4 1/2 games back in the playoff race. Stranger things have happened.

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