DAVIE, Fla. Theres a guy wearing green who Wednesday actually put the Dolphins and playoffs in the same sentence.
No, not the Dolphins shade of green, the Jets one. The surprising declaration came from New York quarterback Mark Sanchez.
If he plays well, that team can make it to the playoffs, Sanchez said about Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
So now we have yet another reason why theres suddenly a big-game feel surrounding Miamis game Sunday at Sun Life Stadium against the Jets. Might other people actually be talking playoffs if the Dolphins can register a win to get to 2-1?
Keep in mind this is a Miami outfit that has had losing records in three straight seasons and five of the past six. Its a team that looked dreadful during a 0-4 preseason and got humbled 30-10 in the regular-season opener at Houston.
But then the Dolphins rose up last Sunday at home against Oakland, outscoring the Raiders 28-3 in the second half in a resounding 35-13 win. Yes, the Raiders had played the previous Monday and had to fly east to play a 1 p.m. ET game. But it still was a big win.
Now, Miami has a big game, which hasnt happened all that much in recent seasons. With all four AFC East teams, including the Jets, at 1-1, a win would guarantee at least a share of first place and give the Dolphins a 2-1 start (they havent been 3-0 since 2002) for just the second time in seven years.
Theres a lot riding it on it, Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Spears said. Start 2-1. Thats two games in a row. We have a chance to have a nice winning streak. It all starts this game. First place on the line.
Considering Miami started last season 0-7, two in a row would be a nifty winning streak.
Theres other reasons the game has a big-game feel for the Dolphins. The Jets are their biggest rival and the game marks the return of New York offensive coordinator Tony Sparano after being Miamis head coach the previous four seasons.
And throw in former University of Florida star Tim Tebow, who will bring in extra fans to a stadium that rarely has a sellout. So what if those fans wearing Tebow jerseys wont be rooting for the Dolphins.
I think that if there were ever a big game to start the season, this is as big as it gets for us, Dolphins running back Reggie Bush said.
Bush helped turn it into a big game by rushing for 172 yards against the Raiders, the second-best effort of his seven-year career. That earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
The only better rushing game Bush has had was 203 yards last December at Buffalo, when he also won the AFC award. Interestingly, that was the first game the Dolphins played after Sparano was fired following a 29-32 run.
But Sparano is back. And the Dolphins know hes putting in extra hours this week to try to get a win in his return.
Im sure hell have a little chip on his shoulder, Starks said. So its a big game.
The Dolphins, though, also have some revenge on their minds. It was last October that Tebow, in his first start of the season at quarterback, led Denver to a 18-15 overtime win at Miami after the Broncos had trailed 15-0. It started a flurry of comebacks Tebow had last season.
Tebow, New Yorks backup behind Sanchez who comes in run the Wildcat offense, wont play as much as he did in last seasons game. Nevertheless, the Dolphins will be ready.
Our job is to force him to not make big plays, defensive tackle Paul Soliai said. Last year, we saw what he could do with the ball.
Wide receiver Brian Hartline had a quip about Tebow on Wednesday. He was asked if hes surprised at all the publicity Tebow gets as a backup quarterback, including being on magazine covers.
Thats you guys, Hartline said of the media. How much everybody loves him. I think thats the outside world, how much everybody loves him. The same thing can go with the Kardashians. I dont know what they did either. Theyre on every cover everywhere.
But before what Hartline said could be regarded as bulletin-board fodder, consider Hartline went on to say how Tebow won a lot of football games at Florida and won in Denver last season. Hartline said that gives him validation.
As for Sunday being a big game, Hartline doesnt deny it. Because the Jets are a rival, Hartline said theres just a little more umph to it.
New York has been a bigger rival for Miami in recent years than vice versa. The Jets, after all, made it the AFC Championship Game after the 2009 and 2010 seasons, and New England clearly has been their biggest recent rival in the AFC East.
Still, Sanchez talked up the Jets-Dolphins clash. Maybe thats because hes gone just 2-4 against Miami in his previous three seasons.
Its a street fight out there, Sanchez said.
If the Dolphins can win this rumble, Sanchezs talk of them being a playoff contender wont sound as ridiculous.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson