DENVER — Winning isn’t everything, but it’s everything Brian Flores and Tua Tagovailoa know.
The Dolphins meet the Broncos on Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High with a pretty good idea how to win. Flores, the coach, spent 15 years as a Bill Belichick disciple in New England. Their Pats won four Super Bowls, and it was Flores who subbed Malcolm Butler into the most memorable one.
“Malcolm, go!” Flores yelled from the sideline.
Butler intercepted Russell Wilson. Pats won.
Tua, the Fins’ quarterback, advanced to two national title games at Alabama. The Dolphins tanked a season in the most egregious way for the right to draft Tagovailoa. They’re now 6-3.
The Broncos are 3-6 and, if they are not losing games, they’re losing quality players to injury.
Winning is contagious, and judging from the past five years at Mile High, the same can be said for losing. While Drew Lock and the Broncos dance in wins and smile on the bench in losses, Tua’s Dolphins are all business all the time.
Miami has won five straight games. It will be favored in the next three — at Denver (where the Dolphins are a road favorite for the first time since 2017, according to Pro Football Reference), at the New York Jets, vs. the Bengals. The Dolphins will be 9-3 before you know it. Denver last won five straight to close the 2015 season in Super Bowl 50 — two in the regular season, three in the playoffs.
Is anyone surprised Tua is 3-0 as an NFL starting quarterback?
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Alabama teammate Jerry Jeudy.
Is anyone surprised Flores has the Dolphins on a winning track this soon?
“He is the real deal,” said CU Buffs coach Karl Dorrell, who, as Miami’s assistant head coach, worked as Flores’ right-hand man.
These Broncos can tank without tanking. They already hold the No. 11 pick in the NFL draft, if the draft were Sunday morning. They project to be underdogs for the final seven games of 2020.
What is important, at some point, is the Broncos learning to win. Right now they have no idea.
At Missouri, Lock never finished above .500 in the SEC or won a bowl game. At Colorado and with the Broncos, Phillip Lindsay has enjoyed one winning record in his past eight seasons. The backfield duo has been advertised as the leader and “heartbeat,” respectfully, of the Broncos offense.
There’s no question the next wave of Broncos is leading the team. The question is, to where?
Once again, the Broncos' offense is a losing operation — 26th in yards per game and per play, 28th in points scored, 23rd in passing, 27th on third down, 28th in the red zone, 32nd in turnovers.
“We lead the league in turning it over, which is never is a good thing to lead the league in,” coach Vic Fangio said.
The Dolphins are no offensive powerhouse, but they make winning plays when it’s winning time. They’ve returned three kicks or punts for touchdowns. They’ve created 15 turnovers. They are united from the national anthem, when the team stays in the locker room, to the final horn.
“They’ve found their identity on defense,” Fangio said.
It’s been difficult to identify the Broncos’ identity. Are they a defensive team? An on-the-cusp offensive team? A dance team?
Way too often they’ve been the losing team. For way too long that's been all they know.