INDIANAPOLIS -- The Miami Dolphins (2-7) are riding the high of a two-game winning streak and gaining respect as a hard-fighting, disciplined team.
Coach Brian Flores is maximizing his team's talent and showing strong early signs he could be the right guy to lead this team out of longstanding mediocrity (two playoff appearances in the past 18 seasons).
"I'm just so proud of this team for the way they stick together, the way they fight, we're learning to overcome adversity," Flores said. "If you want to come to Indy and win, you need a mentally and physically tough team. We showed that."
Toughness and fight. Building blocks. Establishing a culture. These are all positives the Dolphins have shown over the past month. Building a winning culture is more important than securing the No. 1 pick.
Yet many Dolphins fans are faced with the long-term effects of whether winning is good for their team. Some fans are loyal members of the tank brigade -- openly cheering for losses because the chase for a franchise quarterback is largely dependent on Miami's 2020 first-round draft position.
So, is winning two (and possibly more) games good or bad for the Dolphins? Are these temporary sparks of joy worth losing a chance to be in the driver's seat for future first-round quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) or Joe Burrow (LSU)?
For Dolphins players and coaches, the answer is easy.
"We're going out to win every game. Period," Flores emphatically said Sunday night. "I have been in this league for a long time, and if you are not motivated on a daily basis, you won't be in this league long -- that's players, coaches, that's personnel, that's everybody."
'This team is finding a way to [win]'
The Dolphins have undergone an extreme rebuild, and 2019 has served as that set-up season for the Dolphins to be aggressive in free agency and the draft in 2020. The most important pending transaction is finding a franchise quarterback in April.
That's where the tanking idea got early legs. But tanking ignores the human element of football, and it's something players and coaches are not in on. In fact, they have used it as a bit of a rallying cry.
"Yeah, sure it [bothers me]. We got 14 draft picks next year. So let's win," veteran center Daniel Kilgore said. "People get mad when we win. I wouldn't want anybody to go to their job and fail at it. We got 53 guys busting their ass every day, competing, trying to get a win. I understand the point [of tanking]. But I'm not down for it. I'm an old man in this league. I'm trying to get as many wins as I can get. My clock is running out. You've got many young guys coming in here over the next couple of years, so worry about it then. Win now."
Many Dolphins players, including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, are aware of the perception that it would be better for Miami to lose in order secure the No. 1 pick. It's a topic that players regularly discuss among each other.
But as Kilgore said, they don't care much about that part of it. There is no dilemma.
"Not for us. We're competitors, and we want to go out there and play," Fitzpatrick said. "It's amazing every week, there's another obstacle to jump over. This team is finding a way to do it."
Rookie defensive lineman Christian Wilkins added: "We've worked so hard for this. The outside world, the media maybe, thought this wasn't possible. We got two more wins than the rest of the world thought we were going to have this year, so that's always pretty cool. ... This is all starting to come into fruition -- what we envisioned. Guys are starting to buy into Flores' vision, the team-first culture."
A dream deferred?
Miami is now projected to have the No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft, per ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI). The Dolphins' chances to land the No. 1 overall pick have dropped from 66% to 12% following their two victories. The Bengals (0-9) and Redskins (1-7) lead the chase for No. 1 through Week 11.
Tagovailoa and Burrow, along with Oregon's Justin Herbert, are the top quarterback prospects who Miami is keeping tabs on.
Three Dolphins personnel members, including general manager Chris Grier, attended Saturday's LSU-Alabama game to see Burrow and Tagovailoa play. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross attended, as well. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported 17 teams had 25 representatives in attendance, and the Dolphins sent the largest contingent.
Although the winless Bengals stand in Miami's way, the Dolphins are still in good shape to land one of the three QB prospects. FPI projects the Dolphins' chances at landing a top-5 pick at 80.5%. Miami has three first-round picks, and 14 projected total picks for next year's draft.
Grier's comments, ones he made after trading away Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh for a first-round pick in September, continue to resonate.
"We can do anything we want," Grier said then referring to Miami's draft capital and salary-cap space. "For us, we've positioned ourselves where we think we can do anything or get whatever player we feel that will help us as soon as possible."
Yes, the Dolphins' winning ways could cost them their choice of Burrow or Tagovailoa. Or, Grier could make moves to go get his guy at any cost. That is part of the dilemma.
But one thing is certain -- Dolphins players and coaches are all about winning. There's no dilemma for them.