The hard-traveling Miami Dolphins barely won out west, flopped up north and have now gone east, their season suddenly heading south.
The schedule won’t make it easier for Miami to bounce back from last week’s 20-6 loss at the New York Jets. The Dolphins are the designated home team Sunday, but that will be of little help when they face the New Orleans Saints in London.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross so disliked his team’s condensed schedule that he asked the NFL to move this week’s game to Miami. The league declined.
Here are things to know about the NFL’s latest overseas matchup, this one between two teams off to up-and-down starts — the Dolphins (1-1) and Saints (1-2):
STRANGE BEDS: Road fatigue might be a problem for the Dolphins, who have yet to play in Miami. They spent a week in California before their hurricane-delayed opener, and won 19-17 only because the Los Angeles Chargers’ Younghoe Koo missed a late 44-yard field goal try.
There was no drama to the drubbing in New York, where the Dolphins netted only 225 yards and didn’t score until the final play. Now they’re trying to recover from that loss, and from an eight-hour flight to England.
Are the Dolphins tired of travel?
“Nobody cares,” guard Jermon Bushrod said. “We can play 16 games on the road, and nobody cares. If you lose, that’s all anybody cares about. We’re paid to play well, and we’re paid to win.”
Instead, they’re at .500 and wondering how to jump-start an offense that has scored two touchdowns in two games, prompting coach Adam Gase to threaten a lineup shake-up.
While the Dolphins flew to London on Thursday, Saints coach Sean Payton decided to spend an entire week there in preparation. His team made the trip from Charlotte, North Carolina, immediately following Sunday’s 34-13 breakout victory over the Panthers.
Payton didn’t even venture out of the team hotel his first two days in London, with his biggest treat a couple of quick breakfasts before diving into the game plan.
“There isn’t a lot of time for the other English pleasantries,” he said.
The Saints followed a similar schedule the previous time they played in London, when they beat the San Diego Chargers 37-32 in 2008.
NATIVE SON: London-born Jay Ajayi will play in his hometown for the first time, giving Brits a chance to cheer the Dolphins running back who had a breakout season in 2016. He’s the NFL’s only skill player from Britain.
“I was able to do well last year, and obviously my name was able to grow,” Ajayi said. “Being a good player and being from London, being the only skill player right now as well, has kind of made me the face almost of NFL UK. So that has been a blessing.”
Ajayi expects to have at least 30 friends and relatives at the game.
STARK CONTRAST: The game will help to determine whether the effectiveness of New Orleans’ defense against Carolina was an anomaly or, as the Saints hope, evidence of a unit coalescing after a rough start.
The Saints fielded the worst defense in the NFL through the first two weeks of the season, allowing Minnesota’s Sam Bradford and New England’s Tom Brady to combine for 793 yards and six TDs passing against no interceptions.
“We corrected those mistakes and I think it showed,” linebacker A.J. Klein said. The Saints intercepted Carolina’s Cam Newton three times, had four sacks and allowed just 184 yards passing.
Marshon Lattimore, the top cornerback selected in the first round of last spring’s draft, returned to practice this week from a concussion, which should only help the defense.
THIRTYSOMETHING QBS: Miami’s 34-year-old Jay Cutler postponed retirement in August and might be wondering if he made the right decision. He looked rusty against the Jets’ strong pass rush, and his unit went 1 for 15 on third and fourth down.
By contrast, the Saints’ 38-year-old Drew Brees is coming off his most efficient game of the year, and he’s on pace for a 12th consecutive 4,000-yard season. He ranks in the top five in the league in yards, touchdown passes and quarterback rating, and has yet to be intercepted.
“His ability to throw the ball is still as good as it has ever been,” Gase said.
SNEAD’S AVAILAIBILITY: Saints receiver Willie Snead is eligible to play for the first time this season after serving a three-game suspension for a drunk driving arrest.
With Brandin Cooks traded to New England last March, Snead entered this season as the second-most productive receiver returning from 2016, behind only Michael Thomas. Snead had 72 catches for 895 yards and four touchdowns last season, but how quickly he is reintegrated into New Orleans’ game plan remains to be seen. Payton has been playing that matter close to the vest.
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