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DAVIE - Can momentum have a nine-month shelf life?


The Miami Dolphins hope so.


That's why Sunday's game at defending Super Bowl champion New England isn't just about finishing off their fourth consecutive season without going to the playoffs. It's about a chance to jump into the offseason with a six-game winning streak, feeling good about their chances of ending that playoff drought next year.


"I don't think that's underrated at all," Dolphins defensive end Kevin Carter said. ". . .Where we are right now, obviously going to the playoffs is something that isn't going to happen. I know one thing we can do -- we can win this game and go into the offseason with something to build on.


"That offseason goes quick and another season rolls around. From a chemistry standpoint where we are right now, that's what we've been working toward, and we need to keep that."


Whatever happens Sunday, the players' approach to the offseason will be much different than after last year's 4-12 debacle.


Nick Saban had taken the Miami head coaching job on Christmas Day, but was still preparing his LSU team to play Iowa in the Capital One Bowl. Dolphins players were on edge, simply because they didn't know what the future held.


"We'll have a little more certainty in this offseason," defensive end David Bowens said. "Last offseason, Nick was just coming in. A lot of people didn't know where they were going to fit in the scheme of things. Now, guys pretty much know where they're at.


"We can concentrate more on our own positions, relax a little more and not be so uptight, and just go out there in the offseason and take this thing to a new level."


With the last regular-season game also comes speculation on who might or might not be playing in their final game with the Dolphins on Sunday.


Defensive tackle Keith Traylor already has told reporters he doesn't believe he'll be back next season. But he has another year on his contract, and he would give the Dolphins the kind of big body (6-foot-2, 337 pounds) at nose tackle that is essential in a 3-4 scheme.


It also has been reported Miami might release cornerback Sam Madison after this season and use running back Ricky Williams as trade bait.


"Do I see a lot of turnover? I don't know," Bowens said. "It's kind of hard to tell. You have to understand Nick had to deal with the players he was given. Now that he's had some time to evaluate people, who knows. We'll see.


"But with the way this team's playing, I don't see a lot of stuff changing from the core. I hope not."


What may or may not happen to the roster in the offseason will cross players' minds next week, perhaps, Bowens said. Right now, the players are more interested in something Saban told them earlier this week.


Hopefully, this will be the last 16-game season they play for a long time.


"I think that what we have accomplished this year, everybody will carry with them," Saban said. "I think there have been lessons learned about a lot of things, in terms of negative things that have happened and also positive things that have happened.


"I do believe that there is a certain amount of confidence in a belief system of what we do and how we do it and why it is important to do it that way, that is going to be beneficial to the players in the future because it becomes a part of the culture. It is expected of them, they understand that and they also send that message to every other guy that comes in here as a new player or we drafted, that this is how we do it.


"That is important to establish, for the players to take responsibility and leadership for it. I think you are on the way to building what you want, at least from a character and attitude standpoint."



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