Jason Taylor was
alone in the hot tub in early November, trying to soak away the pain of a
brutally disappointing 1--6 start, when the Dolphins' veteran defensive end
finally lost his cool. What got the four-time Pro Bowler's temperature soaring
was a newspaper article in which former Dolphins guard Bob Kuechenberg and
another member of Miami's undefeated 1972 team slighted the current Dolphins,
belittling their chances of beating the then undefeated Bears in Chicago that
When Taylor saw a
quote from Kuechenberg that this year's Miami players "do not have a
soul," he was livid. "I was screaming, 'Man, this dude can kiss my
ass!'" Taylor recalled last week. "I can accept criticism, but don't
question my teammates' heart."
Later that day
Taylor fired back at Kuechenberg, telling reporters, among other things, that
he "needs a hug and a hobby" and insisting that the Bears "can be
beaten." Four days later Taylor delivered an even more forceful message,
intercepting a pass and returning it 20 yards for a TD and forcing another
turnover in a 31--13 upset. He has been on a rampage ever since: Though Miami
(5--7) lost on Sunday to the Jaguars 24--10, ending the Dolphins' four-game
winning streak, Taylor had another huge game, with 1 1/2 sacks, two deflected
passes and three QB hurries.
question that Taylor has been the league's most dangerous defender over the
past month. "Oh, my God—he's an animal," says Patriots special teams
whiz and backup linebacker Larry Izzo of his former teammate. "We have a
lot of common opponents, so I see a lot of him on film, and every week it just
gets more and more insane. If he's not the AFC defensive player of the year, I
don't know who is."
With 10 1/2 sacks
(tied for second in the league behind Carolina's Julius Peppers), a pair of
interceptions returned for touchdowns (his seven career scores tie him with
former Giants end George Martin for the most by a defensive lineman since the
NFL started keeping track in 1970), seven forced fumbles and a recovery, Taylor
has numbers worthy of consideration.
At 32, Taylor
says he's contemplating retirement, but with 103 career sacks—good for 19th on
the NFL's alltime list—he's showing few signs of slowing down. He's gotten 86
1/2 of those sacks since 2000, the most in the league in that span.
another level," says Miami middle linebacker Zach Thomas, Taylor's
brother-in-law. "I'm glad he's on our team."
Indeed, thanks to
Taylor, what looked like a lost season has become much more interesting.
"We have a chance," he says of the Dolphins' playoff hopes. "But
I'll tell you this—even if we were eliminated from [contention], I'd be playing
like my hair was on fire. If I had hair."