Jason Taylor wasalone in the hot tub in early November, trying to soak away the pain of abrutally disappointing 1--6 start, when the Dolphins' veteran defensive endfinally lost his cool. What got the four-time Pro Bowler's temperature soaringwas a newspaper article in which former Dolphins guard Bob Kuechenberg andanother member of Miami's undefeated 1972 team slighted the current Dolphins,belittling their chances of beating the then undefeated Bears in Chicago thatcoming Sunday.
When Taylor saw aquote from Kuechenberg that this year's Miami players "do not have asoul," he was livid. "I was screaming, 'Man, this dude can kiss myass!'" Taylor recalled last week. "I can accept criticism, but don'tquestion my teammates' heart."
Later that dayTaylor fired back at Kuechenberg, telling reporters, among other things, thathe "needs a hug and a hobby" and insisting that the Bears "can bebeaten." Four days later Taylor delivered an even more forceful message,intercepting a pass and returning it 20 yards for a TD and forcing anotherturnover 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-gamewinning streak, Taylor had another huge game, with 1 1/2 sacks, two deflectedpasses and three QB hurries.
There's littlequestion that Taylor has been the league's most dangerous defender over thepast month. "Oh, my God—he's an animal," says Patriots special teamswhiz and backup linebacker Larry Izzo of his former teammate. "We have alot of common opponents, so I see a lot of him on film, and every week it justgets more and more insane. If he's not the AFC defensive player of the year, Idon't know who is."
With 10 1/2 sacks(tied for second in the league behind Carolina's Julius Peppers), a pair ofinterceptions returned for touchdowns (his seven career scores tie him withformer Giants end George Martin for the most by a defensive lineman since theNFL started keeping track in 1970), seven forced fumbles and a recovery, Taylorhas numbers worthy of consideration.
At 32, Taylorsays he's contemplating retirement, but with 103 career sacks—good for 19th onthe NFL's alltime list—he's showing few signs of slowing down. He's gotten 861/2 of those sacks since 2000, the most in the league in that span.
"He's onanother level," says Miami middle linebacker Zach Thomas, Taylor'sbrother-in-law. "I'm glad he's on our team."
Indeed, thanks toTaylor, what looked like a lost season has become much more interesting."We have a chance," he says of the Dolphins' playoff hopes. "ButI'll tell you this—even if we were eliminated from [contention], I'd be playinglike my hair was on fire. If I had hair."
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Taylor had 1 1/2 sacks on Sunday to bring his season total to 101/2.