FOXBORO, Mass. — You know how people in crisis will often say, This is not the time to panic? It’s time for the Miami Dolphins to panic.
There’s no rationalizing away their latest failure — a 23-21 loss to the wholly mediocre New England Patriots. Sunday’s bellyflop resulted in the fifth Dolphins loss in as many weeks. The playoffs, which were a foregone conclusion at Thanksgiving, are a 50-50 proposition in the new year.
And while there’s plenty of blame to spread around, the lion’s share should lie at the feet of their best, most veteran, and most expensive players — who collectively gave the Dolphins very little Sunday.
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Injuries certainly played a role.
In the most important series of the season, the Dolphins were without their QB1 and QB2, four of their five projected starting defensive backs, down to their No. 3 or 4 left tackle (we’ve lost count at this point) and with their two highest-paid pass rushers (Bradley Chubb and Emmanuel Ogbah) also unavailable due to injury.
It was a worst-case scenario from a health standpoint Sunday. Xavien Howard, Terron Armstead, and Bradley Chubb all tried to give it a go, but couldn’t. General manager Chris Grier broke the news to Mike McDaniel after all three had issues warming up pre-game.
“It was the GM that came and told me that we were 0 for 3 with it,” McDaniel said. “Those guys obviously would help any team, their contribution, but it wasn’t – their inactivation was not the reason we lost this game. I think we had all the ability to do so, and we didn’t.”
McDaniel is right. The Dolphins led 14-7 in the third quarter, even with those big-money players out. But things unraveled from there, starting with a Teddy Bridgewater pick-six that both gave the Patriots the lead and ended the backup quarterback’s day.
Bridgewater — who started in place of a concussed Tua Tagovailoa — hurt a finger on his throwing hand trying to make a tackle and couldn’t continue. That left Skylar Thompson as Miami’s only healthy quarterback.
What followed was almost inevitable. Thompson wasn’t ready for the moment. And he didn’t get much help.
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The Dolphins’ next three drives after the Bridgewater pick went interception-punt-turnover on downs. Miami did score a garbage-time touchdown on its final drive to make the score look closer than it was.
The Dolphins have to hope that that late success can spark some confidence and momentum within Thompson. The odds are pretty good he’ll be their starter in a must-win Week 18 game against the New York Jets.
“When you are struggling, when you can’t get over the hump, it feels like you’ve got a monkey on your back a little bit, and that’s just something that we have to continue to work through, keep fighting through and get over the hump,” Thompson said. “That starts with me, and I take a lot of responsibility for this one.
“I’m going to think about that interception quite a bit today. It hurts because when I get an opportunity, I want to help this team win and to do everything I can to do that, and that’s what this week comes down to is just keep fighting.”
Thompson took full responsibility for his pick, and that’s admirable. It’s also not entirely accurate. The throw was behind Tyreek Hill. But it also hit Hill in the hands and should have been caught. Instead, the ball deflected into the grasp of Jonathan Jones.
It was Hill’s second costly mistake in as many snaps. The play before, a Thompson first-down scramble was wiped away by a Hill illegal shift. So instead of having 1st-and-10 at the Patriots’ 23, with a chance for a go-ahead field goal at the very least, the Dolphins were back on defense.
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Hill had one of his worst games as a Dolphin. He caught four passes for 55 yards on seven targets — but did also score a touchdown on a lateral. Jaylen Waddle had a quiet game as well (three catches for 52 yards).
The Dolphins’ two-headed backfield — Jeff Wilson Jr. and Raheem Mostert — needed 24 carries to manage 74 rushing yards. Defensive leaders Jevon Holland, Jerome Baker, and Jaelan Phillips combined for zero sacks, zero tackles for loss, and zero turnovers.
In other words: Half of the Dolphins’ big-money players were inactive and the other half were basically invisible. That’s simply not sustainable for a team with a roster as top-heavy as Miami’s.
“There’s some guys that I think will feel in hindsight looking back on it that they could have done more,” McDaniel said. “It doesn’t matter at this point. It’s all about responding. It’s tough for anybody to really put themselves out there and accept these types of defeats in consecutive order.
“But we play a tough game, and absolutely nobody will feel sorry for us, as they shouldn’t. We have to figure it out as a group collectively how to finish the season the way we started, in the win column and not in the loss column.”
That’s the only way the Dolphins make the playoffs. They’re out of second chances. It’s win vs. the Jets next weekend, or it’s golf season.
“In this particular situation, I felt less sad and more angry just at how certain things transpired because I want desperately for everyone involved to get what I feel like they deserve, and when that’s short, I struggle not to start with myself,” McDaniel said.
“… I try to always think critically of why I do whatever I do,” McDaniel continued. “I also do know that there’s a certain degree of problem solving that I enjoy about this profession and this job in particular. And I also know that it does give me confidence in a weird way because I’m motivated by trying to dig people out of tough spots, and I know it’s not something that I – you never know how these types of things are going to feel.
“You’re not excited about putting yourself in a position to, okay, what’s it going to feel to lose five straight? But being involved in it – I know that this is kind of my niche in the world for me – to help get a group of guys out of this is totally my speed and something that’s very important to me, and I’m definitely up for the challenge.”