The One Thing Miami Dolphins Coach Mike McDaniel Must Fix This Offseason

    Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel explained the late-game operational meltdown that handed the Buffalo Bills a three-point Wild Card victory.

    The One Thing Miami Dolphins Coach Mike McDaniel Must Fix This Offseason

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Miami Dolphins‘ season ended with a sudden thud Sunday, and what for Mike McDaniel must be the most frustrating part of their 34-31 loss to the Buffalo Bills is how utterly preventable the result was.

    The Bills didn’t beat the Dolphins. The Dolphins beat the Dolphins by failing to complete the most basic of tasks: Getting in and out of the huddle in time to snap the ball before the play clock expired.

    Miami Dolphins’ Self-Sabotage vs. Buffalo Bills

    Their final offensive play was an incompletion from Skylar Thompson on 4th-and-5 — a down and distance that was far more challenging than it should have been.

    The Dolphins actually had 4th-and-a-foot near midfield, down three points with two and a half minutes remaining, but they couldn’t get the play off in time — and were out of timeouts. They had used all three earlier in the half because the play clock was winding down.

    Game operational speed had been an issue for the Dolphins all year. On Sunday, it cost them their season.

    And getting it fixed this offseason should be priority No. 1 for McDaniel. He should consider all remedies, including hiring an assistant dedicated to cleaning up his game management.

    “It’s something that obviously will be a point of emphasis in the offseason, but there’s compounding variables,” McDaniel said. “There was some crowd noise that had to do with mishearing some digits of the wristband.

    “There was some issues within the huddle of communication and getting to the line of scrimmage and there was the excuse that you don’t use that you don’t use but is a real compounding variable is there was a multiple amount of different people in the huddle when you’re in a nice routine and you have maybe a group of offensive linemen that are being communicated to by the same person; when you have flux like that, it happens. It shouldn’t happen as much as it did.”

    Added Thompson, who, like McDaniel was a rookie making his first playoff appearance: “I feel like our operation in general today struggled at times. I take full responsibility for it. Yeah, it was a loud environment, but we knew that going into it. I could have done better to help that be smoother. Those experiences are great learning experiences for me. I take full responsibility for those miscues and not being clean in all aspects at times. Something to learn from and take from and get better next time.”

    Mike McDaniel Explains What Went Wrong

    As for the play in question — that 4th-and-1-turned-4th-and-5 — the Dolphins were rushing players on and off the field late in the play clock. They simply didn’t have enough time to substitute, relay the play call to the players on the field and get to the line of scrimmage all in time to snap the ball.

    Why the late substitution? Because McDaniel was operating under the belief that Salvon Ahmed had picked up the one yard he needed on third down. So he called a play with first-down personnel, not fourth-down personnel. And since he was out of timeouts, he had no choice but to eat the penalty.

    Where did he get the idea that it was 1st-and-10? McDaniel wasn’t entirely sure. But he believes he was told so by an assistant coach.

    “I don’t think it was the refs,” McDaniel said. “I think it was from the headset, to be honest. It didn’t really matter to me, because I’m not pointing fingers. But I’m pretty sure – I don’t think I saw a sign. After the game, there’s a lot of stuff going on at all times, so I think I was under the assumption that it was first down because of a coach communication, because I don’t remember seeing a sign.”

    Mike McDaniel’s Growing Pains

    The gaffe was an unfortunate end to a positive first season as Miami Dolphins coach. The Dolphins made the playoffs despite Tua Tagovailoa missing a third of the team’s regular-season snaps due to injury.

    And they were 15 or so yards away from a reasonable attempt at a game-tying field goal against the loaded Bills despite Thompson, a seventh-round rookie, starting at quarterback.

    But Sunday’s loss crystallized just how small of a margin for error there is in the playoffs. The Dolphins forced three turnovers — one they returned for a touchdown — and still fell three points short.

    It’s incumbent on McDaniel to learn from his mistakes — and not repeat them in 2023.

    “You talk about working your whole life in one direction for a singular goal, this place feels right,” McDaniel said. “I feel very fortunate. I feel very bound and determined to always improve. I think there’s always good and there’s always bad. I think the second that you start thinking that you’re problem-less or that you’ve figured it out is when stuff passes by.

    “I know one thing – without question, I know I did the very best that I could for all the people involved, which is extremely important to me,” he added. “So I am proud of that, and I know there will be plenty of things that I’ll get better at which is the way I look at the expectation for myself and my job. That will never change; that will be the same thing every year, but my primary concern is that I do everything possible to try to put people in positions for success, because that’s what this role can offer. I think I’m happy with that and not happy with today’s result, which I don’t think I’ll ever be until it’s the final game of the season and you’re champion.”

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    Adam Beasley is Pro Football Network’s Director of Original Content and Brand Development. You can read all of Adam’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @AdamHBeasley.