The Miami Dolphins weren’t going to finish the season 16-0. A loss, at some point, was inevitable. But it’s how that first loss came, losing by 21 points to the New Orleans Saints in front of the entire country, which has raised some concerns.
To be fair, many of the questions that have arose in the aftermath of Monday night’s meltdown were present beforehand. The Dolphins’ offensive line, which has now allowed 18 sacks on quarterback Ryan Tannehill — the most in the NFL and a record pace for the franchise — performed poorly in the three wins as well.
Mike Wallace, the prize free-agent acquisition of the offseason, had only produced legitimate No. 1 receiver numbers in one of the first three games before making it one of the first four games in New Orleans. A remodeled linebacker corps, in which three contracts totaling $78 million have been invested this year, had yet to solidify itself as upgraded before getting abused in space and coverage against the Saints.
And a secondary that appeared improved but still unproven had yet to be tested by an elite quarterback like Drew Brees before conceding 413 yards and four touchdowns to Mr. Monday Night.
But flaws are overlooked in victory. They don’t appear as glaring after the euphoria winning imposes. And after the Dolphins started the season 3-0, many of their fans became immune to the negative because the end result was still unblemished.
Well, that is no longer the case. The Dolphins have lost a game. And that loss has come in an especially humbling manner for the franchise. But were these Dolphins exposed as a pretender in the process?
To me, it depends on what you felt Miami was impersonating in the first three games. If you felt they looked to be playoff contender before Monday night, there is no reason to believe they aren’t now.
After all, the Saints have beaten up on many good teams in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era, especially at home and especially on prime-time television. And losing in Week 4, even by three scores, doesn’t take away wins over playoff-caliber competition in the Colts and Falcons for the Dolphins.
Miami is still sitting pretty at 3-1, with a chance to move to 4-1 at home in Week 5 versus the beatable Ravens. Then comes their bye week and an opportunity to emerge at full strength for the onset of division play.
And, really, if you can look past the Dolphins’ self-imploding mistakes on Monday night, including the two key Tannehill turnovers in the first half and a mind-boggling play call on third and a centimeter on Miami’s first offensive possession, Joe Philbin’s team was actually, arguably at least, outplaying New Orleans for much of the first half.
Lamar Miller was running the ball effectively, Tannehill was moving the sticks and Kevin Coyle’s defense pressured Brees and covered well on a few drives. The Dolphins actually outgained the Saints 224-204 in the first half. But then came Ryan Tannehill’s interception to Jabari Greer near the end of the first 30 minutes that led to another Drew Brees touchdown pass, and the wheels just came off for the Dolphins.
No team can afford to make as many mistakes as the Dolphins did last night in New Orleans against that team. Once the Saints clearly had momentum they never relinquished it and the Superdome crowd kept getting louder and louder. The Dolphins had dug their own grave and didn’t show much life attempting to climb out.
Which brings us back to the question of Miami’s perception after three wins. If you believed they were an elite team, a Super Bowl-caliber team, those hopes were undoubtedly dashed last night.
I’m not saying these Dolphins don’t have the potential to become a championship contender. But I am saying they aren’t at this moment in time. And I think that was quite obvious in New Orleans.
An elite team doesn’t lay down like the Dolphins did in the second half of Monday night’s game. Without mistakes, Miami has the ability to play with and potentially beat great teams like the Saints. But the multiple gaffes the Dolphins made in Week 4 and their apparent surrender afterwards suggests they aren’t ready for the big stage.
These Dolphins surely have the potential to play in more big games this season, but without drastic changes, their probability of actually winning them appears low. The good news is, a long season awaits and if Miami uses last night’s game as a learning experience instead of a confidence killer, they should be more equipped to handle the big stage next time around. But it’s obvious this team still has a long way to go.
Were the Dolphins exposed as a pretender in New Orleans? Not if their outlook remains qualifying for the postseason, which was the consensus goal for this team heading into 2013.
I think the Dolphins are capable of at least 10 wins and a playoff berth. But fans would be wise to temper their expectations for this team beyond that. The Dolphins are too flawed at the moment for much more.