Dolphins defensive stalwart Cameron Wake had as good a phrase as any heard in the winning locker room to explain the odd situation his team found itself in here Sunday — with a solid home victory over Buffalo completed just seconds before Miami officially was eliminated from NFL playoff contention.
“It’s frustrating,” he said, “and comforting.”
The frustration is easy to understand. Up here, close doesn’t count. Close gets players benched and coaches fired.
“There’s no pat on the back for, ‘Oh, you almost got there!’ ” as Wake put it.
So the Dolphins’ 24-10 win over the division-rival Bills is relegated to a mere consolation prize while the Cincinnati Bengals earn that sixth and final AFC playoff spot for which Miami trudged so steeply uphill.
“It’s not Cincinnati’s job to get us in the playoffs,” Wake said, “It’s our job.”
Almost is the frustration for this team, this season.
The playoffs didn’t run away on Sunday. Realistically, they ran away with five earlier losses by one score, including two in overtime. They ran away with all of those squandered leads. They ran away with that inexcusable 37-3 home loss to lowly Tennessee, which alone makes it so hard to think Miami deserved the playoffs at all.
“We had plenty of opportunities during the season to position ourselves,” noted linebacker Karlos Dansby, instead of hoping Pittsburgh might beat the Bengals on Sunday, and then hoping for more help next week.
But Cam Wake also used the word “comforting,” remember?
And he was right about that, too.
This is a team and a franchise trending upward, and a fandom that can take comfort in better days ahead.
This is a team led by a rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, who just finished his fourth consecutive game without an interception, and who is noticeably better than the kid who nervously began the season with all of those tipped passes in Houston. Tannehill also is blossoming as a running threat, as with a crowd-pleasing 31-yard dash that ended with his taking a hard hit to earn the crowd’s cheering admiration.
This is a team that has improved from the beginning of the season to now, one of the ways a coaching staff is judged. It speaks of that to note Miami won its second games with both the Jets and Bills this season after losing the first. That is telling.
Miami’s defense fundamentally is good enough overall. It entered this week having given up the second-fewest points in the conference and sixth-fewest in the league. More playmakers as dynamic as Wake are needed. Safety Reshad Jones — with two fumble recoveries and an interception Sunday — volunteered himself as one of them.
The offense is not good enough but can get there fast if Tannehill continues to improve and get closer and closer to allowing fans to think he is on the path to being not just a solid starter but a star.
The biggest part of “comforting” in addition to Tannehill’s promise is what should happen from here if general manager Jeff Ireland, facing the most crucial months of his professional life, takes advantage of an extraordinary opportunity to make the Dolphins much better and fast.
Miami has stockpiled 10 draft picks, including five in the first three rounds, more than any other team. There also will be more than $40 million in salary-cap money to spend on free agents, Miami’s own and other teams’.