Same old problems for a Dolphins defense that looks far from playoff ready.
The Dolphins said they were all-in to win in Week 17.
Someone forgot to remind their defense.
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New England dominated the Dolphins from the start on Sunday, crushing Miami 35-14 on New Year’s afternoon.
By doing so, the Patriots (14-2) locked the Dolphins (10-6) into the AFC’s sixth seed. That means Miami will play in Pittsburgh in the wild-card round at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The Dolphins will need an infinitely better effort from Vance Joseph’s group to have any chance to win. They allowed another 396 yards Sunday, including 151 yards on eight catches by Julian Edelman.
Tom Brady was masterful as usual, completing 25 of 33 attempts for 276 yards and three touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount powered a ground attack that totaled 120 yards.
So why is there any reason to believe Miami will be better on the road against Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell?
What makes the Dolphins confident their defense is prepared for the postseason?
“Twenty games,” Cameron Wake said.
As in the number of preseason and regular season games combined the Dolphins have played this year.
That’s probably an argument against it.
This has been a historically bad defense. The Dolphins surrendered 6,122 yards in the 2016-17 season, the most ever by a Miami team. And they’re getting worse, not better. Since Week 12, the Dolphins have allowed an average of 436 yards and 27.3 points per game.
“I feel great about the defense,” Ndamukong Suh insisted. “We been through a lot of tough times, a lot of good times and I think we’ve been in every single situation in this particular season so we got to be prepared for whoever we have and get ready to go.”
Brady controls pace
Suh and Wake were largely non-factors Sunday because Brady got the ball out so fast that Miami’s pass rush had no chance to disrupt him.
Perhaps frustration boiled over late for Suh, who got into it with Blount with the Dolphins down 21. Blount was steamed after Suh not only fell on the back of his legs, but shoved him for good measure. The Patriots running back retaliated by ripping off Suh’s helmet, drawing a flag.
“There’s not many guys in this league like that guy,” Blount told WBZ-TV Boston.
“He’s a dirty player. He’s always been a dirty player. There’s no room in the game for that. At some point in time, guys have to defend themselves when he’s doing the things that he does.”
Suh, asked about the exchange, said the following: “Guys are just children sometimes, but at the end of the day you take care of your business and continue to play as I did.”
So the blood was bad, and will still be that way should the Dolphins get a third crack at the Patriots in the playoffs. If they beat the Steelers, Miami will travel to New England for the divisional round.
But that’s a Suh-sized “if.”
Few teams with the Dolphins’ defensive statistics even get to the playoffs, let alone win there.
The warning signs were there from the start. Brady directed a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game, extending it early by scrambling for a first down on third-and-6.
He capped it with a two-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett, who was wide open after Donald Butler bit hard on play action.
The lead went from 7 to 14 on New England’s next drive. Brady hooked up with Michael Floyd for a 14-yard scoring strike, with Floyd dragging the Dolphins secondary the last five yards.
Here’s how one-sided the first quarter was:
▪ New England had 11 first downs. Miami had zero.
▪ New England had 169 yards. Miami had four.
▪ New England controlled the ball for 12:25.
You do the math.
“I know we had some opportunities,” said Dolphins coach Adam Gase. “We just didn’t quite execute a couple of things quite right. There are probably a couple of calls I’d take back. We just didn’t stay ahead of the sticks, which you can’t do against these guys.”
Finally, down 20-0 late in the first half, the Dolphins’ offense came to life.
Matt Moore threw touchdown passes on consecutive drives, the first to Jarvis Landry and the second to Kenny Stills.
The Dolphins were back within a score and had the Patriots in third-and-7 at their own 23.
That’s when New England delivered the knockout blow.
Julian Edelman caught a short pass with his back to the defense, had time to turn upfield, and found just Dolphins corner Tony Lippett between himself and the goal line.
Floyd cleared the path with a devastating block on Lippett, and Edelman raced 77 yards to the end zone.
The Dolphins’ defense failed them. They can’t do so again in the Steel City, or their season will melt away.
“We have to be better now,” guard Jermon Bushrod said. “It gets real. ... We have to find our way. It’s single elimination next week.”