Michael Lombardi, a respected NFL exec-turned-analyst, needed just six words to sum up the Dolphins’ season.
“How has Miami won 4 games????” Lombardi wrote on Twitter.
The only better question: How many winnable games are left on their schedule?
Because after the latest embarrassment — a 45-21 beatdown by the Panthers and Miami’s third prime-time loss in as many weeks — not even the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Buccaneers on Sunday should be considered a gimme.
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These are the bad times. The really bad times.
The Dolphins cannot do anything right.
They on Monday could not block Kawann Short and the Panthers’ defensive line.
They could not stop Cam Newton and the Panthers’ running game.
Their defensive backs lead the league in looking at each other in confusion after blown assignments. Xavien Howard had arguably the worst game of his career.
The Dolphins have been outscored 112-45 in the last three games, all on national television. On the season, they have a minus-87 point differential — better than only the winless Browns, the awful Colts and the hapless Giants.
And really, the score would have been far worse if not for a bunch of early Panthers drops and a 66-yard touchdown run by Kenyan Drake.
The Dolphins knew they would have to win in the trenches on both sides of the ball to have any chance Monday. But the Panthers mauled Miami at the line of scrimmage from the first snap.
The box score told the terrible tale.
Carolina ran the ball 36 times for 294 yards. That’s 8.2 per carry. Jonathan Stewart needed just 17 carries to go for 110.
The Panthers out-gained the Dolphins 548-313, had 13 more first downs, converted 11 of 14 third downs and controlled the ball for 35 and a half minutes.
How rare was this performance? Carolina was in shouting distance of the record for most yards and most rushing yards in a game against the Dolphins in their 52-year history.
They scored touchdowns on five straight series and six of seven.
Newton looked like the 2015 MVP, not the disappointment from 2016. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 254 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 95 yards on five carries.
The bulk of that total game on one game-sealing carry.
The Dolphins had just scored on Drake’s long run to draw within 17 points, but on Carolina’s very next play from scrimmage, Newton tucked the ball in on a zone read and raced 69 yards downfield. Three plays later, the Panthers were in the end zone for the fifth time, and the game was over.
That was symbolic of the Dolphins’ biggest problem this year: They do not play complementary football.
Every time the offense does anything good, the defense fails to back that up with something good. The reverse has been true, too.
A better example of this phenomenon:
The Dolphins were actually in the ball game, and had the football, late in the first half.
They could have gone to the break down just three, which would have been a major victory considering how poorly they played, but Adam Gase decided to put the ball in Jay Cutler’s hands, 80 yards from the goal line, with just 47 seconds left in the half.
Cutler’s first pass was his worst of a bad night. He threw into double coverage, and Luke Kuechly made a leaping interception along the left sideline. The Panthers cashed in on the opportunity with a touchdown.
Cutler’s stats were OK — he went 22 of 37 for 213 yards, two touchdowns and the pick — but they were empty. When he wasn’t skipping passes, he was airmailing them.
Cutler was one of the Dolphins’ few bright spots in recent weeks. But he has been inconsistent his entire career, so regression is to be expected.
The same can be said about the team as a hole.
Seven games to go. How many wins? TBD.