Less than five days after the Dolphins’ losing streak was extended to four games, Miami will take the field again, trying to prevent an up-and-down season from becoming a total landslide.
On Thursday the Dolphins, who have maintained a steady attitude throughout the losing streak, will face as much of a must-win game as there is in October against the 6-2 Cincinnati Bengals. Yet the players don’t see it as a do-or-die game.
“I don’t really get into the must-wins or whatever,” cornerback Brent Grimes said. “We want to win every game. … That’s the attitude in this locker room.”
The Dolphins haven’t tasted victory since Sept. 22, nearly 40 days ago. But even amid a terrible stretch, the coaching staff insists that the players are still confident and focused.
But the misery of consistent losing can take its toll eventually.
“If you don’t have strong character individuals in the locker room you could be concerned,” coach Joe Philbin said Monday. “I have a lot of faith in our guys. I believe in them. I think we’ll get this thing right and fixed, and we have to do it quickly. This is a good team coming in here Thursday night.”
The coaching staff believes that its roster is full of “high-character” players whose preparation won’t be affected by a stretch of poor performance. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman echoed the notion that the Dolphins shouldn’t struggle with morale problems.
“I think we have a pretty resilient group of guys,” Sherman said. “The challenge that they have, that I always talk to them about, is they can’t let the noise outside the room affect the mind-set inside the room.”
Veteran cornerback Dimitri Patterson said there has been “no difference in the attitude” of the team during the losing streak.
During the past month, every player has shared in the blame. Against New Orleans, the Dolphins’ pass defense was completely overwhelmed. Against Baltimore, the ground game was anemic. When Buffalo came to town, the offense committed three fatal turnovers in the passing game. Coaching decisions have been criticized throughout.
On Sunday, special teams turned the tide early in the third quarter.
Philbin summarized: “We came out in the second half and got a three-and-out, moved the ball into position, took a tough sack that made the kick more difficult, missed the kick, and then we did not play well basically from there on out.”
The silver lining of having a new struggle every game is that the Dolphins have looked competent or better in nearly every aspect of the game at some point this season, providing a level of play to which to aspire — a light at the end of the tunnel to work toward.
Even the much-maligned pass protection kept Ryan Tannehill upright in the first half of each of the past two games.
The focus for Philbin and his staff is on fielding a team that plays well the entire game, and although that’s easier said than done, those scattered bright spots have kept the players invested and focused.
“If you look at [Sunday’s] game, guys were playing hard,” Patterson said. “That game came down to a couple calls, whatever — things that didn’t do our way, a couple plays that didn’t go our way — but guys were playing hard on both sides of the ball. We’ll just have to find a way to make more plays than the other team in critical situations.”
If the Dolphins fall to 3-5 on Thursday, their chances of making the playoffs would be reduced to a prayer. But even with so much on the line, players rejected the notion that the team is desperate and will approach Thursday’s game much like any other.
“I want to feel like we had a sense of urgency since we started training camp,” Grimes said. “It sucks that we lost four in a row — everybody knows that, and no one wants that to happen. So of course we want to turn it around.”