In a funereal Dolphins locker room late Sunday afternoon, with yet another season ruined, players time and again referred to this team, this season, this franchise, as “average.”
Perhaps that’s being kind.
Average teams score more than 7 points in the year’s final 8 quarters. Average doesn’t turn the ball over three times in a must-win situation.
Average doesn’t lose to the Bills and Jets in eight days.
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No, the Dolphins were most definitely below-average Sunday, falling 20-7 to the hated Jets, a limited offensive team with absolutely nothing at stake.
This is how the Dolphins’ 2013 season ended:
With Geno Smith outplaying Ryan Tannehill, with Miami’s defense helpless against the Jets’ running game, and with Brian Hartline out with a seemingly significant knee injury.
It’s going to be a long offseason.
“Losing season,” said receiver Mike Wallace. “I look at this as a losing season. We did too much, we wake up too early, work too hard to be 8-8.”
Added defensive end Jared Odrick: “I’m at a loss for words right now. It’s tough to put these feelings in a bottle and call it something.”
Others, privately, were able to conjure up far saltier language to describe the team’s latest, and arguably worst, late-season collapse.
Without doubt, changes are coming, and probably coming soon. That’s what happens after five years out of the playoffs, and for the first time in franchise history, five years without a winning season.
Stephen Ross stood on the Dolphins’ sideline late in the game Sunday, far from Miami’s bench, surveying the carnage. He spent tens of millions of dollars in free agency and demanded improvement. All he got was one more win than the year before.
“The head coach is responsible for the results,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “I have to start with myself. We didn’t play well enough to win and earn a spot in the playoffs. You never back into a great achievement. We didn’t earn it, and we’re not going.”
There’s a sense that Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman will be the fall guy. Some in the Dolphins’ locker room believe that Sherman will and should be fired after leading an offense that averaged 19.8 points and 312.9 yards in a league that practically begs team to score.
The Dolphins, who would have made the playoffs if they had beaten the Jets because the Ravens lost in Cincinnati, managed just one touchdown in their final 25 drives of the season.
And that one scoring drive — which occurred in the first half of Sunday’s loss — came at a high cost. Hartline suffered what appeared to be a significant knee injury.
Hartline limped off the field and did not return. He’ll have an MRI in the coming days to determine the severity.
The catch did lead to a 5-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill and Mike Wallace, which gave the Dolphins their only lead of the game. It didn’t last the quarter.
The Jets would score the final 20 points of the day — touchdown runs by defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (a la Refrigerator Perry) and Smith, along with a pair of field goals by Nick Folk.
Down a touchdown at the break, the Dolphins still believed they would come back and win. Instead, their final five drives ended like this: turnover on downs, interception, punt, interception, interception.
Tannehill managed just 204 yards on 40 attempts, and his season stats were, well, average.
He had a quarterback rating of 81.7 and now owns a career record of 15-17.
“We didn’t finish strong, plain and simple,” Tannehill said. “Obviously, none of us saw this coming.”
The only consolation: Tannehill survived the season — and a team-record 58 sacks — without catastrophic injury.
To solely blame the offense for this collapse, however, is only half the story.
The Dolphins’ run defense surrendered another 154 yards Sunday, upping the season-long total to 1,998. Miami allowed the Jets to rack up 22 first downs, including 6 on third down.
And the pass-rush, long believed to be the strength of the defense, managed just two sacks in the season’s final 12 quarters. Dion Jordan, who the Dolphins traded up to take with the third overall pick, had only two sacks the entire year.
On Sunday, facing a rookie quarterback and an average group of skill position players, the Dolphins played passively. Instead of bringing pressure every play, they had their corners play soft. And when the Dolphins did blitz, Smith threw right at the space the defender vacated.
Someone will need to answer for all of this. Perhaps it will be Jeff Ireland, the general manager who has been to the playoffs just once in his six seasons in town.
On Sunday afternoon, it was up to Philbin to take the arrows. Asked about his job security, he dodged.
“There’s a time and place for all that stuff,” Philbin said.
Like first thing Monday morning.