We’ve reached that depressingly familiar time of year for the Dolphins.
Their preseason goals? Gone. Playoffs are realistically out of reach. Back-to-back December losses took care of that.
And so new, artificial benchmarks are created to keep the team motivated.
Like this one: Miami’s first winning season since 2008. Wins against the irrelevant Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets in the last two weeks would get the Dolphins (7-7) there.
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Problem is, next to no one inside the team’s locker really wanted to hear it Wednesday, when the Dolphins suited up for what will likely be their penultimate week of practice.
“Finishing 9-7 and not going to the playoffs doesn’t mean a thing,” defensive tackle Jared Odrick said. “Winning two games means something. … Beating Minnesota means something. Beating New York means something. But finishing 9-7 and not getting to the playoffs really doesn’t mean much.”
Except for coach Joe Philbin. It could mean everything. With his job security anything but secure, it’s hard to see him surviving one more loss. But wins in the season’s final two games would put him at 24-24 for his career.
The only non-interim Dolphins coach to be fired with a .500 or better career record: Dave Wannstedt.
“When we met [Tuesday], the talk has been about playing a 60-minute football game from start to finish,” Philbin said. “We have to do that.”
But Philbin’s players have different motivations. Sure, many are playing for their next contracts. But some will be playing the Vikings on Sunday for little more than pride.
Don’t ask quarterback Ryan Tannehill about moral victories and platitudes like “progress,” which, incidentally, was one of Stephen Ross’ criteria for success at the start of the season.
“I don’t play for progress,” said Tannehill, who has cooled off the past three weeks, throwing just two touchdowns to three interceptions for a passer rating of 82.1.
“I play to win. That’s what we’re trying to do this week. Obviously, the playoffs are out, but we’re playing to win the game.”
Others such as wide receiver Mike Wallace will still cling to the hope of making the postseason until that hope is finally extinguished.
You’d need a doctorate in advanced math to figure out the Dolphins’ path, but the NFL insists such a one-in-a-million path exists.
“I think last year we figured we were going to go to the playoffs, and I’m pretty sure San Diego was feeling the same way we are feeling right now, like there wasn’t a chance,” Wallace said. “As long as we are mathematically still in it, it’s not over. But we would love to be in a better position because we had it upon ourselves to do that.
“We could have taken it upon ourselves to be in a better position, but we didn’t. We just have to have hope, stay together and finish these last two games strong and let the chips fall where they fall.”
They will all but assuredly fall with the Dolphins out of the postseason for the sixth consecutive year. The analytics website FootballOutsiders.com gives the team literally no chance of making the playoffs.
Which means for long-time (and long-suffering) Dolphins like Odrick, defensive end Cameron Wake and safety Reshad Jones, it’s another lost season.
“I think anybody who’s been in a situation where they finish like this, guys who have been here a couple of years like Reshad or Randy [Starks] or Cam, whoever, guys who have been here as long as me or older, are definitely tired of it,” Odrick said. “The thing is, you try to teach some of the young guys, ‘Look, 8-8’s hard, but to go to the playoffs and be above .500 is harder. It takes effort and focus.’
“I think that’s all we’re here trying to accomplish in the last two games, in terms of finishing strong and seeing what happens.”