This was an opportunity to make the season into something special. Just like last week, the Dolphins had a chance to do something no one thought they could. They had a chance to beat a Super Bowl contending team on the road. They had a chance to make a statement.
But just like last week, the Dolphins blew their chance.
New England 31.
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And while the loss doesn't mean Adam Gase's team is destined to fail the rest of the season or have no hope of improving at some point, it does mean his team is not special.
Had the Dolphins, down 31-3 at one point, completed their comeback and pulled off the NFL's biggest upset of the day, the conversation would be different. We could talk of them taking off toward the playoffs, with this game serving as the launching pad.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, old habits get in the way of any happy talk.
They start slow, as in trailing 24-0 at in the second quarter, and fail to finish fast. They come close -- if only DeVante Parker had jumped just inches higher for that last possible tying pass -- but don't, you know, actually win.
Because those things are true, all we can say about the Dolphins now is they're probably a mediocre team.
The Dolphins are a mediocre team getting mediocre results and headed toward a mediocre season. Sorry, truth hurts.
The frustrating thing? We've seen this before. The Dolphins have been coming close for years while good teams like the Patriots figure out ways to win even when logic says they shouldn't.
"They made the plays they were supposed to make," Dolphins defensive back Michael Thomas said succinctly of New England afterward. "They knew the situation [at the end of the game], too. The only positive we can look at is we were in it at the end and gave ourselves a chance to win at the end of the game. That was it."
That is indeed a positive. The Dolphins don't get blown out. Even when they play perhaps the best two teams in each respective conference, on the road, the Dolphins may stumble for a while, but eventually they make things close.
These guys are a group that can make things competitive like the dickens.
But that's what mediocre teams that spend January watching the playoffs on TV seemingly always do. That's what the Dolphins seemingly always do. Competitive is a loser's lament.
The Dolphins, close two weeks in a row, are already two games behind the division leading Patriots and we're only two game into the season. What's going to happen when the Patriots start playing well or get quarterback Tom Brady back?
Gase, his coaching staff, and every player on the Miami roster might argue two weeks does not a season make. They would contend improvement can be made and seasons can be salvaged and playoffs here we come!
That's possible, I suppose.
But the opportunity for such turnarounds aren't going to come much better than they did Sunday.
Think of this: The New England Patriots played this game without their starting quarterback, who is serving an NFL suspension. Second-string quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo basically roasted the Miami defense until Miami's Kiko Alonso knocked him out of the game. So the Dolphins had a chance to win a game against a third-string quarterback.
Except that third-stringer Jacoby Brissett continued the basting Garoppolo started as if the Miami defense were a turkey on a cooking tray.
Brissett is a rookie. He'd never thrown a pass in the NFL until this game. And he finished the game with a 100.2 quarterback rating which was better than Ryan Tannehill's 93.7 rating.
(No, I'm not saying Brissett was or is better than Tannehill. I am saying the Miami defense could not take advantage of a green quarterback who had no experience or expectations of playing.).
It gets worse. The Patriots didn't have tight end Rob Gronkowski on Sunday. They didn't have starting linebacker Dont'a Hightower. They didn't have starting right guard Jonathan Cooper.
So if the Dolphins couldn't beat this weakened opponent that was further softened up by the Garoppolo loss, when are they going to be able to beat them?
This was the opportunity. This was the first and last chance to catch New England in such a feeble state season. The chance has vanished like a vapor now.
Now the assignment for Miami is to rise up.
You'll recall that a few paragraphs ago, I called the Dolphins a mediocre team. Well, the truth is they have to improve to become mediocre. They are 0-2, you see, and that record is looking up longingly at mediocre.
The Miami defense? Awful.
Gase has a habit of looking at his defense through the prism of helping them out and scoring so much and so often that they don't matter. He said after this game, as he did last week, that the defense was asked to do too much because the offense failed to string together drives and keep the defenders off the field and fresh.
I got that logic last week. This week the defense gave up 21 points the first three New England drives. Weren't they fresh to start the game?
Any defense that yields the winning touchdown on the last drive one week, then allows three more touchdowns the first three drives the next game, and also yields a game-sealing drive in that game with a rookie third-stringer at quarterback, cannot be good.
And that's the Dolphins defense now.
"What did we give up 31 points on defense?" Alonso asked. "That's too many points, first of all. That last drive we didn't get off the field. They missed that field goal, but still we lost all our time outs."
That last drive for the Miami defense was an opportunity to stop the Patriots and give the offense a chance. The offense's last drive with no time outs and only 1:04 to play was an opportunity. This game, there for the taking, was an opportunity to make a statement.
The Dolphins wasted all their opportunities.