Go ahead and argue with Mike Pouncey if you want. Go ahead and try to convince yourself and him that a win is a win. In fact, throw a handful of tired clichés about accepting something less than excellence at the Miami Dolphins center.
Tell Pouncey that victories don’t have to be pretty to count.
Say that sometimes it’s good enough to win ugly.
Argue that at least this wasn’t a loss.
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And do you know what Pouncey would say to that after Sunday’s 27-13 Dolphins victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars?
“Nah,” he said, “you can’t ever lower the expectations or the standards of your football team, so we know we got away with one today. And we know the way we performed today isn’t going to win too many games in this league. So we have to do a better job with practice and preparation. We’ll be better next week.”
Pouncey understands the Dolphins, winners of two consecutive games for the first time this season, probably shouldn’t be popping champagne over this one because football is a team sport.
And on Sunday, half the Dolphins football team failed to report for work.
That may be good enough to beat the hapless Jaguars. That may be good enough to win a road game against a team that is 2-20 in its past 22 home games.
But that kind of performance repeated to any degree in the coming two months is not going to be good enough to dig the Dolphins out of third place in the AFC East.
It’s not going to be good enough to beat Detroit or Denver — the next two road opponents — in the next month. It’s not going to be good enough to beat San Diego or even Buffalo — the next two home games — and pass them in the race for a wild-card playoff spot.
So if the expectations for these Dolphins are so low that a troubling victory over a team that would be relegated if it played soccer is considered a good day, then go ahead ...
Have a nice day.
But the expectation fans should have for these Dolphins should be higher. And thankfully, the expectation players have for themselves is much higher.
That’s the reason half the people in Miami’s locker room on Sunday seemed troubled. Players on offense acted and spoke as if they had lost.
Of course, they had not lost.
But they had played losing football.
How else to put it when the unit was unable to string together good plays often enough that it had only three first downs in the first half and all of them came inside the final three minutes of the half?
How else to put it when the offense scored one touchdown all day. One.
How else to put it when quarterback Ryan Tannehill used words such as “unacceptable,” to describe the performance.
“We didn’t perform up to our standards in any phase of the game offensively,” Tannehill said. “Defense played well. Defense made plays. That’s how sometimes it plays out. We’re not happy at all about how we played offensively. We have to get this corrected Monday, Tuesday.
“The defense made big plays for us. They scored 14 points for us. I don’t know how often that happens, but they made big plays for us.”
Yes, the defense played a stellar game. It deserves a big thank you for saving the day. Safety Louis Delmas had an 81-yard interception return touchdown and cornerback Brent Grimes had a 22-yard interception-return touchdown.
But is that a winning formula the Dolphins can depend on?
And would that formula work when the Dolphins play, you know, a functional offense? Would it work when Miami isn’t facing a team that starts a rookie quarterback and a rookie center and a rookie guard and relies on two rookie wide receivers like the Jaguars do?
That’s not a knock on the Miami defense. Cameron Wake said the defensive unit came to this game thinking it should beat the Jaguars and they did exactly that.
The defense faced an inferior opponent and made them look, well, inferior.
But it’s not likely that veteran quarterbacks Peyton Manning or Phillip Rivers or even Matthew Stafford are going to shower the Dolphins with gift interceptions for touchdowns like Blake Bortles did.
One other thing: I have seen too many Dolphins seasons go awry because the team found ways to play down to its opposition.
Last season’s loss to winless Tampa Bay? Playing down to the opposition.
Last season’s home loss to the Jets in the season-finale three weeks after clubbing the same Jets in New York? Playing down to the opposition.
The defense avoided that against the Jaguars. The defense rolled the Jaguars offense.
But the offense, facing a Jacksonville defense that was 27th in the NFL in points allowed and had given up more than 40 points twice this season and over 30 two other times? They played down to the opposition.
“We played in the second half better than we did in the first half, but the way we played in the second half still ain’t going to get it done,” Pouncey said. “So we have to do a better job as an offense collectively. We’ll get it fixed.”