This is as bad as it can get this early in a season.
The Dolphins had everything to play for on Sunday in their refurbished and sold-out stadium. It was this season’s first game against a division rival. It was a chance to stay in the chase of the undefeated and first-place New England Patriots and, perhaps more importantly, it was a chance to avoid the AFC East cellar and the horrible week that awaits amid a two-game losing skid.
And with all that going on, the Dolphins laid an ostrich-sized egg on Sunday.
Buffalo Bills 41 and Dolphins 14, in what is easily the worst loss of the Joe Philbin era and perhaps the worst performance by a Miami team since 2010 when the Patriots also authored a 41-14 whipping of the Dolphins.
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You know what that long-ago game did for then-coach Tony Sparano? It put him on owner Stephen Ross’s hit list.
Within months of that loss, Ross was trying (and failing) to hire then Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.
You know what this loss has done for Philbin and his team?
It has put the entire coaching staff on the hot seat.
And it has served notice that this roster might already be destined for a breakup in the coming offseason.
Philbin’s job is apparently not at risk right now because, let’s face it, no one gets fired after a 1-2 start after getting a contract extension the year before. But lose again Sunday in London against the New York Jets, and the idea of replacing this coach during the following bye week becomes a reality.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is also on a hot seat. Oh, you cannot tell from the manner Philbin has defended him. Even after this loss the coach mentioned how the Dolphins were fifth in the NFL in scoring defense before this game.
Thinking like that only ignores the signs many people, save Philbin apparently, have been seeing for years — that Coyle has overseen a steady and systemic disintegration of a once-excellent defense.
The Dolphins had a fine defense when Coyle arrived in 2012, and he promptly changed the scheme. They were marginally less proficient Coyle’s first year than they’d been under Mike Nolan before. Then in 2013, the defense got worse.
And last year it got worse again, particularly at the end of the season when it basically fell off the table.
And after the first three games this year, this defense looks like it’s sometimes challenged to simply huddle.
Under Coyle, Ndamukong Suh, once among the most dominant defensive players in the NFL, is more or less just a guy. He had four tackles with two of those for a loss on Sunday. That’s solid.
Except that came after two lackluster efforts the first two weeks. Except Suh was brought to the Dolphins to make a difference and dominate and take over some games. That’s what $114 million is supposed to do. He hasn’t done that yet.
Under Coyle, dumb mistakes are recognized but not eliminated.
Last week, free safety Walt Aikens bit on a double move and was burned for a touchdown. So the Dolphins, understanding Aikens is young and inexperienced and not really ready, benched him, right?
Well, not really. They recognized the problem and then took a half-measure. They had Aikens split time with Michael Thomas. Why not just sit the kid until he figures it out?
Well, Aikens was getting some of his now part-time snaps Sunday when Chris Hogan streaked down the sideline and caught a 38-yard touchdown pass over the top of the defense.
The play left cornerback Jamar Taylor glaring at Aikens because he obviously expected help behind him. Aikens just looked back as if not understanding anything was wrong.
Half measures don’t work, folks. Half measures make you 8-8.
(Speaking of half-measures, the platooning of middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and rookie Zach Vigil continues. So in trying to make two players better, the Dolphins are making neither really good.)
Back to the blown coverage, Philbin refused to say which player was actually responsible. He instead termed it a “miscommunication.”
Ryan Tannehill, he of the $96 million contract extension this offseason, threw three interceptions. He was outplayed by Tyrod Taylor, a first-year starter who carved the Miami defense to the tune of a 136.7 quarterback rating.
The play-calling on offense was shoddy. The Dolphins had a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line late in a game that was already decided.
Did offensive coordinator Bill Lazor run the ball a couple of times from 2 yards out to perhaps lay groundwork for what has been a nonexistent running game? Did he run a couple of times to give his offensive linemen some confidence or establish some toughness for another day?
Nope. Four passes. Four incompletion. No points. Buffalo ball.
The Dolphins are getting great play from only a handful of players on any sort of consistent basis.
Brent Grimes is playing well. So are Reshad Jones and center Mike Pouncey. Receiver Rishard Matthews has been playing so well, he’s the team’s best receiver right now.
What does it say that a player who wanted to be traded in the offseason and has never been a Philbin favorite is among the team’s best players? It suggests the Dolphins aren’t sure of what’s what and who is who.
Come to think of it, 41-14 kind of makes that statement quite boldly also.