This empty feeling of riding the Miami Dolphins treadmill saps so much of your energy and emotion and, yes, money. And all you get in return is an annual replay of not-terrible-but-not-good-enough that neither satisfies nor fully embarrasses.
That’s the Miami Dolphins for you.
Team 7-9. Or 8-8. Or maybe 9-7, but still out of the playoffs if this season finishes about as well as logically can be expected. (That probably is not going to include a win at New England next week, folks).
That’s the treadmill this football franchise has been on since 2009. And after losing a de facto playoff game against Baltimore, 28-13 on Sunday to sink to 7-6, we’re on the same course to nowhere again this season.
So when does the treadmill stop?
When does Stephen Ross, owner of a franchise he claims is first in class, realize the Dolphins are not first in anything at all and do something about the mediocre product he has put on the field every year of his ownership tenure?
That question lingers now because these Dolphins apparently aren’t going anywhere in January after giving us another tired sequel of a season.
You know the sequel, don’t you?
The Dolphins play well enough, long enough to get into a game that matters – a game like Sunday’s against the Ravens.
And then in that important game, often in front of their home fans, this team lays an egg. The Dolphins either don’t start fast or don’t finish strong, but whatever the case, they simply don’t deliver.
That’s exactly what happened this game.
The Dolphins led 10-0 against Baltimore and the defense was playing up to its billing, having sent the Ravens offense off the field on three consecutive three-and-out possessions.
And then the second quarter came around and the Dolphins lost something.
They lost the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense. Baltimore began to find its running game and their defense turned the pass pocket into a dangerous place for Ryan Tannehill.
The Dolphins lost the ability to run. They lost some of their discipline, with false start and ineligible blockers downfield penalties. They also lost the cover of anonymity as the Ravens picked on little-known cornerback R.J. Stanford without mercy.
The landslide turned into an avalanche as Baltimore outscored the Dolphins, 28-3 the final three quarters.
Much of that, of course, is on the players.
It’s on a defense that has been playing only in spurts the past month and is getting worse as the season wears on. It’s on an offense that cannot protect its quarterback, cannot complete deep passes that high school teams routinely make, and cannot consistently turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
The Ravens, a playoff-hardened team, seemed to play with more passion and urgency. The Dolphins, a playoff wannabe, shrunk in big moments just as they shrunk in the big moments against Detroit, Green Bay, Kansas City and Denver.
None of this was new. The Ravens did this to the Dolphins last year. And fans have seen similar for years.
So the question becomes does Ross see it?
Does the owner see he has a team that seems talented but doesn’t always play like it? Does the owner see that his defense is regressing?
Does the owner see that coach Joe Philbin, who is well prepared but not exactly highly charged, cannot seem to extract any extra juice from this team in the big moments?
Does the owner see that Philbin and his coaching staff have issues now?
They challenged the defense to stop the run this week after it failed to do so the previous two weeks. The defense turned a deaf ear, giving up 183 yards.
These coaches continue to put overmatched Dallas Thomas at right tackle when it’s clear tougher, more experienced Jason Fox is better suited and certainly no worse suited to play the position.
All Philbin would say about a change that should have been made last week is that he puts players he feels have the best chance to succeed on the field – an indictment on the coach if you saw Thomas give up 3.5 sacks.
And then there was this: With about four minutes to play, Jared Odrick was seen yelling angrily at Philbin on the sideline. The defensive tackle and coach talked twice about the public outburst and both chalked it up to the emotions of the moment.
We can accept that. But Philbin must accept that some of his players are looking at him sideways now. They privately have been questioning him and his staff for some time because their philosophies and teachings have led to merely mediocre results.
So Odrick’s outburst could easily become the first outward sign of growing dissatisfaction.
Does Stephen Ross see this? And if he does, what is he going to do about it?