Dan Campbell, face reddened by cold sideline winds and perhaps another embarrassing loss, knew he screwed up and admitted as much minutes after the Dolphins lost to the Buffalo Bills.
The Dolphins’ interim coach with the superhero muscles blew two key decisions this day that factored into Miami’s second convincing loss of the season against the mediocre Bills.
And for those keeping score, Campbell’s mistakes — one at the end of the first half and the other in the second half — both cost Miami points. The two decisions cost maybe 11 points in a 16-point loss.
So the man trying to fashion a résumé that might get him the full-time coaching gig when this season is over hurt his cause as well as his team.
But that didn’t make Campbell the Dolphins’ biggest problem Sunday. This wasn’t exclusively a Dan Campbell loss.
This loss that sealed a season sweep of the Dolphins by the Bills by a combined score of 77-31 is testament to how this roster needs a top-to-bottom scrubbing at season’s end.
This loss in which the Dolphins made Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor look like Joe Montana for the second time this season, following performances in which they also made Blake Bortles and Ryan Fitzpatrick look like stars, shows this defense is a mirage that appears against terrible teams like Tennessee and then fades in big games upon close scrutiny.
This loss in which the Dolphins offense was constantly in shotgun formation at the Buffalo 1-yard line, relied on misdirection to gain most of its yards, and the defense gave up 266 rushing yards, shows the Dolphins are not the physical team they want to be.
They’re actually not a physical team at all.
The accurate portrait of what the Dolphins are, in the face of this blowout loss, is a team that cannot win its most important games, its division games. The Dolphins are 0-4 in AFC East play.
That not only makes them hapless but hopeless as well.
What hope, after all, can anyone have in the remaining eight games when the Bills are 6-2 against Miami in their past eight outings, but are 19-29 against everyone else in the same span?
What hope is there when a rival, and an ordinary one at that, is dominating you?
Dolphins players after the game said they still believe the season can be salvaged. Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said if it takes seven or eight wins in the final eight games to get into the playoffs, then so be it.
“That’s what we’ll do,” he said.
Campbell also said the season could be salvaged because he has been on a lot of teams that have suddenly turned things around.
But Dolphins fans have been waiting for a decade to see their team suddenly turn things around, and days like this do little to convince anyone it can happen.
Put it this way:
When Buffalo coach Rex Ryan is joking afterward that it helps having Taylor back in the lineup “even though he did throw an incompletion today,” and he’s not exaggerating because Taylor completed 11 of 12 passes, it suggests the season is headed in the wrong direction.
When the special teams collects 51 yards in penalties that kill field position, things are going in the wrong direction.
When a shotgun snap on the Dolphins’ first offensive play goes wrong and costs the team a safety for the second consecutive game, it’s a sign this team needs a compass because, yes, it is going in the wrong direction.
All those signs point to fundamental problems. And then, atop those, Campbell made his team’s day tougher.
His first mistake came just before halftime. The Dolphins moved from their own 13-yard line to the Buffalo 9, then quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed a pass to Lamar Miller to the 3-yard line with 21 seconds to play.
Campbell, holding two timeouts, decided to let his team play on. Except they didn’t snap the football until five seconds remained. If Campbell had called time, he would have had those 21 seconds to snap the next play.
The decision cost 16 seconds and ultimately it cost the Dolphins at least two more chances to score from the 1-yard line because time ran out with Miami at the 1-yard line and three more downs to play.
“I’m going to reassess everything that I did,” Campbell said. “In hindsight, yeah, I should have used a timeout there. We were in a rhythm, called a play, we were in one of our hurry-ups, I felt it was a pretty good play. We get them on their heels. We run something that we know. We felt pretty good about it. Didn’t work out. Hindsight, there again, you call timeout.”
Another poor decision happened in the third quarter with Miami trailing 19-14. The Dolphins stopped the Bills on third-and-4 at their 34-yard line. But rather than let Buffalo kicker Dan Carpenter attempt a 51-yard field goal that could have given Buffalo a 22-14 lead, Campbell accepted a 10-yard holding penalty.
Given new life on third-and-14, the Bills answered with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to Sammy Watkins that gave them 26-14 lead.
“It’s hindsight again,” Campbell said. “Sammy comes down with a helluva catch. It was a good throw by Tyrod. I understand that. I’m frustrated as well.”
It is hindsight. But perhaps Campbell should have had hindsight of his own:
Against New England, his defense had the Patriots in a third-and-16 situation and gave up a first down there, too, allowing New England to continue what turned into a touchdown drive.
That kind of performance on big downs, more than a young coach making a decision that doesn’t work out, is why the Dolphins keep losing.