You remember the reaction. It was as if those six victories in a row never happened. As if we’d awakened from a sweet dream to the same old reality. If you are a fan of the team or know people who are, you probably heard some version of this said with a shake of the head, with experienced resignation:
“Well, the Dolphins are back.”
The real Dolphins. The ones we’re used to. The ones who let you down.
And that likely was accompanied by some version of this:
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“Same ol’ Tannehill.”
Yes, the imposter who looked so good in that sweet stretch of six games was gone. Back was the Ryan Tannehill we’re used to. The one who throws three interceptions. The one who needs to own December and lead his team beyond the regular season but cannot.
I know. None of this seems fair, right? It’s harsh. The six wins in a row that made the Dolphins relevant again and put them in the playoff chase — that did happen. The improvement seen in Tannehill during that merry run — it was real. (And by, the way, two of those three interceptions last week were not his fault.)
But this is the burden your team and its quarterback bear when years of disappointment make the eyes squint with skepticism and harden the mind to the point a fan’s default emotion becomes doubt.
So when Miami lost 38-6 in Baltimore last Sunday to end that winning streak with such an ugly thud, it did not feel like an aberration. It felt like the Dolphins reverting to who they are.
Now, this Sunday at home against Arizona brings the next chance for the Dolphins to prove themselves, because, with this team, faith comes with a temporary lease that must be renewed each week. “We don’t trust you, Dolphins. Remind us, again, why we should?”
It takes more than six consecutive wins to melt the skepticism and lack of belief formed by eight consecutive years out of the playoffs, which of course is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg that also includes 16 years since this franchise’s last playoff win, 32 since the last Super Bowl appearance and 43 since the last Super Bowl victory.
Every time I’d hear the emotional tale of Cubs fans growing old waiting for another World Series win, I’d know Dolfans could relate. If you were in high school cheering Don Shula’s 1972-73 back-to-back champions, you are today around 60 and maybe a grandparent. The wait has turned Shula himself from the prime of 43 to the winter of 86.
Such a big part of the time line of the life of South Floridians has been the Dolphins letting you down.
This is the burden of first-year coach Adam Gase, too — a burden inherited. All signs are good with this guy. He’s young, bright. I liked the hire, liked it when the team was 1-4 and like it now, no matter how the balance of this season plays out.
This isn’t Cam Cameron or Tony Sparano or Joe Philbin. But the only way for Gase to show that in any dramatic, bottom-line way to to get to the playoffs. Period.
Same with Tannehill. He’s going to finish this year with close to 20,000 career passing yards in five seasons. Big numbers. Impressive. But nobody cares. The difference in perception between Andrew Luck and Tannehill isn’t statistics. One is considered a star and goes to Pro Bowls because he makes the playoffs. Tannehill doesn’t. Period.
Tannehill is now 8-12 in December, when it counts, when QBs must be closers. In 2013 and ’14 Miami gave itself a chance to reach the postseason but fell short. That cannot happen again — not when, for the first time in the Tannehill Era, Miami entered December on playoff pace and in charge of its course.
“Usually teams play their best football in December,” Tannehill said this week. “That’s just the way it is. The best football should be played in December, so everyone has to raise their game just a little bit.”
Said offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen: “Your five-star players have to play five-star football in December. That’s what you pay that top 10 percent of guys extra money for — it’s for these games. … Those five-star guys have to play five-star or you’ve got problems.”
Playoffs or bust. No excuses. No “next year.” No “we were so close.” No points for improvement. No credit for almost.
It is time this franchise raised its standard to that level, the prerequisite to that elusive “winning culture.”
Playoffs or bust. This is the hump. The challenge. The imperative.
We’re not talking Super Bowl like that cloyingly nostalgic Dolphins fight song does.
Just make the damned playoffs! Be one of the top six teams of 16 in the AFC. That’s all. Top six of 16 means upper 38 percent. Too much to ask? Year after year?
This team has sufficient talent. Tannehill has lots of receiving weapons. Running back Jay Ajayi has been terrific. The offensive line when healthy has been stout. Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake have been Pro Bowl-caliber defenders.
Miami parlayed that talent to win six games in a row and hold the No. 6 playoff seed before last week’s loss but now sits seventh, just behind Denver, for that final golden ticket.
At 7-5, the Dolphins likely will need to win three of the final four games to qualify, and there is no reason not to. Everything aligns. Denver has a tougher closing schedule. Miami gets an Arizona team that was really good last year but is presently 5-6-1. After that the Fins are at the abysmal Jets, then at Buffalo and home against New England.
Time to surprise us, Dolphins.
Time to surprise us, Tannehill.
Find a way.
For a change, be a playoff team.