Miami football fans would face a depressing dilemma right now if they paused to consider this Weekend of Woe and compare which was worse between the sad option of two desolate defeats.
The collegiate Hurricanes getting the wind knocked out of them by Louisville 36-9 in their bowl game Saturday night in Orlando seemed about as bad as it gets.
Then came the Dolphins one day later, offering this sobering perspective:
Things can always get worse . . . as they so often seem to when it comes to our still-beleaguered NFL team.
The Dolphins did what they do Sunday: They disappointed. They broke their fans’ hearts. The franchise that gave you the Perfect Season so, so long ago has since perfected the black art of betraying faith. Of letting you down so hard it hurts.
Sunday’s 20-7 loss here to the New York Jets was beyond bad because Miami was the team playing at home and playing for everything — for the club’s first playoff berth since 2008, in search of its first playoff win since 2000 — and yet Miami was the team that got handled, clobbered and dominated, seeming incapable of matching the Jets’ urgency.
It was a precious opportunity, but the Dolphins treated this must-win game with what seemed like careless nonchalance, content to observe the playoffs from their couches after a season that ended with an 8-8 record.
“The definition of average,” cornerback Brent Grimes rightly called that record. “We went into this season not thinking ‘average.’ ”
The Dolphins’ postgame Lockerroom & Mortuary was quiet, the hum of air conditioners in lieu of answers. The only loud thing in the room was Mike Wallace’s salmon-colored slacks and sparkly pink sneakers. Wallace called 8-8 “a losing season,” shouting over his attire.
“Disheartening,” defensive end Jared Odrick half-whispered into the quiet. “You got to let this feeling leave a mark, and brand you hard enough that you don’t let it happen again.”
You wonder why most Dolfans have become calloused?
Theirs has become a franchise that measures its best days not by the years since, but by the decades. This is a club seemingly mired in quicksand, not drowning but not able to extricate itself, either.
You wonder why most Dolfans have become football fatalists who not only see the glass half-empty but are convinced it’s cracked?
Think no further than the way this 2013 season ended. Hopes, fragile but real, had been raised, only to be crushed by the last two games.
You thought last week’s 19-0 loss in Buffalo was awful?
Sunday was worse because it was against the hated, stinkin’ Jets, but mostly because of the stakes, the opportunity. Miami began this season 3-0, had a three-game winning streak earlier in December, gave itself an opportunity . . . then collapsed.
Miami failed on a 4th-and-1 play Sunday when Charles Clay, a tight end, not a running back, carried for no gain.
Miami failed on a 3rd-and-3 when a lateral pass to Wallace lost four yards.
Things that make a fan want to scream.
The season saw one more win than a year earlier, but still registers as closer to an embarrassment than an improvement. The Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin Bullygate scandal was part of that embarrassment. So was spending big on free agents and still missing the playoffs. So was the two-game self-destruction that culminated Sunday.
That the season ended badly for young quarterback Ryan Tannehill also is unsettling. He unquestionably improved over his rookie season — “I definitely think so,” he said — but he was miserable in the last two games, when he was needed most.
His worst game was a week ago in Buffalo, but Sunday was hardly better, with three interceptions and a 42.1 rating. He was outplayed by the Jets’ Geno Smith — never a good thing. Faith in Tannehill’s moving forward remains justified, but games like his last two can take a jackhammer to a fan’s foundation of faith.
It probably was just as well that the Dolphins lost and blew the playoffs, quite frankly.
It promotes a clearer, more accurate view of this team, this organization.
A playoff berth at 9-7 would have disguised the problems, hidden them in pancake and rouge.
Now all the warts are visible, and red. Now there’s no kidding, no pretending that Miami is better than what the record says it is: Average. Flawed. In need of much improvement.
Owner Stephen Ross watched his team’s playoff hopes slipping away from an end-zone sideline Sunday, his hands stuffed into his pants pockets. Later, Ross said he would “look at everything.” This is what prudent businessmen say, and do. He was noncommittal on everything and everybody, which also is prudent.
Clearly, changes will be made, and should be, but I doubt they will be major. I think coach Joe Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland will return.
I’m not as sure about offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, whose unit ended the season with one touchdown in its final 25 possessions. Sherman’s relationship with Tannehill — he coached him at Texas A&M — may save Sherman, but I’d be doubtful.
Sherman may be sacrificed here, the lamb to sate the screaming masses of Dolfans who have nothing else to do with their disappointment, no other way to show it, than to clamor for change.
Meanwhile, one Dolphins fan, a young man in a Tannehill No. 17 jersey, ended Sunday’s game with a paper bag fixed onto his head.
He just sat there, staring through small slits, one solitary man and one sadly noble little statement.
It was as good a snapshot as any for the way this Dolphins year ended and for the frustration that greets the latest long offseason.