Sometimes the other team is cooperative to a fault. All of your deficiencies are able to find their safe haven, their hiding place, when your opponent is as dreadful as the Jacksonville Jaguars are in general and were here Sunday.
The Dolphins just won a football game rather easily 27-13. Never trailed, never threatened. And yet, in game endured more than enjoyed, the performance likely left a lot of Dolfans needing to remind themselves, “We did win, right? I am supposed to be happy, yes?”
The manner of the result had a similar affect in the winning locker room, where not a lot of satisfaction, let alone joy, was evident. Heck, quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s critique of his offense had the language and tone that typically describes a defeat — and with reason. It was the most displeased he has been after a victory.
Miami did not achieve its first first-down until only 3:27 remained in the first half. It was the defense that did the heavy lifting Sunday, with safety Louis Delmas and cornerback Brent Grimes both returning an interception for a touchdown. The Dolphins’ postgame distribution of game balls for significant contribution to the victory should have started with one for Jags rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.
“Obviously, we didn’t perform on offense,” a dissatisfied Tannehill said. “That’s unacceptable. It has to be better.”
I’d add one word.
It has to be better now.
See, Sunday’s prevailing lesson and truth is that the performance good enough to comfortably handle the lowly Jaguars assuredly will not be good enough in the coming four-game stretch that will tell us something we still don’t know: Whether this is a playoff team or not.
Miami is 4-3 with its first two-game win streak of the season, but the opponent’s putridity tempers the accomplishment. The under-performing was not confined to the offense. The defense also had its issues despite the two return touchdowns as Jacksonville rushed for 176 yards, more than double its season average.
“Football is not always pretty,” coach Joe Philbin told the players afterward who had just proved it.
This was the scene of the Dolphins’ ugliest loss, a 62-7 playoff elimination in 1999.
Now it’s also the scene of one of the franchise’s ugliest wins. Strangest, anyway.
“Definitely a unique game,” as Grimes put it tactfully.
Everything about the Dolphins must be better, and relentlessly, in the coming month as the team faces four opponents with a combined 22-9 record and all higher than Miami right now on the playoff pecking order.
Hosting high-powered San Diego next, then visiting Detroit, hosting division-mate Buffalo, then traveling to Peyton Manning’s Denver amounts to the schedule quartet that will likely validate or crush Miami’s postseason chances.
Beating Jacksonville on Sunday didn’t mean a whole lot because it was so expected and because it came on a day when the Patriots and Bills both won, and won big.
It’s the next four games that will tell everything.
“We have to start fast,” safety Reshad Jones said of the coming month. “We can’t come out dry like we did [Sunday]. We have to be aggressive and throw the first punch and keep it going.”
Facing Jacksonville to prepare for the four games immediately ahead is like playing patty-cake to prepare for the UFC octagon.
I cannot overstate how bad the self-destructing, imploding Jaguars are. I’d suggest the Jags be relegated from the NFL to the CFL, except I’m sure Canadian customs would block them at the border.
Sunday’s game lapsed into such awfulness that the media denizens of the press box were amusing themselves by tracking an apparently injured bird that would not leave the field, half hopping around but not departing as football mayhem swirled around him.
The bird, a pigeon, had two Twitter accounts before the game ended.
Near the end, the stadium had emptied of forlorn Jags fans, but many hundred Miami fans gamely were chanting, “Let’s go Dolphins!”
I think the stalwart pigeon might have been more deserving of a chant.
Miami’s remaining nine opponents include only three soft games that should reliably be victories: the Jets (twice) and Vikings. It is from the other six games left — the next four in a row, and later the Ravens and Patriots — that the proving of playoff mettle must happen.
If the three softies get Miami to seven wins, that would mean the Dolphins would need to win at least two, and likely three, of the six toughest games left to put themselves in good playoff shape.
That’s possible if the Good Fins show up, but plainly unlikely if the Bad Fins do.
Through seven games we still aren’t sure which team we will be seeing from week to week.
Too much of the Bad Fins appeared in Jacksonville, with the two pick-sixes — he first time Miami has done that in a game since 1998 — rescuing the Dolphins from the embarrassment and calamity a loss would have meant.
Luckily for Miami on Sunday, even the Bad Fins look pretty good next to the poor Jaguars.