One quarter of the way through the season, the Miami Dolphins look more inept than they did last season, when they finished 6-10.
The avalanche of derision and disgust is already rolling, and the only way for the Dolphins to avoid being buried in it is to sustain a winning streak starting Oct. 9 when the soft section of their schedule commences. Beating the Tennessee Titans won’t placate anybody. The Dolphins must win those four home games in a row or that beautifully refurbished stadium is going to be abandoned by fans who would rather pressure-clean their mildewed driveways than watch Ryan Tannehill repeatedly get swallowed into a collapsing black hole.
The Dolphins were putrid in a 22-7 loss at Cincinnati on Thursday night. They were also the worst-dressed team in the NFL in those Faygo Orange uniforms. The fashion faux pas accentuated those on the field.
The week before, the once-proud Dolphins got lucky in ducking past the once-proud Cleveland Browns, perhaps the only franchise that has been irrelevant longer than Miami.
Nostalgic feelings have turned bitter. If you’re 55 years old, you were 12 the last time Miami won a Super Bowl and 23 the last time Miami played in one. Doesn’t Don Shula, 86, deserve better?
The latest makeover by the latest coach under the latest general manager isn’t working. At least not yet. Fans have a right to be impatient. Promises, promises — that’s all they’ve heard as the team has gone through more incarnations than stadium names.
It’s not surprising the Dolphins are 1-3 at this juncture, but the way they’ve played is.
Owner Stephen Ross is blamed for failing to find answers. Vice president Mike Tannenbaum is blamed for roster changes that seemed odd during the offseason and goofy now. New coach Adam Gase is blamed for not elevating the play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
There’s an abundance of blame to go around, and the players deserve their share. Plug one leak in the dike and another one springs open. If it’s not run defense, it’s pass protection. When the run defense improves, the cornerbacks regress. The offensive linemen can’t block, or the linebackers can’t tackle. When the running game shows potential, the passing game turns dysfunctional. Or vice versa. Will we see the good DeVante Parker or the bad DeVante Parker? Is Kiko Alonso for real? Is Ndamukong Suh worth his weight in gold? Punter Matt Darr, however, is on track for MVP.
It’s become tiresome — and tiring — to list the Dolphins’ shortcomings. The one that never goes away is at quarterback. Except for a 74-yard touchdown strike to Kenny Stills, Tannehill couldn’t get the Dolphins closer than the Bengals’ 39-yard line as Miami scored zero points in quarters two through four and went 2 for 11 on third downs, which makes the offense 12 for 45 on third downs this season.
Tannehill held the ball too long and got sacked five times. He got stripped of the ball again.
“Ryan has to step up on the fumble,” Gase said in his first criticism of the quarterback. “Not everybody was on the same page. All of sudden he looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I know he’s going to figure out a way to get this thing turned around.”
A week after talking about Tannehill’s movement in the pocket against Cleveland, Gase was asked whether Tannehill can be taught to improve his presence in the pocket and replied: “Yes. I think we need to do a better job of actually blocking guys, too.”
Gase delivered the message that it’s no time to panic, that mastering the revamped uptempo offense is a “learning experience.”
“The way this offense goes is, the longer you’re in it, the easier it gets, the faster you can play, the easier the checks are,” he said. “We are struggling where we’re trying to get in the right deal, somebody makes a mistake, we get the wrong read, we mess up the protection.
“Everybody wants to say the sky is falling and fall apart. You got to keep working. Good teams keep working.”
Are the Dolphins good? It’s a maddening question. Is Tannehill, 30-38 in his fifth season, good? It’s a maddening question.
“He is an ascending talent and checks all the boxes you are looking for at the position,” Tannenbaum said when Tannehill signed a six-year, $96 million contract extension last year.
Ross might have bet all that money on the wrong guy to build a franchise around in today’s quarterback-centric NFL.
It’s not just Tannehill, though. Terrelle Pryor killed the secondary last week and Gase benched cornerback Byron Maxwell. So Cincy receiver A.J. Green (173 yards on 10 catches) killed the inexperienced secondary on Thursday. In the cluttered backfield, it’s running back by committee, with four guys in rotation until Arian Foster returns. Mike Pouncey and Branden Albert are injured and the offensive line is improvising. Cameron Wake isn’t playing enough.
When they crank up the 44-year-old “Miami Dolphins No. 1” fight song in Hard Rock Stadium, it just doesn’t sound right. Maybe it will later this season. Maybe. Let’s hope.
But right now, those prison-jumpsuit-orange uniforms are the only thing that’s different about this same old team.