After this entertaining, frustrating, uplifting, depressing, heartwarming, heart-attack-causing, started great but ended terribly game it’s clear the Dolphins are a team traveling two roads at the same time with two different destinations.
The Dolphins that hoped to be a good team this year and refused to admit 2012 is about rebuilding lost again Sunday, this time 24-21 to the Arizona Cardinals. And that pretty much continues to prove the Dolphins are incapable of finishing and wildly inconsistent, not only game-to-game but even from one play to the next.
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They play great.
They play terrible.
And at 1-3, mostly they lose.
That was the team I saw when I entered their locker room late Sunday evening. Linebacker Kevin Burnett, still wearing his uniform and the day’s sweat, had his face buried in his hands. He seemed crushed.
Center Mike Pouncey spoke in whispers, which, if you know Pouncey, is not his usual tone. And he declined to see much positive out of this loss.
“Nothing at all,” he said. “Not after a loss. Not after one like that were for two weeks in a row you lose the same exact way. It’s disappointing. It’s going to be a hard one to swallow.”
Yes, this one was hard. Painful.
But that’s only if you’re seeing this team and this season through an all-or-nothing right now prism. That’s only if you are seeing this game, and last week’s overtime loss to the Jets at home, as evidence this season is dying a slow but certain death.
But step away from that up-close view. Take a long view.
The picture becomes suddenly brighter.
If your view of the Dolphins is of a team that is building today for a better tomorrow, a team that is building for the future, then you can take solace because some good things are happening.
And that also was evident Sunday.
How else to see Ryan Tannehill light up the Arizona defense for 431 yards, including what seemed at the time like a game-clinching 80-yard touchdown pass, and not think the future promises better days?
How else to see Brian Hartline catch 12 passes for a team-record 253 yards while Davone Bess goes off for 123 yards on seven catches and not think the Dolphins are just one alpha receiver from having an actual 21st-century passing attack?
How can you not be encouraged when Cameron Wake awakens from a season-long sack slumber and shows how explosive he can be by collecting 4.5 sacks on the Cardinals?
All these players and all their plays this game suggested that with a little nip here, a tuck there, and a few more players over there, the Dolphins will be highly, highly successful team.
Of course, it was hard to make that case to these players on this day. This day was about making lots of plays — but not enough. It was about an offense collecting a lot of yards (480) but giving up too many turnovers (3). It was about a defense attacking with great pressure and getting eight sacks, but also folding under the pressure and giving up a lead at the end of regulation.
It was all about the Dolphins being close.
But not being able to close.
“It sucks,” Hartline said afterward. “You’re here to win. You’re here to produce. You’re here to take the next step. Are we getting somewhere? I hope so. Hopefully, we’ll turn the film on and we’ll feel that way. But in the end it’s wins and losses that count and we had a loss today.”
This game historically will go down as a failure because the Dolphins still deliver one great moment that indelibly is followed by a terrible one.
Yes, it was great the Dolphins traveled across country and had a 13-0 halftime lead on the undefeated Cardinals. But they out-gained Arizona 158-36, Tannehill had a 105.5 rating at the time and Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb’s was 48.4 in that first half and that demanded a much more commanding advantage.
It was great that Dan Carpenter booted two field goals in the second quarter — from 32 and 27 yards — to give the impression he was over last week’s missed game-winner.
But then the kicker failed on a 51-yarder that would have given Miami a 16-0 lead early in the third quarter. That miss gave the Cardinals a lift and the crowd hope.
“I hit it well,” Carpenter said. “There was plenty of room for it to move a little left but it just stayed straight and I missed it right.”
Not. Good. Enough.
The Miami defense, meanwhile, pitched that impressive first-half shutout. The unit at times made Kolb look overmatched in slamming him to the ground time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time again.
And yes, the unit seemed to save the day when Sean Smith intercepted a pass in the end zone after Arizona had a first-and-goal situation at the Miami 3-yard line.
But that unit also gave away the game in crunch time. The Dolphins led 21-14 and needed to make one play on fourth-and-10 from their own 15-yard line with 29 seconds to play.
But Kolb threw a tying touchdown pass to Andre Roberts to send the game to overtime.
The offensive line also had a fine day. And a terrible day. Miami’s linemen allowed Tannehill enough time to connect on 26 of his 41 attempts. But that very line was at times a mess up the middle, letting Arizona’s inside linebackers blitz with such impunity, it was as if the guys in red were part of the Miami backfield.
Tannehill, by the way, is fun to watch. His bomb to Hartline reminded of the days when the Dolphins actually dominated the air with their passes.
That suggests something good is being built. It suggests something good is coming as he learns and develops.
But like the rest of the team, Tannehill isn’t quite there. And that’s why he got away with a handful of poor throws that might have been intercepted and two that were picked off — including the one in overtime that set up the Cardinals for their victory.
So where does that leave us?
This game was, as Karlos Dansby, “disappointing and discouraging” now. But it was also as a certain sign that the future is bright.