The Dolphins depart from the 2012 season “embarrassed,” as wide receiver Brian Hartline put it after Sunday’s 28-0 loss in the finale against New England, but this team also left town unsure of itself because this blowout was either a massive underperformance by a disinterested bunch or something else — something much worse.
The something worse Miami brass is contemplating this result shows is that perhaps this loss represents what this team truly is.
The Dolphins coaching staff and personnel department will be studying this one closely to determine if the difference between their talent and New England’s talent is really a whopping 28 points.
The Dolphins will be trying to figure out if the gulf between them at 7-9 and out of the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year and New England’s perennial playoff unit is actually four touchdowns.
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Allow me to give the local football team and its brass my humble opinion:
Believe your eyes.
The Patriots truly are tons better and much more talented.
They don’t just have better players; they have players who come together with better chemistry. They have smarter players who know more tricks and make fewer mistakes. And they have many more of those guys than the Dolphins.
Don’t just use Sunday’s game as evidence. Accept the fact that this result was Miami’s sixth consecutive loss to the Patriots and eighth in the past nine games dating to 2008.
Three different Miami head coaches and three different Miami quarterbacks have failed to beat New England the past three years.
So if after studying this season and this game the Dolphins come to the conclusion they really aren’t that far from being as good as the Patriots — something defensive end Cameron Wake insinuated after the game — everyone in the organization should go back and rework the problem until they get a different answer.
The right answer.
Because this 28-0 loss felt very much like that 38-7 season-finale against New England in 2010 when the Dolphins left Gillette Stadium asking themselves the same question and eventually decided they were only a couple of players away from the division champions.
And, of course, they weren’t.
The hope here is that this woodshed whipping moves owner Stephen Ross, general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Joe Philbin to be sufficiently humbled and, indeed humiliated, that they do something really significant this offseason.
That doesn’t mean draft players and believe that alone will build them a winner because that’s seemingly how the Green Bay Packers did it
That doesn’t mean re-signing their own free agents because while that can help, ultimately it means you are re-signing players that got you to 7-9 three of the past four years.
And that definitely doesn’t mean signing bargain-basement free agents who fill in around the roster’s margins. The Dolphins did that last year and most of those players didn’t make it to the season opener.
What it means is taking the approximately $46.8 million in salary-cap space the club has this coming offseason and doing all of the above and doing it with the idea of adding big-time playmakers who can truly help bridge the gap between Miami and a playoff team.
I am told by team sources the Dolphins have every intention of making an impact in free agency if the opportunity is there. But I am also told the Dolphins will be careful not to overvalue players who aren’t truly stars.
The Dolphins promise they will be involved in chasing star players as long as those star players are actually available. Unfortunately, there is no certainty of that.
While most fans believe Miami can awaken its comatose offense by simply signing free agents Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings this offseason, they overlook the possibility that players of that caliber might be staying with their current teams.
If that happens, then the Dolphins are basically, um, out of luck.
But I remind the club there is more to free agency than Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings. And there’s more to acquiring talent than just free agency.
I know the Dolphins scoffed years ago when the Falcons traded for unhappy and “aging” tight end Tony Gonzalez. All Gonzalez has done is play at a Pro Bowl level for five seasons.
I know the Dolphins last year showed no interest in Pierre Garcon or even Reggie Wayne — Garcon because he was too expensive and Wayne because he was 33 years old at the time.
How much would either of those two have helped rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill succeed in Miami? About as much as they helped the rookie quarterbacks in Washington and Indianapolis succeed — a lot.
The point is the Dolphins have been missing opportunities to do major things since 2010 when the trade for Brandon Marshall and the signing of Karlos Dansby didn’t deliver quite as hoped.
The team has taken a different free agency approach since that offseason, apparently staying clear off the NFL’s hot stove so as not to get burned.
Well, the past couple of years of being conservative in the offseason haven’t really worked, either. As Philbin concluded, “We have a lot of work to do.”
And if the Dolphins are tempted to forget that at any point this offseason, they should listen to the scoreboard from Sunday’s finale. It screamed the Patriots are 28 points better.