Why did the Dolphins, once the league’s hottest team, flame out after just one playoff game?
Let’s ask coach Adam Gase.
“We made some of the same mistakes we made earlier in the year that didn’t get corrected, and it burned us,” Gase explained in his year-end news confence on Wednesday. “We had opportunities to take advantage in that [Steelers] game, and we didn’t do it. We made the same mistakes we made in previous weeks. That’s where you have to learn. You have to understand that when you make mistakes in the regular season, you have to fix them, because when you get in the playoffs, there’s no turning back. Once you make that mistake, it’s over, and all of a sudden your season is over.”
Gase didn’t explain what exactly those mistakes were, but a review of the tape suggested breakdowns in the secondary, trouble tackling and pass protection issues were Miami’s undoing. The Steelers capitalized on those errors and rocked the Dolphins 30-12 in the wild-card round.
It was a lot like what happened the week before, when the Patriots crushed the Dolphins by 21 in the regular-season finale. Those losses dropped the Dolphins to 1-5 against teams that finished with winning records.
Still, Gase hinted that his team wasn’t nearly as overmatched as those final two scores would suggest.
“Even in those two games we were in good positions, and certain situations of the game we didn’t quite do what we needed to do to extend our competitiveness, and the score being what we needed it to be heading into that fourth quarter,” Gase said. “If we had cleaned up a couple of mistakes that we made — either play-call or execution — we’re right where we need to be. Earlier in the season, that run of games we were winning, we made those plays to stay where we needed to stay to give ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter.”
Let’s be clear: The Dolphins don’t believe they had an elite roster this year. Football czar Mike Tannenbaum acknowledged at the start of Wednesday’s Q&A that “we have a lot of work to do to get better.”
The to-do list is long.
▪ First and foremost, they have to replace their defensive coordinator. The Broncos poached Vance Joseph from Gase’s staff Wednesday, making him their head coach. Dolphins linebackers coach Matt Burke is in line for a promotion.
▪ Miami has more than a dozen players set to become unrestricted free agents in March, most notably receiver Kenny Stills and defensive end Andre Branch. Tannenbaum said the team needs to self-scout before talking contracts but did add “to have sustainability, we have to take care of our own. We want to take care of our locker room.”
▪ The Dolphins are also expected this offseason to discuss contract extensions with receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Reshad Jones, who are under contract through 2017.
“Adam always likes to roll the dice, but I always say our plan is firmly etched in pencil,” Tannenbaum said. “Things are going to change, we’re going to acquire players, there are going to be unexpected opportunities. We have to bring all the information to the table — what does the draft look like? What does free agency look like? But with that said, we’re going to try to lean heavily toward keeping our own and building our program here, draft and developing our own, getting coached by our guys. We are in lockstep, philosophically, that this will be our approach.”
Meanwhile, the Dolphins welcomed the NFL’s investigation into how they handled Matt Moore’s head injury Sunday. Moore was flat on his back for minutes after taking a blow to the jaw from Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree. However, he missed just one snap after both team doctors and the unaffiliated neurological consultant determined he did not sustained a concussion.
“It’s really in the league’s hands right now,” Gase said. “I know the NFL and NFLPA are doing exactly what they should do, and that’s make sure that everything was followed properly. There are protocols in place. … When Matt came back over and they told me that he was ready to go, I trust that the protocols were followed properly and everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do and followed their job to exactly the way they that they were supposed to do it.”