So what now?
The Dolphins, losers of four straight after their latest embarrassment, a 30-20 defeat at the hands of the awful Buccaneers, have an identity crisis.
Who is the quarterback of this team — Matt Moore or Jay Cutler?
The question was laughable after Moore struggled greatly in a 40-0 loss to Baltimore a few weeks back.
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But now — with a concussed Cutler knocked out of a game for the second time in five games, and with Moore looking like a Pro Bowler in his place Sunday — it is a legitimate issue.
The Dolphins’ season is probably over now. If they cannot beat a lousy Tampa Bay outfit with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, how are they going to beat the Patriots and Chiefs? (The Dolphins turned the ball over five times and committed an inexcusable 17 penalties Sunday.)
But there are six weeks left in a season that has gone off the rails, and there is too much pride, if not talent, to tank.
So someone has to be under center for the Dolphins over the last six weeks.
And Moore was by far the superior player against the Buccaneers.
Cutler threw not one, not two, but three interceptions in his 12 first-half passes. Was his head injury to blame? Doctors put him in the concussion protocol at intermission, and he never emerged from the locker room. Cutler’s final play: a one-yard scramble in the half’s final moments.
“We’ll see where he’s at, because right at the end of the half … that’s why basically everything stopped for us,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “That’s why we went into halftime.”
Gase and Cutler spoke as the two men walked toward the tunnel and off the field after the second quarter ended. Doctors determined over the next 10 minutes he could not return to the game.
That opened the door again for Moore, who on Sunday completed 17 of 28 passes for 282 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions — despite learning that he would be going in with just five minutes left in the intermission.
The news was a surprise to everyone in a Dolphins uniform not named Cutler.
Was there any sign in the locker room that Cutler was done for the day?
“There wasn't,” running back Damien Williams said.
“We really didn’t know anything,” added receiver Jarvis Landry, who said that Cutler was part of quick halftime meeting, but then was not seen after that.
The Dolphins had communication issues immediately after the switch, but Moore soon settled down and unlocked a downfield passing game that has not been part of the Dolphins’ offense all season.
The Dolphins’ three longest pass plays were all when Moore was on the field — a 49-yard completion to Landry, and two big-gainers to Kenny Stills, including a 61-yard touchdown pass that tied the game with three minutes left. (Stills had seven catches for 180 yards.)
With that throw, Moore brought the Dolphins the whole way back from a 13-point halftime deficit. He had to be feeling good as he turned the game over to a defense that was playing lights out in the second half.
But the Dolphins have not played complementary football all season, and Sunday was no different. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, starting in place of an injured Jameis Winston, completed passes of 17, 14 and 24 yards — the last of which with Reshad Jones in coverage — to set up a game-winning, 35-yard field goal by Patrick Murray with four seconds left on the clock.
The Buccaneers added a meaningless touchdown after recovering a botched lateral on the game’s final kickoff, handing the Dolphins their fifth double-digit defeat of the season.
The Dolphins at 4-6 already have as many losses as they did all last year, and now have the meat of their schedule upcoming. They still face the Patriots twice, including in New England next week, and trips to Kansas City and Buffalo beckon. They probably will not be favored in another game this year.
The only real question remaining: Who will play out the string, Cutler or Moore?
Their season stats are comparable. Cutler has a better completion percentage (64.6) and passer rating (82.7), but the offense is far more explosive with Moore on the field. He has averaged a full yard per pass attempt than Cutler has.
And Gase, whether intentionally or not, left the door open for a change at quarterback next week, even if Cutler is healthy.
“I want to get to tomorrow first, see how [Cutler is] feeling.”
If he’s anything like the Dolphins’ fan base, he’s feeling dejected, lost and already looking toward 2018.