No moment of 2017 determined Adam Gase plan for 2018 than the Dolphins’ beatdown in Buffalo.
In a season-defining game last December, his players were no-shows. With their playoff destiny in their hands, they barely gave up a fight, falling behind by 18 points before ultimately losing by eight.
The frigid afternoon exposed a lot about the character of that group, and none of it was good. Gase became convinced he needed to get another breed of players in his locker room.
Enter Frank Gore, Danny Amendola and Josh Sitton, all signed in the offseason.
“I think the common thread is we’re just trying to get guys with experience winning, who have been successful, have done it right, are professionals and are just good examples,” Gase said at the March owners meetings. “But at the same time, guys that can play. We’re trying to get guys that fit into what we’re looking to do.”
And win games like the Dolphins lost last week. With a chance to put their foot on the Patriots’ throat, all the veteran leadership in the world couldn’t help them. The result — 38-7 — was even lopsided than it was in Buffalo last winter.
“It sucked man,” Amendola told the Miami Herald on Thursday, sitting in his corner stall in the team’s locker room. “It sucked. You put a lot of work in during the week, you spend a lot of hours studying and getting your body right and stuff like that and you do all of that stuff in preparation to go out and play well and win. Any time you lose, whether it’s a blowout or a last-second field goal, it’s tough.”
It’s up to Amendola and Gore to ensure that feeling changes this Sunday in Cincinnati.
The Dolphins are in the middle of arguably their toughest three-game stretch of the season (they host the Bears on Oct. 14), one that could ultimately define whether new history is written or simply repeats itself.
If the Dolphins are going to bounce back, the will have to do so on the road, where Adam Gase-led teams are just 7-12 and have been outscored by 9.4 points per game.
It’s too basic to say the responsibility to change the culture rests solely on the shoulders of Gore and Amendola (since Sitton is out for the season), but if it’s going to happen, it must start with them.
“I think when you’ve been playing this game for a while, the goal is to win every game, but you’ve got to be real with yourself,” Gore said. “We can’t beat nobody the way we played. We all felt the same way, that we’re better than what we put out there last Sunday. We watched the film. And now we move on to Cincinnati. Also the second quarter. Try to be 1-0 this Sunday.”
Gore and Amendola have long played in big games on the road, and to varying degrees, they have responded. Gore will probably go to the Hall of Fame someday, and his consistency — home and away — will be the reason why. He has nearly the same rushing average (4.5 at home, 4.4 on the road) and touchdowns (39 and 38).
Amendola has averaged a full yard per catch fewer in road games during his career, but he still is good for nearly 10 yards per.
But Gase brought both in for more than just on-field production. It’s their leadership he really wanted — even if the way they go about it is as different as their personalities..
“You’re never really going to get Frank to … if he has something to say, it’s going to be a side conversation,” Gase said. “He’s not going to be somebody who’s going to say something out there in a practice setting. Danny, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Their styles seemed to work.
Some teams would mope after getting hammered. The Dolphins returned to work fired up.
“When you get kicked in the you-know-whats, you’ve got to bounce back on Wednesday,” Gase said. “The turnaround’s quick. You’ve got to start over. The energy level on Wednesday was outstanding. Guys were fired up to get back out there, get ready for this week. When you’re on to the next opportunity, it allows you to move forward. That’s the best part of this part of the season. You’ve got a game to play. You can forget that game. Learn from it what you need to learn and move on. I felt like all the guys did a great job of coming out with great energy, really practicing hard and got after it.”
We’ll see Sunday if that translates into road success.