Miami Dolphins

Defense crumbles again as Miami Dolphins fall to New York Jets in season finale

New York Jets free safety Calvin Pryor (25) signals a missed Dolphin field goal in the fourth quarter as the Miami Dolphins host the New York Jets at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014.
New York Jets free safety Calvin Pryor (25) signals a missed Dolphin field goal in the fourth quarter as the Miami Dolphins host the New York Jets at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Dolphins exit interviews begin Monday at 7:30 a.m.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin better be ready. He’s going to get an earful from his players — particularly those on the defensive side of the football.

After the Dolphins’ season-ending, mediocrity-ensuring 37-24 embarrassment at the hands of the hapless Jets, there’s no sugar-coating it:

The Dolphins defense is broken. It surrendered an astounding 193 points in the final six games of the season. On Sunday, it allowed Geno Smith, one of the league’s worst quarterbacks, to post a perfect passer rating. It spit up another double-digit lead at home.

It’s broken. And, as many within the organization believe, a handful of cosmetic personnel moves won’t come close to fixing it.

The issue, some players say, has more to do with Kevin Coyle’s scheme than anything else. The only question: How forthcoming will they be during their face-to-face sit-downs with their coach?

Philip Wheeler, the veteran linebacker, probably won’t hold his tongue. He told reporters Sunday afternoon that he believes this defense needs drastic changes.

“I’m not sure exactly what needs to change, but I know anytime you’re giving that many points late in the year, something needs to change,” Wheeler said.

In football, major change usually means new players or a new coordinator. In Miami’s case, both seem increasingly likely.

Players have, at times, privately used Coyle as a piñata. His second-half calls against the Chiefs, Packers and Broncos, they believe, have directly contributed to the Dolphins (8-8) missing the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season.

And the locker room was quietly buzzing with criticism again Sunday. The biggest beef with Coyle this season has been his use of players in one-on-one coverage who probably shouldn’t be put in that position. It cost the Dolphins against the Packers.

And it probably cost them again Sunday. Smith, who completed 20 of 25 passes for 358 yards and three touchdowns, identified that a hobbled Cortland Finnegan was on an island early in the second half. Eric Decker got behind Finnegan on a pick play, and from there it was an easy throw and catch for a 74-yard touchdown.

“That’s the second time, going back to last year, that Geno Smith looks like damn Joe Montana,” said Finnegan, who might have played his final NFL game. “... Sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re the windshield. It’s tough. I’m at a loss for words.”

Words were easier to come by for some of Finnegan’s teammates, however. Their explanation: Coyle kept switching the defense’s groupings, which confused the back end.

“We were just out of position [Sunday],” linebacker Koa Misi said. “We were in man coverage and got beat on a deep ball. We were in zone coverage and got beat on a deep ball. We gave up too many big plays [Sunday].”

And they did so against one of the league’s worst offenses whose coach — Rex Ryan — is almost certainly going to be fired in the coming days. The Jets entered the game ranked 27th in total offense, averaging just 16.4 points per game.

On Sunday, they smoked the Dolphins for 494 yards and a season-high 37 points. Decker went for 221 yards on 10 catches. And New York scored on five of its last six possessions to win in Miami for the third year in a row.

“We absolutely have to play better,” Philbin said. “Absolutely have to play better.”

The defensive collapse was so complete, it made the day’s other story lines — which would be compelling on a normal Sunday — almost an afterthought.

Ryan Tannehill (23 of 39 for 259 yards and a touchdown) became the first Dolphins quarterback since Dan Marino to eclipse 4,000 passing yards in a season.

Lamar Miller (178 yards on 19 carries) went over 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career.

Safety Walt Aikens, who was expected to play meaningful snaps Sunday, was a healthy scratch after an unspecified violation of team rules.

And most curiously, wide receiver Mike Wallace spent the entire second half on the bench after a mid-game argument with his coaching staff. Adding to the surreality: Wallace didn’t speak after the game, but instead let fellow receiver Brandon Gibson answer reporters’ questions for him.

“It was a coaching decision,” Philbin said, over and over, when asked about Wallace’s benching.

In the coming days, Philbin has a far bigger decision to make: Is Coyle the man to fix his lost defense?

The suggestion box opens at 7:30 Monday morning.

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