Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins are in free fall after three consecutive prime-time losses

Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly (59) celebrates after an interception against the Miami Dolphins in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Mon., Nov. 13, 2017.
Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly (59) celebrates after an interception against the Miami Dolphins in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Mon., Nov. 13, 2017. AP

It could be said that after three consecutive disappointing performances in nighttime national television games, these Dolphins have shown themselves not ready for prime time. Well, that’s not quite right.

This team — blown out in two of those three games — often doesn’t seem ready. Period.

Not ready to mount any sort of consistent running game.

Not ready to avoid big mistakes that turn games.

Not ready to stop bleeding when the game is threatening to get away from them.

Not ready to cover even mediocre receivers like the Carolina Panthers put on the field Monday night.

Not ready.

This team lost 45-21 to the Carolina Panthers because it got beat in practically every facet the counts. The Panthers were better on offense and defense. The Panthers avoided costly errors and the Dolphins made whoppers.

The Panthers seemed to have an idea about what they wanted to do and the Dolphins played ragged.

It was so obvious the Dolphins are not in the same orbit with Carolina that when the game was 31-7 with 20 minutes to play, the only question that remained was not whether the Dolphins could mount a comeback and win. The only question that mattered was whether the team would simply quit.

The really good news?

The Dolphins didn’t show signs of obvious quit. They got an improbable 66-yard run from Kenyan Drake that showed some fight and a garbage time touchdown with four minutes to play that came in front of a half empty stadium.

But, it should be noted, if the lone positive in a game is whether the team quit on its coaching staff, that isn’t a good sign at all. All the other signs, meanwhile, point to the continuation of problems we’ve seen building for weeks. And it also unveiled some new issues popping up at inconvenient times.

Remember that Dolphins defense that was solid the first five games this season? It’s in meltdown mode now. The unit has allowed 119 points its last four games. That’s 29.75 points per game.

The Panthers rushed for nearly 300 yards this game. They churned over 500 total yards.

Why does this happen? Well, the linebackers are missing tackles. The defensive backs with the possible exception of Bobby McCain and Reshad Jones are often nowhere near their coverage assignments. And the defensive line built to rush the passer when it has a lead, never has a lead.

The offense, meanwhile, has the same problems it’s had all year:

It shows no consistency from starting quarterback Jay Cutler on down. Cutler was working on two solid outings the past two games he played and then he reverted to the same Cutler Chicago Bears fans don’t miss.

He threw an interception into double coverage with 47 second left in the first half. Forget that it was a bad call. It was a bad decision by Cutler, too, and it eventually cost the Dolphins a touchdown that turned a close game into the budding blowout the game would soon become.

The Dolphins had hopes inserting projected preseason starting left guard Ted Larsen into his spot for the first time this season would help solidify the Miami offensive line. It didn’t.

Truth is nothing the Dolphins have tried with the lineup lately has helped.

Adding T.J. McDonald didn’t change things on defense.

Adding Larsen didn’t help.

Subtracting Jay Ajayi didn’t help.

Nothing has helped.

And so the Dolphins are a team in free fall. This group of players with talent are a lot of things but they don’t mesh as a team. They don’t play complementary football. They don’t pick each other up. When one makes a mistake, no one covers it up.

The defense has been figured out.

The offense has not yet figured anything out.

This team has absolutely no identity on offense or defense.

The Dolphins like to say there’s still plenty they can accomplish this season in its final seven games and mathematically that’s true. Because the rest of the AFC teams vying for a wild card playoff playoff berth are also terrible, the thinking is the Dolphins can somehow find a recipe that works for them and the season can be salvaged.

In theory that is possible.

But look at the last three prime time games this team has lost. Look closely. Those games in which the Dolphins were outscored 112-45 say something about these Dolphins.

They say this team is not ready for prime time.

Not ready for a playoff push.

In short, just not ready.

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