Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins believe season can be fixed. Reality offers cause for alarm

Carolina Panthers receiver Devin Funchess beat the Miami Dolphins for two TD passes on Monday night, Nov. 13, 2017.
Carolina Panthers receiver Devin Funchess beat the Miami Dolphins for two TD passes on Monday night, Nov. 13, 2017. TNS

The Miami Dolphins locker room after Monday night’s 45-21 whipping at the hands of the Carolina Panthers was a place with a lot of stiff upper lips.

Coach Adam Gase, whose team has been embarrassed twice the past three weeks on national television, told his players to put those three national television games behind them and move forward rather than feel sorry for themselves. And the players who were on the wrong end of the dominating night by the Carolina Panthers seemed convinced good things are yet to come.

“Adam said it really well in the locker room, that’s three weeks out of 16,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “There’s a lot of football left. The pieces are in that locker room. I truly believe that. I have been around a lot of good teams, there [are] a lot of good guys in there, a lot of talent. And there’s really good coaches. So we just have to get back to work. That’s the only thing we can do. We can’t fold up shop because there’s a lot of football left to play and anything can happen.”

That sentiment echoed throughout the locker room. Sure, different men struck different chords, but the message was about the same.

“There is no way we should give up 350 yards with the players we have, let alone 550,” defensive end Andre Branch said. “We just have to go back to work, and it will be fixed for sure.

“Like I said, we will get it fixed. It was just another frustrating night. The coaches will figure out how to get it fixed and us players will have to execute. We just need to fix the things that need to be fixed.”

Center Mike Pouncey also sounded optimistic.

“We’re good,” he said. “You’ve just got to regroup. We still control our own destiny. It’s just we’ve got to win these kinds of football games. It’s the second half of the season and we can’t lose these kinds of games. We just put ourselves in a deeper hole, but we’re going to keep working hard and we’re going to get us a win next week.”

So that was the reaction from the men who made the magic happen. And I agree with them that, yes, they will work hard this coming week because this team does that.

And maybe they will get themselves a victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday.

But beyond that I’m breaking ranks with the “all’s-going-to-be-alright” vibe.

Because all most definitely is not alright. It hasn’t been alright at any point this season except maybe in the season opener at San Diego.

In that game the Dolphins played good defense and were decent and balanced enough on offense to get a road victory against a not-good-but-not-horrible team.

And since that game this team has been a mystery. And we’re not talking fun mysteries that get solved by the good guys after some exciting drama.

We’re talking the kind of mystery where corpses are found and nobody ever solves the crime and the star detective sent his Las Vegas “model” girlfriend a video of him snorting cocaine.

This team is that kind of mystery.

Because everything we heard about the Dolphins and thought about the Dolphins is debatable now. And everything they said about themselves is debatable. Yeah, that benefit-of-the-doubt thing is gone.

Being outscored 112-45 the past three games does that.

Giving up 548 yards on defense, including 294 on the ground does that. (I mean, after a while I was waiting for Thurman Thomas to run over Tom Olivadotti on the Dolphins’ sideline. I was waiting for Tim Tindale to make a cameo appearance in the game.)

Look, the uninspired performance by players we’ve been told would be the cornerstone of the franchise not only this year but going forward gives me pause.

So let me outline exactly what I mean here.

I’ve heard for quite some time, for example, that cornerback Xavien Howard is a cornerstone young player. I was told coaches were so certain he was really good that they only worried whether he could stay healthy so his growth to stardom wouldn’t be delayed.

Except Howard is kind of just a guy based on what I’ve been seeing. He got toasted on a 32-yard touchdown Monday night. He also was in coverage on Ed Dickson’s 7-yard touchdown catch.

And, yes, those things happen to NFL cornerbacks. But where is the counter punch? Where is Howard’s big play response that speaks on his behalf? He hasn’t gotten hands on any footballs. And, according to the Palm Beach Post, he has played over 1,000 NFL snaps without an interception.

The Dolphins linebacker corps?

Something is amiss there all of a sudden. Well, not all of a sudden.

When Lawrence Timmons returned to the team following his suspension for going AWOL (remember that lovely story?), he showed himself an upgrade over the back-of-the-roster players the Dolphins were forced to use late last season.

But lately, Timmons is missing a lot of tackle. Lately, a guy who was supposed to bring toughness and fight and solid coverage to the Dolphins’ defense hasn’t really made a ton of plays. And I didn’t see too much fight in that unit Monday night. I didn’t see good communication or good coverage.

I didn’t see much cohesion. I saw 11 guys doing stuff.

I saw a lot of activity but no achievement.

“Anytime there’s someone running untouched in this league, that’s not that they figured you out, that’s usually a mistake on the opposing side,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “Guys don’t just run free, that’s not the way defenses are set up. It means there was a miscommunication, somebody slipped, whatever it may be. … To have guys running free or going on long plays, that’s self-inflicted.”

And so I’m going to ask a question: We were led to believe that the defense was more or less fixed. The offseason boasted a defense-intensive draft. Free agency saw the team sign Timmons and re-sign Kiko Alonso and Branch and give Reshad Jones a hefty raise.

So where’s the fix?

Alonso hasn’t been the same since he hit Joe Flacco weeks ago.

Branch had one tackle, a quarterback hurry, and an assist Monday night. I expect more.

First round pick Charles Harris had a pass defensed. That was it. He has one sack this season. Not much impact.

So what’s the deal? Because this defense feels a whole lot closer to broken than fixed, in my opinion. And this is not a one-game overreaction. This defense has been on its heels for four consecutive games now.

This is worrisome because if the defense was good while the offense was awful, that would feel better. That would suggest the offense this coming offseason could enjoy a similar fix. But now, while we know the offense needs fixing, we see the fixing of the defense didn’t exactly go well.

So confidence that this can ever be corrected begins to erode.

And, yes, the offense is a bigger problem than the defense.

The offense has no identity. It has nothing that we know it can do game in and game out. It has raised inconsistency to heights not seen in Miami since, well, ever. Because this offense has been locked in the 32nd-ranked scoring offense dungeon all season and it doesn’t seem to have keys to come out.

“We’re doing things better,” coach Adam Gase said. “We’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot at the wrong time. We get something going and we either have a penalty or we miss a throw or a hole, or we don’t get it blocked correctly. I’m sure there have been calls I’ve made I wish I could take back. We’re making mistakes at the wrong time.”

Yes, the Dolphins were down only 10-7 with 47 seconds to go before halftime this game. And the Dolphins had the football at their own 20 yard line.

Now, only a fool would believe this offense could go 80 yards in 47 seconds because only a fool doesn’t know this offense stinks.

But Gase got the idea he was going to try. So he supplied Cutler with a pass play.

And Cutler supplied the Carolina Panthers with an interception.

Cutler, by the way, was throwing to tight end Julius Thomas, who is another offseason acquisition bust. And as too often has happened in 2017, something went wrong when Cutler threw to Thomas. Luke Kuechly intercepted the pass.

The Panthers converted the turnover into a touchdown to close the half. And then scored again on their first possession of the second half.

A 10-7 game blossomed into a blowout in the span of about eight minutes because the Miami offense is bad and the defense failed to show up for the fourth consecutive week.

“We’ll have to come in [Tuesday] and watch the film and make the corrections we need to make,” Gase said. “Really kind of figure out where we’re having our issues and get those corrected quickly because it’s not going to get any easier with the teams we’ve got coming up on the schedule.”

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera broke down his assessment of the team’s play in a 45-21 win over the Miami Dolphins on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 at Bank of America Stadium.

Related stories from Miami Herald