Armando Salguero

Why it’s win on Sunday or season’s over for the Miami Dolphins

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh believes it’s not realistic for the Miami Dolphins defense to only succeed when protecting a lead.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh believes it’s not realistic for the Miami Dolphins defense to only succeed when protecting a lead. AP

Miami Dolphins coaches this week have been preaching to their players to worry only about winning one game -- Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That’s a wise approach because the Dolphins sometimes have trouble focusing as a team so setting an easy target to concentrate on is good. The goal also serves as a way to keep the focus on what is ahead and distract from the past, which is good because the Dolphins have just lost three consecutive games -- all on national television.

So coaches have asked players to not look back and not look too far ahead.

Just win this game.

“..If guys just focus on one week at a time, it swings so fast,” coach Adam Gase said. “If you put one good game together, it’s really easy to carry that over. The confidence can really pop for you just from one week to the next. I just see our guys that have experienced a little bit of not playing so well and then we have one good game, and all of a sudden we go on a run. If we can just somehow put it together as a team.”

Now, do you want to know what is being left unsaid?

No one is talking about what happens if the Dolphins don’t win Sunday...

At home...

Against the 3-6 Bucs ...

And that’s because if this team losses on Sunday, this season for all intents and purposes is over.

Done.

Finished.

That’s not just me talking. Those are the facts some people within the organization grudgingly acknowledge.

So why is it true if the Dolphins lose on Sunday their season is effectively finished?

Because that would mean the team has lost four consecutive games, including three of those against teams with losing records, and after that run the reward awaiting Miami would be a trip to ... New England.

So a team on a four-game losing skid, one with lagging confidence and apparently no idea how to stop the bleeding, would go play the defending Super Bowl champions who have designs on another Super Bowl run.

Chalk up another loss.

In actual fact, even if the Dolphins beat Tampa Bay, they will travel to New England as heavy underdogs. The Patriots, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers, are the class of the AFC now. The Patriots also have beaten the Dolphins eight consecutive times at home.

The last time Miami won in Foxboro, Mass., was 2008.

The Wildcat game.

So the Dolphins beating the Patriots at their place is improbable enough. Beating them after losing four straight and having all the problems that come with such a losing skid is practically impossible.

Playing out that scenario, the Dolphins would be limping around with a 4-7 record and still have to play the Patriots again, play Buffalo twice, and play at Kansas City. Yes, there’s a Denver game in there also which could be a win or a loss. but by then no one would care.

So, again, lose to Tampa Bay, you’re headed for a loss at New England and thanks for playing in 2017.

A victory over the Bucs, by the way, wouldn’t guarantee the Dolphins anything. All a victory Sunday would do is give the Dolphins a chance to have another chance. They could consider themselves alive. A victory Sunday would serve as a stay of execution.

And folks would be happy with that.

The Dolphins, you see, are a team that still believes something good can happen this season. So it’s important to reward that hope with success to keep the vibe going.

“It’s very important,” running back Damien Williams said. “I’ve been on teams where if you lose two games, everybody thinks it is downhill from there. I feel like we have the right guys in here who have the right mindset to come here every day to keep working and wanting to get better.”

And this is where I tell you the Dolphins have much they need to improve.

You’ve seen them lose three in a row but the fact they’ve played so poorly in those losses is depressing. They weren’t even competitive in two of those games. So that’s bad.

This also is bad: The admittedly limited view I got of the team on Thursday during the interview and the open locker room session didn’t leave me feeling confident about seeing a turnaround.

To recap:

I heard offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen talk about how coaches earlier in the day were discussing the need to get receiver DeVante Parker sparked up because he has “lost his edge” that he seemed to have before he missed three games with an ankle injury.

Frankly, of all the problems the Dolphins currently have, DeVante Parker seems to be way down on the list. And yet, there it was, Christensen talking about Parker’s lack of edge and Gase later saying Parker is feeling his way around trying to find his role.

Whaaat?

We’re in Year 3 and Parker is still trying to find his role? Amazing.

(Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised. We’re in Year 6 of Ryan Tannehill and we still don’t know if he’s a playoff-caliber quarterback or not.)

Anyway, Clyde also said the offensive line’s communication week to week is “five steps forward and five steps back.”

That’s encouraging.

Defensive coordinator Matt Burke said his regressing defense is suffering from a disconnect in that they are not playing as a unit. Guys are not doing their jobs and trusting that other guys will do their jobs.

It’s the opposite of team defense, in other words.

Both Burke and Gase also talked about how the defense is built to play its best football when protecting a lead, which I think pretty much applies to any defense on any level but apparently applies to the Dolphins more than any defense on the planet.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh put an end to that crazy talk.

“I think it’s always great to have a lead and have the best scenario for you to be in; but I don’t know what life people are living for that to be expected,” Suh said, “and unfortunately some times we don’t have leads. Some times we do have leads, and it’s been to our own detriment, especially the last three weeks for us not to keep those leads on the defensive side of the ball.

“We have to continually, at all times, make sure we eliminate points and touchdowns, and if we have to give up some points let it be field goals at most.”

The Dolphins need that defense to show up Sunday against Tampa Bay. The team also needs an offense that can provide a lead to show up. The team also needs Parker to find his “edge.” And the defense that is disconnected has to connect.

But mostly, the Miami Dolphins need to win a game.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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