Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins still have no answers to the ultimate question

Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler (6) recovers the ball as Buffalo Bills' Adolphus Washington (92) and Ryan Davis (56) close in during the second half of an NFL football game Sun., Dec. 17, 2017, in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler (6) recovers the ball as Buffalo Bills' Adolphus Washington (92) and Ryan Davis (56) close in during the second half of an NFL football game Sun., Dec. 17, 2017, in Orchard Park, N.Y. AP

After news conferences in which coach Adam Gase said the Dolphins “didn’t play good,” and quarterback Jay Cutler said the team is “inconsistent,” this maddening, disappointing game begged a better explanation. So I went into the team’s locker room looking for wisdom, and instead all I saw was a familiar picture of failure.

I’ve covered this team 27 years, and I’ve been in losing locker rooms before — many right here where Dolphins seasons often go to die.

And so here I was again. But this was different because this team is different.

This team, you see, is not easy to describe. It’s not a terrible team. Things would be simple if these Dolphins stunk. But there’s talent here and on occasion that talent combines for a great outing.

Sometimes all the talent does talenty things at the same time, and the team wins a couple of games in a row.

That’s how the Dolphins came to Buffalo riding a two-game win streak, thinking themselves still playoff relevant. This team is talented enough that it’s beaten both Atlanta and New England — the two Super Bowl teams from a year ago.

But the problem is all this talent is wildly irritating because it rarely shows up with any consistency.

This team is moody.

Unpredictable in all the bad ways.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Dolphins.

The Dolphins, you’ll recall, beat Tom Brady last Monday. And lost to Tyrod Taylor on Sunday.

They beat Matt Ryan earlier this season. And Phillip Rivers.

And lost to Ryan Fitzpatrick. And Josh McCown.

What’s up with that?

Well, that’s the annoying part. No one knows what’s up with that. If you want answers, reasons for that inconsistency from the Dolphins, forget it. They have none.

“You don’t want to sit up here and make excuses for anything,” Cutler said. “I don’t want to make excuses for the way I played. Three turnovers. I’m responsible for all three of them, no matter what the situation was. We’ve been talking about inconsistencies the whole year. That’s the theme of every Wednesday or Thursday press conferences I think all year.

“When we win, we do a lot of things right. When we lose, we don’t. That’s the NFL. That’s the landscape. The good teams find ways to do it game in and game out and the young teams, and teams that are struggling to figure it out, they’ve got ups and downs.

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Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler (6) throws a pass over Buffalo Bills' Lorenzo Alexander (57) during the second half of an NFL football game Sun., Dec. 17, 2017, in Orchard Park, N.Y. Adrian Kraus AP

“If we want to take that next step and be one of those consistent teams, these are games we have to come out and put better performance together.”

The irony here is that Cutler, the ultimate inconsistent player, is giving the best explanation about Dolphins inconsistencies. Cutler threw three interceptions on Sunday, only days after he threw three touchdowns against the Patriots.

So there’s that.

But what the quarterback is saying is only a description of the problem. It doesn’t offer a solution. And that also is annoying about this team because for all the talent in the locker room and brain power on the coaching staff, and experience up and down the organization, no one knows how to overcome this fatal flaw.

And if these people cannot explain why they are inconsistent, there is absolutely no hope for addressing that inconsistency. You cannot fix something you don’t understand unless you’re just beating it with a hammer and hoping to get lucky.

The Dolphins won’t be beating themselves with a hammer hoping to fix their problems.

So where does that leave us?

It leaves us with a season in which the Dolphins have regressed. The program has suffered a setback.

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Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) rushes during the first half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins Sun., Dec. 17, 2017, in Orchard Park, N.Y. Adrian Kraus AP

We know that now. Well, we’ve thought it for a while but we know it now. Look at the standings. The Bills, with a new coach and a new roster cleared of most of its highly thought of talent from last season, raced past the Dolphins this season. They passed the Dolphins.

Also, The Dolphins aren’t going to the playoffs. Well, they’re not mathematically eliminated yet, but when you look at what a playoff team looks like, plays like, it doesn’t look like these Dolphins.

This is a team that still has no identity on offense. I mean, the strategy of this offense is to move the chains and pick up first downs and hope for the best. That strategy led Gase to actually stop giving running back Kenyan Drake the football on a day the running back was averaging 4.9 yards a carry.

The reason? Because several of Drake’s carries led to negative plays. And the Dolphins cannot typically convert on third down when they suffer even one negative play on first or second down.

Teams like that don’t make the playoffs. They don’t deserve to make the playoffs.

Teams like that go into the offseason looking for answers.

And that’s what the Dolphins are going to do because they’ve played 14 games and have no answers.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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