It began for the Miami Dolphins’ defense as if they hadn’t prepared for this.
They knew the Baltimore Ravens were coming to Sunday’s game intent on running the football in a physical, downhill fashion reminiscent of the 1960s. Everyone knew if the Dolphins could solve this primitive Baltimore mindset, they could keep this game within reach.
The Dolphins talked about stopping exactly this.
And on the first play of the game the defense yielded a 49-yard run off right tackle that most teams stop after 2 or 3 yards because they’ve seen the play a hundred times before. One play into the game, Miami’s defense was already in retreat.
For the offense the plan was to communicate and execute. The Dolphins had just pieced together an offensive line last week so communication, including, amazingly, introductions between new players, was stressed throughout the week.
And on his very first play, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick tried to audible so he could throw the football to rookie receiver Preston Williams. Except Williams missed the audible and was busy blocking when Fitzpatrick’s pass to him fell incomplete.
“[It was a] miscommunication, which that was the big thing that we were stressing all week with all the moving parts and pieces,” Fitzpatrick said. “... Communication was at a premium. That kind of set the tone for the day there.”
So this is how the day began, which is to say in utter failure.
And this is how the 2019 regular season began, which is to say in complete embarrassment — and, yes, Fitzpatrick said the Dolphins were “embarrassed.”
Baltimore Ravens 59.
Miami Dolphins 10.
And we’re all kind of shell-shocked now, but maybe we shouldn’t be. Because this is what happens when a blueprint for losing as a strategy is manifested onto a football field.
This is what happens when the roster is purged of what precious little talent it had the past couple of years and not restocked.
This is what happens when an inexperienced 38-year-old assistant coach is tapped to be a first-time NFL head coach and he, in turn, picks offensive and defensive coordinators with no previous experience to do what they’re now doing for Miami.
This is what happens when an owner whose team has been perpetually mediocre for a decade is sold on the grand idea that the best way to rise out of that mediocrity is to let his team stink to the depths of putrid for a year or two.
The Dolphins are thus a very bad team.
And the same fan base that was cheering the strategy to tank this season up until a few days ago was also booing the team after only two offensive series — when Miami was already trailing 14-0 in the first quarter.
That’s right, Dolphins fans are generally in favor of the current plan to tear down everything that has been built recently and for the next season or so feed off nothing more than decades-old nostalgia of perfect seasons and Dan Marino.
But those same fans were heading for the exits with a full quarter left to play on Sunday after Josh Rosen threw his first interception on only his second pass as a Miami Dolphin.
So the tank is on. We are 1/16th there for this whitewash season.
But this result threatens to endure and repeat, becoming more portrait than snapshot.
Because there’s no NFL Draft tomorrow. No free agency. So there’s little hope for significant upgrade anytime soon.
Coach Brian Flores isn’t going to admit that, obviously. He came to a podium after this game and took responsibility for this loss and promised improvement.
“Well, it starts with coaching,” Flores said, stating the obvious. “It starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job of coaching this team.
“We talked about playing penalty-free. We talked about having a clean operation, alignments, assignments, trying to play turnover-free, and we didn’t accomplish any of that.”
Then Flores said the only thing he can say to anyone who is worried about next week -- and the next 15 non-bye weeks:
“We’ve got problems on offense, defense, and special teams,” he said. “We’ll try to fix them all.”
He might as well try to solve the national debt, too, while he’s at it. Because he has as much chance of fixing that as he does fixing this roster, which notably includes multiple players who privately say they don’t really trust or believe in Flores all that much.
And why is that?
Because what the Dolphins put on display Sunday was the rare and nightmarish combination of limited talent being unready to play. It’s one thing when great talent isn’t ready. It’s one thing when a team is prepared and plays as a unit but simply lacks stars.
But the Dolphins lack stars and weren’t ready against Baltimore.
That’s the reason Fitzpatrick completed only 14 passes while taking 10 vicious hits. Think about this because if it continues and Fitzpatrick completes, say, 250 passes this year, it suggests he’s going to get hit maybe 200 times.
That’s the reason the Dolphins had almost as many penalties (nine) as points (10).
The Ravens rolled up 643 total yards. That is the most yards yielded by any Miami Dolphins defense. Ever.
Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, not exactly proven as a passer before this game, missed on only three of his 20 passes, and threw as many TD passes in this game (five) as he threw in his seven starts last season.
This was Alabama vs. New Mexico State.
And I’ll give you one guess which one the home team resembled in the comparison.
Afterward, Flores told his players to let their utter despair “sink in.” Several of those players rolled their eyes when he said it, by the way, not buying the approach.
“He told us let it sink in, remember this feeling,” safety Bobby McCain said. “I think everybody is going to remember this feeling because that’s just going to motivate us to push harder in practice. And then, obviously, for next game, come out [and] everybody just [has to] play to their fundamentals and techniques. Everybody has talent. We can get it done.”
Maybe. But not this year.
That just isn’t how the blueprint is drawn up.