Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero: Miami Dolphins need to step up when games are on the line to be elite

Miami Dolphins Charles Clay drops a ball in the end zone in the fourth quarter as they play the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit on Nov. 9, 2014.
Miami Dolphins Charles Clay drops a ball in the end zone in the fourth quarter as they play the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit on Nov. 9, 2014. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Perhaps some day the Dolphins will be good enough. On that day it won’t be about being one play or one call or one possession from victory. It won’t be about the dropped pass in the end zone or the curious timeouts while the defense is retreating or the deep pass to a wide-open receiver that simply sails too far or floats too short.

Someday, perhaps, the Dolphins will be good enough to consistently do the extraordinary thing and win a game like this.

They apparently are not there yet.

We know because Sunday’s 20-16 road loss against a good team was maddening and disappointing and all too frustratingly similar to the Packers loss about a month ago. In this one, the Dolphins weathered bad special teams play and big Calvin Johnson plays and an Ndamukong Suh sack and a couple of turnovers and still were only 3:47 away from winning.

Holding a 16-13 lead oh-so-gingerly, the Dolphins only had to run out the clock with their offense on the field. Three first downs … this game is over.

But the offense, whose job it is to slam the door on defeat, instead left it ajar.

Miami’s offense was asked to burn the clock. Instead it set itself on fire, moving the ball 5 yards while handing it to a player who was cut once this year and another who is an undrafted rookie free agent. Third down was a failure, too,

Phfft.

“The biggest thing in my mind right now is you get the ball with three minutes to play and a chance to win, and we don’t get a first down,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said afterward. “As an offense, that’s our job to get a first down and run the clock out right there.”

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of Dolphins offensive players blaming this loss on their inability to seal the game. And that made them wholly different from their teammates on defense because they mostly blamed the team’s loss on their inability to stop the Lions from scoring the winning touchdown after the Dolphins punted.

“I honestly think they made just one more play than we did,” cornerback Cortland Finnegan lamented. “But you have to credit them for that.”

Credit the Lions for being a good team that knows how to close strong most of the time. They did it against Atlanta, New Orleans and now the Dolphins.

“I think,” coach Joe Philbin said, “Detroit certainly earned the victory.”

The Lions earned it because they made more and bigger plays.

You also have to credit the Dolphins for what they are. They are a plucky, disciplined team that is often inconsistent and rarely if ever quite good enough to beat a really good team in a game like this.

They’re middle of the pack right now — not bad but also not really elite.

That’s what their record says. That’s what the standings say. That’s the reason in a conference playoff scenario that offers only six postseason berths, the Dolphins find themselves in 11th place this morning — closer to the bottom than the top of the playoff picture.

That doesn’t mean the Dolphins have to stay there. Things can still change the final seven games of this season.

But to be considered a team worthy of being in the playoff conversation the Dolphins have to show they can win a majority of games against teams such as Buffalo, Baltimore, Denver and even New England over the next few weeks.

They have to show they can make the game-defining play.

Safety Reshad Jones has to knock down that pass instead of watching it become the game-winning touchdown. The defense has to make the heroic stand instead of yielding an 11-play, 79-yard march as they did against the Lions.

And maybe the offense, unable to keep the football the final three or four minutes, must show us the ability to stop blowing big chances earlier in the game like it did Sunday.

Remember the Dolphins took the lead with 4:19 left in the game on a field goal. They kicked because what could have (should have) been a touchdown pass from Tannehill to tight end Charles Clay wasn’t because either Tannehill threw a bad pass or Clay dropped the score or the defender made a great play.

One or a combination of those happened, according to the principals involved.

“I dropped the ball, no excuse for that,” Clay said.

“Charles got his hands on it, but the guy raked it out,” Tannehill said. “I think it’s got to be a better throw in that situation.”

Everyone taking blame. No one making the big play.

That needs to change to be good enough on days like this.

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