Equal parts frustration, disappointment and pain were in the air inside a solemn Dolphins locker room late Sunday afternoon when interim coach Dan Campbell gathered his players and, recognizing that Jamil Douglas was hurting more than the others, pulled him in and put his arm around the rookie.
Douglas had been inconsolable for nearly 15 minutes after the Dolphins lost this 18-12 decision to the Indianapolis Colts.
He was seen, head buried in his hands, on the bench afterward and was nearly brought to tears in the locker room minutes after that. So please don’t suggest to him this was a meaningless game.
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This game was the first start at center for Douglas, and he wanted to prove he could do good work as injured Mike Pouncey’s replacement. It meant the world to the kid. But now it felt like the world had crashed in on him because he snapped the football before he was supposed to, effectively killing a Dolphins comeback victory.
That’s how this loss will be written. Another defeat in a manner only the Dolphins could author — with a rookie center getting mixed up and snapping the football early while the rest of his teammates stand around stunned, wondering how this could possibly happen to them.
The premature fourth-down snap caught quarterback Ryan Tannehill as much as he caught it and almost immediately three Colts players took him to the ground while Dolphins teammates watched.
Forget the 28-yard run Tannehill had before that.
Or the one-handed 19-yard catch Jarvis Landry made.
The premature snap erased it all in the 10th loss of this misbegotten 50th season.
And Douglas saw it as all his doing.
“I can’t say it wasn’t my fault,” Douglas said after he had gathered himself. “I mean, it was my fault. I should have been locked in on that play but, like I said, bad play by me.”
Campbell wasn’t going to let that be the narrative. Not privately while the team was huddled together. Not publicly when the locker room opened and Campbell faced the media.
Behind closed doors, Campbell called Douglas over and explained to his players that this one mistake didn’t lose the game. This one player didn’t lose the game.
They all lost the game, Campbell said.
“It’s never one man’s fault,” Campbell would say later.
And after Campbell got done speaking, everyone agreed Douglas was not the goat. Teammates swarmed Douglas. Several patted him on the shoulder pads and offered encouragement. A couple hugged the kid.
For that singular moment, all the Dolphins were Jamil Douglas.
“I feel for him, I’ve been there,” Tannehill said afterward. “I’ve been that guy numerous times in my career. I can relate for him and feel for him.”
It’s admirable that in their failure the Dolphins have not turned on one another.
They accept that this is a team game, and even when one player clearly costs them dearly, he is embraced and even accepted afterward.
So this loss was a victory for team compassion and understanding.
But here’s the problem: The NFL doesn’t measure success in compassion and understanding. It measures success by good execution and good decision-making and good preparation.
And the Dolphins are woeful in those departments. They certainly were against the Colts.
Consider that this game had nearly a dozen plays by the Dolphins that when weaved together form a blanket of defeat that covers the entire organization.
First there was that Brent Grimes interception in the first quarter at the Indianapolis 46-yard line. Too bad it didn’t count because Grimes was flagged for holding. And the Colts eventually scored on that drive.
There was that 16-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to tight end Jordan Cameron. Yeah, that was erased by an offensive pass interference penalty on Landry, and the Dolphins didn’t finish that drive in the end zone afterward.
There was also that blown opportunity when Tannehill threw an interception in the end zone, putting an inglorious end to a 74-yard drive.
And there was the apparent fourth-quarter fumble by Colts running back Frank Gore that the Dolphins seemed to recover deep in the Indianapolis side of the field in the fourth quarter. Yeah, that was nullified by a defensive penalty.
Speaking of defensive penalties, Ndamukong Suh encroached a couple of times, Olivier Vernon jumped offside once and so did Derrick Shelby — with each of these 5-yard gifts helping the Colts and stealing life from the Dolphins.
So, no, Jamil Douglas didn’t lose this game by himself.
“He feels it’s on his shoulders, and it’s not,” Campbell said. “I mean, this is not about one person. Now, he gets put in the spotlight, ultimately, because of where we were at, but ultimately we are all responsible for that. There were enough mistakes to go around offensive and defensively.
“We’ve finding ways to lose; we’re not finding ways to win.”