Greg Cote

Fans chant, players unhappy, but Gase knows Cutler not alone in blame for Dolphins offense

Sporadically, briefly, the chant kept blooming like a malevolent rose, full of thorns. Because you knew that behind the sound was a mix of anger and frustration.

"We want Moore!"

Or were Miami Dolphins chanting, "We want more!"?

Either was justified on Sunday here. A different quarterback. More offense. Something. Anything.

Jay Cutler, asked afterward if he'd heard fans calling for his ouster in favor of backup Matt Moore said, "I heard 'em. I didn't know what they were saying. I don't think anybody [on our sideline] was gonna tell me at that point."

Cutler was more direct and succinct when asked to assess his offense right now.

"Piss poor," he said.

What a strange day, a strange result. In the win-is-a-win NFL, it's usually OK to luck out a 1-point victory. But this 16-10 Dolphins win over the visiting Tennessee Titans didn't feel particularly good -- and maybe less so in the locker room than in the stands. The result saw a mighty defensive performance but a continuation of the offensive woes that have plagued the team all season, a quarter in, at 2-2 now.

So coach Adam Gase took the postgame podium looking grim, staring ahead, no opening statement. The winning lockerroom cleared out faster than losing rooms normally do. This is half a team at the moment. Defense, jelling. Offense, spinning wheels in a mud bog.

The first question was on the stellar defensive show that included a fumble returned for a touchdown.

"At least somebody could score points," said Gase, a blade of truth with sarcasm for an edge.

The echo of that chant was reverberating throughout the aftermath.

"They chanted for [Moore] last year, too," Gase noted, rather testily. "I'll make the decision on the quarterback. We're not going to take public polls."

The normally affable running back Jay Ajayi grew irritated when a question about The Chant was put to him.

"No, no," he said, shouldering through a media clot, interview done.

Jarvis Landry, despite scoring the winning TD, declined to even speak afterward. TV showed a sideline outburst or two. This is not a happy team right now, and all know why.

Miami has scored 19, 6, 0 and 16 points in four games, and only six of Sunday's points were the direct credit of Cutler's guys. Right now the first syllables of "offense" and "awful" are appropriately the same. The offense has produced three touchdowns in four games. But for a missed field goal in the opening win and the Titans missing starting QB Marcus Mariota on Sunday, the Dolphins could well be 0-4 right now. And now receiver DeVante Parker is nursing an injured ankle.

Gase, though, is still defending Cutler to a large degree, and it is hard to argue. "We want Moore!" is a quick fix, chum given a circle of sharks, but it is not necessarily a better one or a needed one. Or a fix at all.

Gase makes a convincing argument that, while Cutler is the easiest target, there is ample blame to go around. Gase counted five dropped passes in the 12-15 yard range Sunday. He mentioned missed blocking assignments. He alluded to a pair of turnovers including Ajayi's fumble. He referred to errors both physical and mental when his Dolphins had the ball.

Cutler shoulders some blame, as quarterbacks are all but required by football law to do.

"I'll take a lot of it," he said.

But Gase said, "Jay is way down the list of things that went wrong."

The coach is not exonerating himself, either. Nor should he. If the offense is continuing to misfire, Gase and offensive chief Clyde Christensen are the first two men who need to figure it out and fix it. Example: Play-action plays in the fourth quarter seemed to finally loosen the Titans' defense a bit on the drive that ended with Cutler's 6-yard TD strike to Jarvis Landry for the winning points.

"Maybe we should have went to play-action sooner," admitted the coach.

And how's this: Why isn't a should-be dynamic offense with a deep threat in Parker and a super-speed guy in Kenny Stills not going vertical with more deep balls more often? Stills didn't catch his first pass until the fourth quarter Sunday. And Cutler had a fairly clean pocket this time, taking only one sack. He had time.

There always are more questions than answers when an offense can't get out of its own way. Here's another: Why is Ajayi averaging a subpar 3.4 yards per carry after averaging a robust 4.9 last year. That starts with the offensive line, a unit that finds no one except center Mike Pouncey playing really well every week.

It was a largely unwatchable game all-round. Both teams had less than 200 yards' offense, which happens about once a season in the NFL. There were a combined four turnovers, 7-for-28 third down conversions, 16 penalties and 19 punts. But nothing was harder to watch for most of the game than Miami with the ball.

Gase needs to find answers fast, because the schedule turns tougher from here. Miami may only be favored in two of its remaining 12 games.

A little bottom-line perspective helps, of course. A 2-2 mark at the quarter turn is from perilous.

As sackman Cam Wake noted, "I assure you 10 weeks from now nobody will be talking about how we won this game. We won. Not the offense. Not the defense. The Miami Dolphins."

Yes, but the essential truth in that statement?

"Not the offense."

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