Adam Gase speaks after the Miami Dolphins lose to the Oakland Raiders
Miami's two major football teams set out this weekend, both on a national prime-time stage, both in the same stadium and both with a similar imperative: Shut up the skeptics and begin to turn doubt into belief.
The Hurricanes succeeded spectacularly, staying unbeaten with a 28-10 clobbering of Virginia Tech.
One night later, the Dolphins failed in a 27-24 home loss to the Oakland Raiders.
The exhilaration of Saturday's crowd sounded more like exasperation 24 hours later.
Miami got its best game as a Dolphin from quarterback Jay Cutler but suffered from 11 penalties and one costly lost fumble to fall to 4-4 at midseason.
"When we weren't going backward with holding calls I thought we had a good rhythm," as Cutler put it.
"Ours came at really poor times," said coach Adam Gase of the penalties.
Miami needed a victory from this game, not a close call or an almost. Has an NFL team with a winning record approaching midseason ever entered a game more down and desperate than the Dolphins were Sunday night?
I'd take those odds.
Miami was 4-3 as the Raiders visited Hard Rock Stadium for Sunday Night Football.
Sure didn't feel like it, though, did it?
What a tumultuous week the Dolphins were trying to shed, to overcome.
It began a week ago Thursday night in a humiliating 40-0 loss at Baltimore, the franchise's worst defeat in 20 years. It continued with CBS Sports' disputed report that the Dolphins planned to part ways after the season with their best defensive player, Ndamukong Suh. It culminated with the stunning trade this week of maybe the team's best offensive player, running back Jay Ajayi, to Philadelphia for a fourth-round draft pick.
The combination left the impression the Dolphins were flailing, rudderless, abandoning 2017 and moving ahead without a clear plan.
(And, as if to underline the undeniable, Ajayi rushed eight times for 77 yards in his Eagles debut Sunday including a 46-yard touchdown run. So, to summarize, the team with the best record in the NFL thought Ajayi was still really good, and reaped immediate benefits. And the team mired in mediocrity most of this century that gave up prematurely on Ajayi -- getting virtually nothing in return -- was left to say, "Oops.").
In fairness, the new ground game led by Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake showed some life and lends variety to the offense; those two combined to catch 12 passes. Drake busted a 42-yard run, but also had a costly lost fumble. Miami thought failed on four straight possessions after it drew within 20-16, and trailed by 11 until a late score made it close..
This was the stage for pro-Miami, just as it was for college-Miami the night before. Redemption was waiting. This was the middle of three straight prime-time games for the Dolphins, a franchise first, and the biggest one. Sunday Night Football on NBC, narrated by Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, is the league's major platform now. That isn't Thursday night, Monday night, anytime Sunday, over in London -- anything else. It's Sunday night.
And Oakland, not unlike the Dolphins, somehow maintains a cache', a national brand, albeit a fading one, decades after their halcyon days.
This was the Dolphins' chance to declare themselves to America -- much as the Hurricanes did Saturday night. A chance to erase the doubts.
Instead Miami, despite Jay Cutler's best game as a Dolphin -- 34-for-42, 311 yards, three TDs and a 121.3 rating -- failed to reach midseason with a winning record as the Dolphins' defense allowed more than 300 yards passing by the Raiders' Derek Carr.
Canes football owns the town at the moment. The Heat have abdicated, for now. The Marlins and Panthers aren't close. The Dolphins? Nope.
The Dolphins in fact are barely holding onto third place for most interesting pro or college Miami football team. And there are only three. After the unbeaten, top-10 Canes, the FIU Panthers may be next. They are 6-2, enjoying the next-best season locally under first-year leader Butch Davis, the former UM coach.
The Dolphins entered Sunday night needing to keep up. Ignite interest. Prove this might be the first Fins team since 2000 to not only make the playoffs, but to actually win a playoff game. That, against prevailing skepticism, was the challenge Sunday night in a game that might have brought Miami to midseason feeling hopeful, but fell short.
The stadium that emptied with a raucous, party atmosphere Saturday night emptied quietly one night later.