Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Forget the score, there was a lot to like in Miami Dolphins’ preseason opener

Jarvis Landry #14 of the Miami Dolphins is congratulated by Jason Fox #74 after scoring a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during a preseason game at Soldier Field on August 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.
Jarvis Landry #14 of the Miami Dolphins is congratulated by Jason Fox #74 after scoring a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during a preseason game at Soldier Field on August 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Getty Images

Your Miami Dolphins just lost 27-10. They committed four turnovers, had 12 penalties and did nothing in the second half. It was the club’s worst preseason-opening loss, by point differential, since 1997.

If you knew only those facts, saw only that score, you might already have sunk into here-we-go-again mode or wished coach Joe Philbin had a fuller head of hair so you might angrily demand his scalp.

Instead, Dolfans, you should be happy.

You should have come out of this game encouraged, even as the final score tried to suggest the opposite.

Only in mid-August might such a crazy circumstance be possible. Once the NFL regular season starts, only the bottom line matters. No silver linings are allowed. On Thursday night in Chicago, they were all that mattered.

The early good — the promise of it — was all that mattered.

When it was the Dolphins’ first team against the Bears’, Miami won. And impressed.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 6 of 7 passes for 56 yards including a touchdown strike to Jarvis Landry in the opening series, shrugging off two holding penalties to do it. The defense, when it was the Ndamukong Suh-led starters, allowed no Chicago points.

The Dolphins’ “varsity,” the units that will be on the field full time starting Sept. 13, looked great. It was a small sample, sure, but in those glimpses you saw potential. You felt excitement.

Miami’s second-team units did OK, too. It was only when the deep-roster reserves came in, the guys fighting to hang on, that the game spun out of the Fins’ control. (I’m talking to you, fourth-string quarterback and soon-to-be ex-Dolphin McLeod Bethel-Thompson, of the two interceptions that made him the game’s losing pitcher.)

Nothing that came after could erase the early promise shown by the starting units.

“Always fun to get it started that way,” Tannehill said.

I couldn’t help but recall Miami and Tannehill had begun the preseason similarly just one year earlier. He was 6 for 6 in an opening TD drive vs. Atlanta. Then, though, the Falcons drove the field on Miami’s best defense to quickly tie the score.

On Thursday, you saw the promise on offense (despite at least three missing starters) but also the potential on defense. You saw the signs of balance. The last time Miami scored 400 or more points while allowing less than 300 was 1984. Miami this offseason spent more than $200 million to sign Suh in free agency and to extend Tannehill’s contract with that kind of dominance and balance as a goal.

Thursday’s first quarter was a hint of that. Nothing more. But not less, either.

The building should not be done.

The team’s Achilles’ heel, the guard play on the offensive line, hasn’t disappeared. It didn’t mend itself just because Miami allowed only one sack Thursday.

Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis is still out there, available, waiting to be signed. He wants twice what Miami wants to pay him.

This should not be an unsolvable quandary if we are to believe owner Stephen Ross about how committed to winning he is.

Sometimes you overpay, because sometimes you put football sense over business sense.

Quickly scan the rest of the AFC East: The Buffalo Bills have one of the most formidable defensive lines in the NFL. The New York Jets are counting on a very good defense to offset their QB shambles. Bill Belichick seems to always field a strong Patriots defense in New England.

Yes, Miami could really, really use Mathis. In a league where the difference between 10-6 and 6-10 can be injury luck and a bounce or two, spending for Mathis could be the difference between a run to the postseason or more disappointment.

Either way, for now, long-suffering Dolfans should enjoy that the NFL playoff conversation includes them — that this is seen as a team on the ascent — and that even a preseason-opening 27-10 loss was powerless to erase that good feeling.

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments