Now that the Miami Dolphins' 2011 season is officially in the books, we can start to reflect back on the year that was.
Naturally, the first order of business is handing out awards. But these aren't your typical, celebratory accolades. Instead, we're handing out "Best of" and "Worst of" awards.
Following such a dreadful season, the Dolphins don't deserve to be showered with praise. Those responsible for Miami's struggles shouldn't go unscathed. However, there are plenty of players, plays and moments that warrant celebration—so let the celebration begin.
With Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams on the outs, the Dolphins needed a fresh face to fill their running back vacancy.
Once the lockout came to a conclusion, the 'Fins tabbed Reggie Bush as the man for the job. Critics argued that Bush can't be an every-down back, but he responded by posting career highs in every rushing category.
Bush registered 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career, matched his career-high in rushing touchdowns and most impressively, finished the season with a whopping five yards per carry. Even though Bush's play through the first weeks of the season was abhorrent, he more than made up for it.
At the outset of the preseason, the Dolphins inexplicably moved Vernon Carey to right guard and signed Marc Colombo to start at right tackle. It was a puzzling move, and it is one that Miami probably regrets.
While Carey performed admirably at his new position, Colombo was a huge liability throughout much of the season. Granted, he played decently towards the end of the year, but Colombo was easily the worst lineman on the team, and perhaps the worst player as well.
Just for some statistical perspective: Colombo surrendered 10.5 sacks in 2011. No other Dolphins lineman allowed more than 4.5.
There's no denying it: This season was a monumental disappointment. Even though many pundits predicted Miami would struggle, it hurt to watch the Dolphins falter nonetheless.
But if there's one thing that could salvage a bad season, it's eliminating a nemesis from the playoffs—and that's exactly what the Dolphins did in Week 17.
In franchise legend Jason Taylor's final NFL game, the 'Fins clawed their way past Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the Jets by a score of 19-17. Miami's victory eliminated New York from playoff contention and gave Taylor a story-book ending to a Hall-of-Fame career.
The list of games that qualify for "Worst Game of the Year" is nauseating.
There was a Week 3 loss against the lowly Cleveland Browns, a 15-point comeback by Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos in Week 7, another blown lead to New York Giants in Week 8 and yet another blown lead to the New England Patriots in Week 16.
But all of these losses pale in comparison to the national embarrassment the Dolphins suffered against the Patriots in Week 1. On the first Monday Night Football game of the 2011 season, Tom Brady torched Miami's secondary for 517 passing yards en route to a 38-24 Patriots victory.
I was writing this article during the Dolphins-Jets game on Sunday afternoon, and I initially crowned Reggie Bush's 76-yard touchdown scamper Play of the Year.
But then, late in the fourth quarter, the Jets got the ball at their own 20-yard line trailing 10-19. On first down, Mark Sanchez dropped back to pass but was promptly crushed by Jason Taylor. Sanchez dumped the ball off to an offensive lineman, but he fumbled, and J.T. scooped the ball up and scored a touchdown.
A massive dog-pile soon formed in the end zone, and any Dolphins fan watching the game must have felt goosebumps. It was easily the most poetic play I've ever seen.
Unfortunately, this play didn't officially happen. The Jets challenged the fumble, and the call on the field was overturned. However, this was easily the most magical moment of Miami's season.
With just under six minutes remaining in the season opener, the Dolphins trailed the Patriots 17-31. Miami had little time to overcome a large deficit, but Brandon Fields pinned New England down at their own one-yard line with a picturesque punt.
A comeback seemed feasible, but then, Tom Brady connected with Wes Welker for a 99-yard touchdown pass.
Brady and the Pats passing attack had already humiliated the Dolphins secondary, but this play put the finishing touches on arguably the worst collective effort in team history.
Some fans might want Stephen Ross to fire Jeff Ireland—and I tend to support their cause—but give credit where credit is due.
Remember when everybody thought the Dolphins would draft Mark Ingram in the first round of the 2011 draft? Well, Ireland passed on Ingram and made the "boring" selection—Florida center Mike Pouncey.
But after excelling in his rookie season, that "boring" pick looks like a franchise center. Pouncey started all 16 games for the Dolphins and played like a veteran, committing just four penalties and surrendering only two sacks. At this rate, Pouncey could become a perennial Pro Bowler.
The Worst Rookie of the Year award should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, most rookies don't succeed in their first NFL seasons.
But most rookies aren't afforded the kind of opportunity that second-round pick Daniel Thomas was this season. Thomas, a 6'0", 230-pound collegiate star, was supposed to play an integral role in Miami's offense, but he simply failed to produce.
For the season, Thomas rushed for just 553 yards on 153 carries, giving him a measly 3.6 yards per carry. There's no doubt that Thomas has the physical tools to succeed in the NFL, but he needs to build confidence or he might soon become an afterthought on the roster.
In Week 15, the Dolphins trekked up to the snowy confines of Buffalo, N.Y., for a meaningless game.
The only thing at stake that Sunday was bragging rights, but that didn't stop Reggie Bush from posting one of the greatest performances in franchise history.
Bush shredded Buffalo's defense for 205 rushing yards, including a memorable 76-yard touchdown run that sealed Miami's fifth victory of the season.
Following Miami's embarrassing Week 1 loss to the Patriots, heads had to roll. The 'Fins cut Benny Sapp soon after the game, making him the scapegoat for the secondary's horrendous performance.
However, Sapp wasn't the worst defensive back in that game—Nolan Carroll was.
Tom Brady targeted whomever Carroll was covering throughout the night. Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez all torched Carroll as Brady racked up a Patriots-record 517 passing yards. Fortunately, Carroll seemed to progress as the season wore on, but his Week 1 performance stands as the year's worst.