Down 23-20 with two minutes to go in the game, the Miami Dolphins were right where big-time quarterbacks love to be—down by three, at midfield, first down, plenty of time.
Three Ryan Tannehill overthrows and an underthrown completion later, the game was effectively over. Turnover on downs. For the third time in the first half of the season, the Dolphins lost by a field goal.
Now they find themselves 4-4 at the halfway mark.
Sunday's game will be one that Miami fans remember in the coming weeks. Instead of being 5-3 and in first place in the AFC wild card race, they find themselves at 4-4 and in the middle of a pack of AFC teams.
The Dolphins needed that win to complete a four-game winning streak and have some margin for error heading into a very tough second half. Now that margin of error is nearly non-existent.
Strength of Schedule
You cannot overstate it. Strength of schedule is a major factor in the NFL. The Dolphins have finished with their soft first-half schedule and now have a dangerous second-half schedule coming up. The most crucial part is a three-week stretch from Weeks 12 through 14—the Seattle Seahawks, the rival New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers.
The Dolphins will be heavy underdogs in all three of those games, so they need to head into them with a winning record. That makes the upcoming games against the Tennessee Titans and rival Buffalo Bills must-win games.
These are two of the easiest games remaining for Miami this season. If they can win both and improve to 6-4, they might be able to contend for a wild-card spot. If not, the odds are against them. Thus far, they have not beaten a team that is .500 or better.
How will the Dolphins do against the Patriots this year?
Two other games to keep an eye on are the remaining games against the Patriots. The two teams will play twice in December. The Patriots have won the last four meetings by an average of 19 points per game.
The Patriots defense will give Tannehill complex looks that can be problematic for a rookie quarterback. At the same time, the Patriots offense has always been able to take advantage of the holes in the Dolphins defense, especially the secondary and cornerback Sean Smith.
Know Your Weaknesses
At this point in the season, the Dolphins know their weaknesses and it is clear what needs to improve.
Their secondary is not holding its own and is letting down an otherwise strong defense. Prior to Sunday, Miami was already 27th in the NFL in opposing passing yards. Giving up an all-time record Sunday certainly did not help that.
Cornerbacks Sean Smith and Nolan Carroll have been on the wrong end of too many big plays.
Left tackle Jake Long—who should be the chief support for Tannehill—is not living up to his contract so far this season. The rest of the offensive line has been somewhat disappointing as well. Tannehill was hit eight times during the game, including once on the final drive.
Next Sunday, the Dolphins get to say home and enjoy their last 'easy' game of the season, hosting the Tennessee Titans. The Titans (3-6) suffered an embarrassing lost on Sunday against the Chicago Bears, giving up 51 points at home.
This should be a bounce-back game for Miami and hopefully one that will allow them to keep thinking about their first playoff berth since 2008.