Miami Dolphins: 7 Takeaways from Tough Week 13 Loss to Patriots
After the Patriots dropped Miami for the fifth consecutive time, the Dolphins left the field with heads hung low.
What made this loss especially tough, besides the fact that it effectively ended any hopes Miami had for making the playoffs in 2012, is that the Dolphins gave the magma-hot Patriots a brawl for four quarters.
But in the end, a handful of factors—rookie Ryan Tannehill's continued struggles, the lack of dynamism on offense, and a defense that broke when it could least afford to break—amounted to what has been Miami's reality for years.
They simply weren't good enough.
To make sense of the Dolphins' tough loss to the Patriots, here are seven things to take away from Sunday's contest.
Dolphins Are Still Second-Class in AFC East
The New England Patriots are still the kings of the AFC East. Sunday's game proved that as they clinched the title by defeating the Dolphins.
Miami has let it be known that its goal is to dethrone New England as the overseers of the division. But the Dolphins are a team that's still rebuilding, and it showed on Sunday.
Even as the Patriots had a rare off day, the young Dolphins squad just couldn't keep up. New England rebounded from its mistakes and did enough to win. Miami was not only crippled by its own mistakes, but it failed to take advantage of New England's.
Until Miami can become more opportunistic and can take advantage of a struggling opponent, it will continue to be second-class in the AFC East.
Miami's Defense Is Unarguably the Team's Strong Point
The Dolphins were huge underdogs coming into this game and could have easily been swept off the field by the fiery Patriots. Instead, Miami's pass rush confused, frustrated, and simply beat up on Tom Brady, forcing the star into his worst QB rating all season (74.8).
Miami's secondary did an admirable job as well, limiting Brady to just 238 yards and one touchdown. The unit even got a rare interception from Brady.
New England's running game fared better than most of Miami's opponents, but it was still largely unimpressive.
With the exception of New England's final 16 play drive that chewed up over seven minutes and effectively ended the game, Miami's defense played well considering the quality of its opponent.
Dolphins Are in Dire Need of Offensive Firepower
New England led Miami 17-10 at the start of the third quarter. The Dolphins' defense forced three New England punts during the third quarter, producing three offensive possessions for Ryan Tannehill and company.
None of those three possessions lasted longer than six plays. Two of them were three-and-outs.
During that stretch, Ryan Tannehill went 2-of-7 for 33 yards. Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas combined for negative four yards on the ground. These are the numbers of a putrid offense that is in dire need of explosiveness.
Despite showing occasional signs of life, Miami's offense mostly sputtered all day. This is an offense that needs a serious jolt.
The addition of an alpha wide receiver or an athletic tight end (or both, preferably) could provide the spark Miami needs to generate some excitement on offense.
Ryan Tannehill Is Still Battling the Rookie Wall
Ryan Tannehill showed some good things Sunday. He used his athleticism to run for Miami's only touchdown of the day, and he displayed some toughness by taking a few big hits.
But the rookie quarterback is still stuck at the dreaded rookie wall. He was inaccurate on a lot of throws and completed only 44.8 percent of his passes.
He also missed a wide open Brian Hartline twice, both of which would have been touchdowns. Adding some dynamic playmakers would obviously help Tannehill, but the rookie must first battle through his current growing pains.
More than a few people are ready to pull the plug on Tannehill, to which I say calm down. Ryan Tannehill is extremely raw. The fact that he's even starting this season is a sign that he's ahead of the curve.
That just a few weeks ago the Dolphins were in playoff talks is a sign of something else entirely. The Dolphins will only go as far as Ryan Tannehill goes, but he's still developing. Patience is key when working with a rookie quarterback.
A handful of bad games are expected. What's important is how Tannehill finishes the season now that Miami essentially has nothing to play for.
Reshad Jones Is Miami's Best Player in the Secondary
After struggling his first two years in the NFL, Reshad Jones is finally coming into his own in year three. He continued to shine against the Patriots.
Jones picked off Tom Brady after perfect coverage on Aaron Hernandez. He then showed off fleet footwork by leaping over Hernandez, navigating the sideline, and sprinting 50 yards for the touchdown.
The score would unfortunately be wiped off the board due to an illegal block, but Jones' effort did not go unnoticed. He now leads the team with three interceptions on the year.
Reshad Jones seemed to be everywhere on the field Sunday, racking up 10 tackles and a big time sack. He's the only playmaker in Miami's secondary, and he's making a case to be considered as one of the better safeties in the NFL.
Brandon Fields Is a Mighty Weapon
You could say it's a bad sign that one of Miami's best players is its punter. But in the game of field position that the Dolphins so often find themselves in, Brandon Fields is an invaluable weapon.
Fields continued his impressive 2012 campaign against the Patriots Sunday. He punted the ball five times for an average of 51.8 yards and he landed two inside the Patriots' 20-yard line.
Fields came through magnificently for Miami midway through the third quarter. Faced with a 4th-and-1 near midfield and trailing by a touchdown, Joe Philbin elected to punt the ball and trust his defense.
Fields drilled the ball to New England's 2-yard line, and Miami's defense was able to force a punt.
The Dolphins obviously have plenty to worry about on offense, but it's nice to know they have a punter who can consistently put their defense in good positions.
How Badly Do the Dolphins Need Jake Long?
Left tackle Jake Long left Sunday's game with an arm injury. He was spotted later on the sidelines sporting an ice pack, and by the second half he was in street clothes. According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, team sources believe Long could be done for the rest of the season.
Two years ago this would have been a huge blow. But now? Are the Dolphins really in that much trouble if Long can't return for the remaining four games of the season?
Long has struggled this season in both pass and run blocking. Marquee defensive ends like Mario Williams have been able to get by him, but even lesser defenders have worked Jake Long this year.
Long has also battled injuries in the past two seasons. Moreover, Miami's second-round pick Jonathan Martin made the switch to left tackle—the position he played at Stanford—after Long left the game and performed well.
The latest injury to Long seems to indicate that the four-time Pro Bowler is wearing down.
His play has suffered, whether due to his injuries or some other factor. With that in mind, should the Dolphins really be prepared to pay Long the massive contract he'll surely command at the end of the year?