The Miami Dolphins sure would have liked to cap off their up-and-down season by finishing at or above .500 for the first time since 2008. A win on the road over the AFC East champion New England Patriots would have marked their first win at Gillette Stadium since that year and would have sent them riding into the offseason on a high note.
As it is, the loss serves as a great capstone on the season if only to help the Dolphins learn how they must build toward 2013.
For one, they might want to do a better job of protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He showed enough promise to have confidence in him as the answer at the position, but not if he's being pressured on 30 percent of his dropbacks, as was the case leading into Sunday's game. He was sacked seven times by New England's defense.
He may have been the second-most accurate quarterback in the league under pressure headed into Sunday's game (with 74.7 percent of his passes under pressure either being caught or dropped, according to ProFootballFocus.com), but no amount of accuracy under pressure will help when he's being brought down that much.
Protecting Tannehill better has to be a goal for the 2013 season.
Some of that pressure was generated from great coverage on behalf of New England's secondary and the inability of Miami's receivers to get great separation.
Getting open is only half the battle; Tannehill delivered a beautifully thrown back-shoulder fade that hit wide receiver Armon Binns square in the hands before falling to the turf. Another pass to running back Lamar Miller was nearly dropped.
Adding a wide receiver who can get open will go a long way.
But before the Dolphins focus on what they will add, they must also focus on who they will keep.
There is a long list of players set to become free agents this offseason, leading off with running back Reggie Bush, left tackle Jake Long and wide receiver Brian Hartline. Bush fell just 13 yards short of posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Long struggled this year before being shelved on injured reserve with a triceps injury. Hartline was the star of the receiving corps this year.
The internal evaluation has already begun, and what comes next will be a product of their findings.
There's still progress to be made, but the Dolphins can take comfort that they made a good deal of progress in 2013. Make no mistake; progress doesn't mean winning one more game this year at 7-9 than last year at 6-10. Progress means being the second-best team in the AFC East.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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