It was a long week of press conferences, issued statements and open locker rooms at Sun Life Stadium. Yet, a long week of preparation—11 days, to be exact—wasn't enough to help the Miami Dolphins in their 22-19 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Now, they are back under .500 for the second time this season, after starting 3-0 and looking poised to contend for a wild-card spot, at the very least.
Those days are long gone, after a four-game losing skid put the Dolphins offensive line in focus for its torrid pace of sacks—at one time, it was on pace to allow Ryan Tannehill to be sacked an NFL-record 76 times.
They pulled out the unlikely walk-off-safety win against the Cincinnati Bengals, but with major flaws across the board, the Dolphins aren't going far.
Offense, defense, special teams. Coaching, playing, executing. Errors of every variety.
Might it be even the slightest bit possible that, through the strife around the team, the players lost focus of the game?
"Not at all, no," said Joe Philbin of whether his team was distracted. "We had plenty of time to prepare for this game. I thought we had a very good week of preparation for the game, and in the NFL, you have a 16-game schedule, and there's no excuses."
No one will admit it, but it sure looked like distractions got the better of them.
They came out flat in every phase of the game, en route to a 15-0 second-quarter deficit.
The frustration boiled over from the very first snap, with center Mike Pouncey taking a swing at Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The Dolphins had a 3rd-and-1 prior to the penalty, but that set them back to a 3rd-and-16, all but eliminating their chances to convert.
Never mind the fact that this is probably the last thing the Dolphins wanted to see out of their offensive linemen after the firestorm of the past two weeks—or the fact that Pouncey probably should have been ejected for this.
The Dolphins committed four penalties for 70 yards on the night, so a lack of concentration was only part of the problem.
At times, the Dolphins looked like they had lost their fight. They were blown off the ball at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball continually in the first half, and throughout the game. The Buccaneers picked up 140 rushing yards while the Dolphins picked up just two.
Running back Daniel Thomas was tackled for an early safety, but that was just a product of poor blocking. No one picked up the linebacker storming through the A-gap.
Running the ball out of the end zone with a back whose average yards per carry is the second lowest for any back since 2011 with at least 250 carries? Not the best idea by the coaching staff. Still, not well-executed by the offense as a whole.
The Dolphins woes running the ball have been a storyline off and on all season long, and it appeared they may have finally discovered their running game in recent weeks with 86 rush attempts for 433 yards in the past three games combined, but they went right back to their old, bad habits with 14 rush attempts for two yards against the Buccaneers.
The aforementioned lack of fight even translated to the coaching staff in one spot.
The Dolphins were winning, 16-15, when cornerback Jimmy Wilson intercepted a pass and returned it to the Buccaneers' 7-yard line in the third quarter. The Dolphins ran on first down for a two-yard loss, threw incomplete on second down when Tannehill was pressured and threw an oddly timed screen pass on 3rd-and-goal from the 9-yard line to tight end Charles Clay.
That final play served as the white flag to settle for the field goal, and essentially, the white flag to end the Dolphins game. They didn't get another chance with the football inside Buccaneers territory. They may not get another chance to save their season if they continue to play this poorly, but the Dolphins aren't out of it just yet, and their schedule might help them out.
That being said, things seemed to be set up perfectly for the Dolphins to turn it around. Now, they've been turned upside down.
|Miami Dolphins remaining schedule|
|11||vs. San Diego Chargers||4-5|
|12||vs. Carolina Panthers||6-3|
|13||at New York Jets||5-4|
|14||at Pittsburgh Steelers||3-6|
|15||vs. New England Patriots||7-2|
|16||at Buffalo Bills||3-7|
|17||vs. New York Jets||5-4|
With back-to-back home games against the Chargers and Panthers, followed by a pair of road games against the inconsistent Jets and still-shaky Steelers, it's not entirely out of the question for the Dolphins to re-enter the playoff discussion.
They won't get anywhere near the playoffs without fixing major problems on their football team.
They'll travel even less far unless they can truly put the Richie Incognito situation behind them and focus on football.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or via team news releases.