With their playoff fate in their own hands, the Miami Dolphins dropped the ball for two straight weeks and will now be sitting at home in January for the fifth straight year.
Now, it sounds like no one is safe.
"I'm making no comment on that," said Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, before adding, "We're going to look at everything."
Everything. That sounds like they'll be looking at more than just head coach Joe Philbin. And that's the right thing to do.
You can't simply boil down the shortcomings of the team to one guy every time. It would be so much easier to build a winning franchise if that were the case.
Teams wouldn't suffer droughts of five straight seasons at or below .500 if that were the case. An offensive line wouldn't allow 58 sacks in a season, the most in franchise history by a wide margin. An offense as a whole wouldn't combine for just seven points in the final two games of the season.
All of these things resulted in the Dolphins falling short of the playoffs. None of these things fall completely on Philbin's shoulders.
"They made plays. We didn't make plays," said wide receiver Mike Wallace, summing up the Dolphins' loss to the New York Jets. "I feel like we had energy, but we didn't have enough. They had a lot more energy than our team did today. We didn't capitalize. We had a lot of chances. They even missed a field goal to give us an extra chance, and we still didn't take advantage of it."
It's easy to remember the painful losses to the Jets and Buffalo Bills, because big wins over teams like the Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots ultimately mean less at the end of another disappointing season.
Full context, however, is important.
The Dolphins were left for dead after the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin scandal, but their coach did not let the team come completely unraveled. Miami went 5-4 on the season after that point and was in the mix for the final playoff spot until the last week of the season.
There's at least one major positive to take away from the season: the development of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
|Ryan Tannehill's progression|
|Pro Football Reference|
In his second year, Tannehill finished with a higher completion percentage, more yards per game and a higher passer rating, with 12 more touchdowns than he had last year, despite being sacked 23 more times.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan survived a similar collapse in 2011; that year, the Jets were 8-5 with three games to go and dropped the final three games. The offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, was fired. In 2012, the Jets played the blame game once again, only this time, the axe fell on general manager Mike Tannenbaum and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.
Both times, Ryan remained. If the Dolphins think Philbin is the man for the job, there is a precedent for keeping him despite the disappointing finish, and there are others that could be blamed for the team's shortcomings.
What about a roster built by Jeff Ireland over the past several years which has left the team with the worst offensive line in team history? Ireland was the one who made the decisions that resulted in the release of linebackers Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby and the signings of linebackers Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe, who have struggled this year.
What about the offense of coordinator Mike Sherman? His presence may have helped with Tannehill's development initially, but there's a growing belief that he may actually be hindering further development.
Play-calling has also been a point of contention, with the Dolphins reluctant to use Tannehill on more bootlegs and putting him in shotgun sometimes for what seems like entire games.
How about this thought: Sherman knows Tannehill is at his best in the two-minute offense. He has to. Everyone else knows. So, when the offense goes stagnant, why doesn't Miami run more of an up-tempo attack? It would play to the team's strengths and would also mitigate the disaster of some of those troublesome play calls.
There's plenty of blame to go around for Miami falling short of the playoffs. If the Dolphins are going to fire Philbin, they have to know that he's the reason the season ended against the Jets.
There's just too much evidence to the contrary for the Dolphins to reasonably draw that conclusion.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.