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Tua, Dolphins Eliminated from Playoff Contention as Colts Beat Jaguars

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2021

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores talks to Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) on the sidelines as the Dolphins take on the Los Angeles Chargers during an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Doug Murray)
Doug Murray/Associated Press

The Miami Dolphins' fortunes quickly unraveled Sunday as they were eliminated from playoff contention.

With a 10-5 record heading into Week 17, the Dolphins were firmly in the driver's seat in the AFC wild-card race. They were the fifth seed in the conference via tiebreaker.

Here's what Miami needed in order to get into the postseason, any one of which would've sent them through:

Instead, the Dolphins suffered a 56-26 blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills, who had already clinched the AFC East, while Tua Tagovailoa threw three interceptions in a rough performance.

The Ravens, Browns and Colts then all won to close out the regular season and seal Miami's fate.

Some fans are likely to feel disappointment over how everything unfolded. It's important to remember, though, how far Miami has come in a single season.

Heading into the 2019 season, head coach Brian Flores dismissed the idea the franchise was embarking upon a rebuild, but that's basically what happened.

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported in September 2019 that "multiple Dolphins players contacted their agents after Sunday's season-opening blowout loss and directed them to attempt to engineer trades elsewhere."

Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com wrote in response to that report that general manager Chris Grier had already shipped out most of the trade assets. Grier subsequently dealt Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

All those moves left the Dolphins flush with salary-cap space, which they used to add much-needed experience to their roster.

Still, many expected 2020 to be a transition year since first-round draft pick Tua Tagovailoa wouldn't be ready by Week 1.

Instead, Flores and Grier were way ahead of schedule.

The MMQB's Albert Breer wrote Flores was getting his vote for Coach of the Year and that Miami was on solid footing regardless of this season's outcome:

"What's even better is as part of all this, he and Grier are putting together something that looks sustainable. Going into this weekend, Miami had the third-youngest roster in the NFL, and was starting six rookies, all of whom were playing without so much as the benefit of an offseason program. Tally it up, and I think Flores has accomplished more than any other coach in 2020. So I'd give him the hardware to reflect it."

When the team missed the playoffs in past years, fans went into the offseason with a level of skepticism that things would improve. The front office and coaching staff continued to make shortsighted decisions that proved counterproductive.

Flores and Grier's plan was painful at the start, yet it represented the kind of long-term vision that had been lacking for a long time. Now, they have a developing roster and a 22-year-old quarterback who showed plenty of upside going forward. Tagovailoa threw for 1,453 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions entering Sunday.

Assuming the former Alabama star takes a step forward in 2021, the Dolphins will be a serious threat to win the division.

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