What Did You Expect? Then And Now

Unlike many other sports leagues in the U.S., the NFL is a short season; it’s a brutal and punishing game that all too quickly takes its toll on those who play it. A loss at any time is big, and in the NFL it doesn’t take long for there to be one too many.

I needed a little time to gather my thoughts following Sunday’s debacle.

I have been guilty of hubris, and that arrogance made me look foolish this Sunday, as much or more so than our own beloved Dolphins. When the final whistle mercifully blew on Sunday, many fans were angry, shocked, lost for words, distraught… I could go on and on. During the game I felt many of these feelings, but as I walked home from 3rd and Long, I put it in my rear view mirror and reflected. Truth is, at the start of the regular season, had someone said that nine games in we would be 4-5, I would have been happy; I would have taken it.

There were pundits who had the Dolphins pegged as a bottom dwelling no starter this season, predicting us to be picking in the top 5 of next year’s draft. With Marshall and Davis being shipped out as they were, and Chad getting cut during the pre-season, Hard Knocks showcased a team that, thanks to the marvel of tv editing, looked very much an organization in disarray. And with such a miserable preseason, it seemed obvious the expectations should be low, right? Love him or hate him, Brandon Marshall had been our most prolific and productive weapon on offense, despite all the missed opportunities he had. Much of the talk focused on our depleted wide receiving corps, and Chad’s departure did not help to rid any of those concerns. Coming into this situation was a rookie head coach, introducing a mostly new coaching staff and installing a new system. A rookie QB under center. Yeah, it’s not a situation that would inspire confidence.

But something amazing started happening. Our rookie QB has turned out much better than expected, Philbin’s plan is working and he has been consistent, and Hartline has emerged. Riding this wave of euphoria, the fans started to believe that this season held greater possibilities than they had dared to hope for – playoffs, yes, playoffs seemed possible. The bar was raised and expectations soared skywards. As much as we didn’t like it, many of us accepted the Colts loss, there were positives to take away from that game and we were witnessing the growth of one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the league.

But it is time to reign in those lofty expectations and temper our zeal. I love what the Dolphins have done for the most part this season. We have played good football, we have challenged opposing teams. Until last Sunday, of course. What happened? We were reminded that this team is young and inexperienced, we were reminded that Philbin is a rookie HC, we were reminded that Tannehill is a rookie QB. Was Philbin right to have benched Bush for as long as he did or even at all? I know everyone will have their own opinions about this and ultimately it is his call to make, but one has to wonder what might have been had he got back in the game earlier. How much did it hurt Tannehill not having Bush out there? What effect did it have in the minds of his teammates? Bush isn’t just a game-changing play maker, he is a team leader.

With a rapidly approaching game against the Bills on Thursday, one might wonder whether the focus was in looking beyond Sunday. After all, the Titans have been abysmal for most of the season. Either way, we didn’t look like we came prepared to play, and the Titans capitalized well on every mistake. Chris Johnson ran wild on our much-lauded run defense and broke a 22-game streak of not allowing a rusher to gain 100 yards on us. Tannehill threw three interceptions, Bush fumbled. Teams that commit turnovers typically do not win games.

I am not sure what happens from here. The Titans were supposed to be an easy enough win for us, moving forward to securing a playoff spot. On paper, there is only one matchup that looked easier than this one, and that is when we meet the Jaguars. But games aren’t played on paper. It doesn’t matter who the analysts favored, who has been playing the better football in the buildup to the game; the only thing that matters is which team is able to execute their game plan on game day. Maybe this was a good thing: maybe the team will reflect on the failings from this game, regroup and, with the same grit and determination that the Titans showed to bounce back from the horrific display against the Bears, we will come out on Thursday night and tear the Bills a new one.

We meet the Bills on Thursday night. The national spotlight will be upon us and we simply cannot perform like we did against the Titans. I am sure the players will be feeling the same way. Its easy enough to say what we need to do to win the game, but it all comes down to execution and heart, the desire to win more than your opponents. For me it looked as though that was missing, and that was the worst thing about it. Can we beat the Bills? Absolutely, but I aim to be more cautious in my approach to calling these games. When the Dolphins play well, they are a great team. There truly is a lot of talent on this roster, even though it was hard to find on Sunday.

We expect great things from our rush defense, we expect great things from our D-Line, we expect them to get pressure on the QB regularly. This is because of their success, and when it doesn’t happen we get frustrated. Locker was able to evade linemen often, and picked up chunks of yards both on the ground and through the air as a result. We need Wake to not only get back there but to wrap Fitzpatrick up as well. Our secondary looked sloppy again, I do not know exactly what is going on with Sean Smith but it’s not working. Continuously he is playing very soft coverage, 5-10 feet off of his man, so consistently that if and when his WR is targeted he is always able to make the catch. Worse still is that he has been beaten on huge plays the last couple of weeks, despite playing deep. If Sean Smith can’t improve in man coverage, if he can’t break up the play, then we are going to be in trouble.

I’m not going to talk stats and numbers of what the Bills are and are not capable of. I did that with the Titans and got burnt. Suffice to say that our offense needs to play a lot better in all areas of the game. Two things, two very important things played a big factor amidst our 3-game winning streak: 1) discipline – it was better; against the Titans we gave up huge yards to penalties and 2) turnovers, we protected the ball. We must play mistake-free football.

The only thing I ask fans to do is continue to get behind this team with the same fervor that you had prior to the Colts game. Remember what the expectations were at the start of the season and take heart in our accomplishments already. Believe that this team is on the right track. There will be bumps along the way like the Titans game, but the evidence suggests that this is a team that is in ascendancy.

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