No excuses. The Miami Dolphins were as healthy as they’ve been in a while for Sunday’s 26-20 loss to Green Bay, and they had won 11 of their previous 12 home games. Sure, they were on a three-game losing streak, but that close loss at Buffalo was so encouraging it was almost as though it wasn’t really a loss. It looked as though things were going to turn in the Dolphins’ favor for the final three regular-season games.
If that was your thinking, you saw a mirage.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw three fourth-quarter interceptions as the Dolphins (8-7) complicated the road to securing their first playoff berth since 2016.
The Dolphins aren’t panicking, which is a good thing.
But it’s reasonable to now worry about their talent, mental toughness and sense of urgency. Any of those three could be a factor during the team’s final two games: at New England (7-8) on Sunday and against the New York Jets (7-8) on Jan. 8.
But first, here’s a look back at the disappointing loss to the Packers.
Passing game: F
Those three fourth-quarter interceptions were killers. Tagovailoa (16 of 25, 310 yards, three interceptions, one touchdown, 80.8 passer rating) was at his worst when the Dolphins needed his best. Pass protection was good. Tagovailoa was sacked twice and took six hits. That wasn’t the issue. Wide receivers Tyreek Hill (four receptions, 103 yards) and Jaylen Waddle (five receptions, 143 yards, one touchdown) did their thing. That wasn’t the issue. Targets were reasonably dispersed. Waddle and Hill were each targeted six times, running back Raheem Mostert was targeted three times, wide receiver Trent Sherfield, tight end Mike Gesicki and running backs Alec Ingold and Jeff Wilson Jr. were each targeted twice, and tight end Durham Smythe was targeted once. That wasn’t the issue. Play-calling also wasn’t an issue. Tagovailoa, for the first time this season, was the major issue. He must play better, and he’s well aware of that.
Running game: C
The Dolphins rushed for 82 yards on 18 carries, 4.6 yards per carry, which isn’t bad. The problem is they didn’t have many meaningful carries in the second half, when they rushed seven times for 14 yards. Of course, the Dolphins only had 45 plays for the game, 21 in the second half. And we know three of those 21 second-half plays were fourth-quarter interceptions, so there weren’t many opportunities on the ground. But considering the run game isn’t the strength of this offense — it’s almost an afterthought — you can’t really blame that element of the offense as it’s not relied upon. The Dolphins are 31st (second to last) in the NFL in rushing attempts at 331. Balance would help this offense greatly.
Defending the pass: B
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t have a particularly good day, ending 24 of 38 for 238 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a pedestrian 78.6 passer rating. The Dolphins ended with two sacks and just three quarterback hits as Rodgers used his feet to dance around the pass rush and gain some yards (18 yards rushing on seven carries). The Dolphins had seven passes defended, and might have gotten away with a couple of penalties that weren’t called, and all things considered the pass defense did OK. But give the Packers credit for coping after losing wide receiver Christian Watson (six receptions, 49 yards) to injury for the second half. The Dolphins weren’t great in this area, but they were seemingly good enough to get a victory.
Defending the run: A
Green Bay didn’t find much success on the ground, totaling 79 yards on 25 carries. Running back A.J. Dillon (11 carries, 36 yards, one touchdown) was the leading rusher, and you can see by his totals the run defense was effective. And when you consider the Packers had runs of 18, 12 and 11 yards, which total 41 yards, half of their rushing total, the run defense’s effectiveness becomes more clear. Nice job by a run defense that’s now ranked 10th in the league at 109.1 yards allowed per game.
Special teams: D
Yes, the Dolphins successfully shut down a fake punt. But they missed a 48-yard field goal attempt wide right and allowed a 93-yard kickoff return that led to a Packers field goal. Those six points were crucial in a game the Dolphins lost by six points. Kicker Jason Sanders’ streak of 12 consecutive made field goals ended at a bad time. Punter Thomas Morstead was only used once, and that resulted in a 2-yard return and a tackle inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, which is good. But Miami’s return teams also allowed a 21-yard kickoff return in addition to the 93-yarder. Tip your hat to the defense for only allowing a field goal on that possession. Special teams must be better.
The defensive game plan was good. It was effective. Offensively, and on special teams, the game plan wasn’t bad but players didn’t execute. That’s not the coaches’ fault, but it’s their responsibility. It’s up to the coaches to make sure things get done correctly and effectively. That didn’t happen against Green Bay. Coach Mike McDaniel must find a way to get his offense to prove it has more than big plays, and that proof hasn’t come frequently this season. In fact, this team relies heavily on big plays on both sides of the ball and struggles with the down-to-down grind required to be consistently effective. That’s a dangerous trait. The Dolphins have two games left to find out what they can do effectively on a consistent basis, whether it’s big plays or the down-to-down dirty work. If neither get the Dolphins to the playoffs, the season would certainly be considered a failure and McDaniel would take a big hit on his rookie coaching season.
Stock up: Not applicable
Nothing makes you feel optimistic right now. The run defense was good. In fact, the entire defense was fairly good, especially holding the Packers to a field goal on that first possession that started at the Dolphins’ 9-yard line. But it’s tough to reward a defense that allowed 26 points, even though it worked with a short field a few times. The offensive line was OK, and the big-play offense delivered with a couple of long receptions. But nothing was good overall. For the first time all season, it’s tough to be optimistic about anything after a loss. At least the Dolphins have two games remaining and face a win-and-you’re-in scenario. That’s the best thing you can say about this team that has shown to lack a killer instinct when it matters most.
Stock down: Offense
The highly-publicized offense is ninth in the league in scoring at 24.3 points per game. Congratulations. That’s exactly what the Dolphins averaged in 2014 under coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The 2022 offense couldn’t grind out any second-half points against a Green Bay defense that has had its issues. Keep an eye on this unit in these final two games. The jury is still out on the offense. So far it appears to be a group that shows up strongly against middling or poor teams, but struggles against good teams or December opponents such as New England (20 points), Buffalo (first game, 21 points), Cincinnati (15), the New York Jets (17), Minnesota (16), San Francisco (17), the Los Angeles Chargers (17) and Green Bay (20). Yes, the offense scored 29 points at Buffalo (loss) and 42 at Baltimore (win), but it’s pretty much made its reputation against bad teams and in non-pressure situations.