A couple weeks ago, there was no way of telling the Miami Dolphins would fall apart without any notice. They were still battling the Buffalo Bills for the AFC East crown. Tua Tagovailoa was getting MVP buzz.
The Dolphins didn’t play a great second half against the Houston Texans in Week 12, but they led 30-0 at the half. There were no warning signs.
There are alarms going off after Sunday night. The Dolphins followed up a rough loss against the San Francisco 49ers last week with another horrible game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The offense did almost nothing in a 23-17 loss. For those who were using Sunday night to judge Tagovailoa against the player selected right after him in the 2020 draft, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, Sunday night was a 10-8 round for Herbert. Herbert was very good most of the game, and Tagovailoa played one of the worst games a quarterback has had this season.
For the Chargers, it was a huge result for their playoff hopes. The Chargers prevented the Kansas City Chiefs from clinching the AFC West for the moment, but more importantly they have hope at 7-6 to get in as a wild-card team. The Dolphins are still in line to make the playoffs at 8-5, but the good vibes from them before December have disappeared.
More than just the loss, the Dolphins and their quarterback look nothing like what we saw through the first three months of the season.
Dolphins have trouble from the start
It was a horrible first half for the Dolphins. The offense was stopped cold from the beginning. The only big play was when Tyreek Hill happened to have a fumble bounce into his hands and he ran around right end for 57 yards and a touchdown. At halftime the Dolphins had 55 yards from scrimmage. The Chargers defense has been really bad in recent weeks, was without several key players, and the Dolphins had five first downs before halftime. Tagovailoa completed 20 percent of his passes before halftime, the lowest completion percentage in the first half of any game this season according to NBC.
The Dolphins played a miserable half and ended it appropriately, with a terrible coaching decision that handed the Chargers a touchdown. On third-and-goal at the 17-yard line, the Dolphins lined up most of their defense in the end zone. The Chargers just took an underneath pass to Austin Ekeler, who had room to run and got to the 1-yard line. Once the Chargers got to the 1-yard line they decided to go for it on fourth down, and Ekeler ran in for a touchdown. The Dolphins coaches handed the Chargers a gift touchdown with bad strategy.
The Chargers defensive backs were mostly pressing the Dolphins receivers, and Tagovailoa either didn’t have open targets or was misfiring when he had an opportunity. Tagovailoa was 3-of-17 for 25 yards in the third quarter when he finally hit a big play.
Tagovailoa threw deep down the left sideline and Hill grabbed it, then ran the rest of the way for a 60-yard touchdown. The Chargers had dominated the game up to that point and it felt like they were up by 28. In actuality, their lead was just 17-14 after the Hill touchdown. Miami had a chance.
But Tagovailoa and the offense couldn’t get anything going, yet again.
Chargers grind out the win
The rest of the win for the Chargers was a slow death for the Dolphins. The Hill play didn’t spark anything for the Dolphins offense. The next two drives, with the game there for the taking, resulted in two punts. The Chargers finally went on a long field goal drive and took a 23-14 lead with 2:40 left.
The Chargers have had a rough season with injuries and tough losses, but Sunday’s win gives them plenty of hope. It’s as good as the Chargers have played all season. Herbert had 367 yards and a touchdown. It was a performance the Chargers desperately needed.
The Dolphins will have to adjust, and fast. If teams will be physical with their receivers, Miami has to find a counterpunch. They have a tough game in Week 15, Saturday night at the Buffalo Bills. Miami is still in good shape to make the playoffs, but the margin of error is getting smaller.
First-year Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel was off to a great start through 12 weeks. Now we’ll see if he can handle a slump, which includes figuring out how to get his young quarterback on track again.