PITTSBURGH — Adam Gase stood in the Miami Dolphins locker room after his team was drilled by the Pittsburgh Steelers in an NFL playoff game on Sunday.
“Remember this feeling,” Gase told his players. “Get back to this spot and try to make some noise.”
Gase was so disappointed by what had occurred, quickly falling behind 14-0, then 20-3 before succumbing to a stronger opponent 30-12, that he said he’ll need more time to process the entire season.
We don’t need to wait that long.
The Miami Dolphins’ 2016 season was a resounding success.
Even though Miami failed to win its first playoff game in 15 seasons.
Even though the Dolphins allowed too many sacks and didn’t have enough. Even though Miami couldn’t create a run game and couldn’t stop the run.
Even though Miami was handled easily in its last two games of the season.
Miami’s season was a success because answers to the two most important preseason questions asked by any franchise, as the start of any season, were answered.
Yes, Adam Gase was the right choice as Miami Dolphins head coach.
Yes, Ryan Tannehill can be a Top 10-Top 14 NFL quarterback, which will be good enough.
Good enough for what? To win NFL playoff games.
And for kickers, the Dolphins unearthed a franchise running back in Jay Ajayi.
Most expected Miami to finish between 6-10 and 8-8, but the Dolphins overachieved, winning 10 games despite a 1-4 start.
“This game stings, and hurts a lot,” Dolphins offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James said. “But the future is bright. In one year, coach Gase changed everything around. He changed the culture. He got us to respond. The sky is the limit. And we feel like we can do anything.”
Next year, Tannehill should be recovered from those ACL and MCL sprains. And he’ll have an even better understanding of how to best operate Gase’s offense.
Many of the players on this Dolphins’ roster will be gone. And that’s OK, in part because Gase didn’t have a hand in selecting most all of the players on this roster, which has some warts and holes.
Without question, Miami must address major deficiencies on defense.
The Dolphins must add two impact linebackers, either through free agency or the draft.
Miami must add at least one impact defensive lineman.
The team is hopeful Mike Pouncey will return at center. But for example, is left guard Laremy Tunsil ready to move to left tackle? And is next year to one to move on from Branden Albert?
Will wide receiver Kenny Stills and defensive end Andre Branch re-sign? Will wide receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Reshad Jones receive new long-term contracts? (They should.)
This Dolphins team will be remembered for its resiliency.
Players like Ajayi and Landry connected with Gase (despite a tough start to the season by Ajayi) because of their relentless desire to fight for every yard and never give up on any potential win.
It’s why the Dolphins got it right with Gase.
With Gase in place, the Dolphins have a purpose, culture and sense of direction.
“I’m not sure how the Dolphins were in the past,” Branch said, “but I see it going up. I don’t know the last time they were in the playoffs, but that’s the culture that coach Gase brought. And that’s what it is now – playoff football, each and every year.”
Dolphin after Dolphin said after this loss that it wasn’t enough to just get here. That they expected more.
To an outsider, that was unrealistic.
Consider the betting line on this game moved dramatically, from 10 to 10.5 to 11 to 12 on the morning of this game, played when it felt like 2 degrees with wind chill.
Vegas knew. Fans knew. Media knew.
The losses of Tannehill and Pouncey and Jones and Byron Maxwell and Isa Abdul-Quddus and Koa Misi and the list goes on and on, were too much to overcome.
But Gase never made an excuse.
In fact, after this game, when asked about three turnovers by Matt Moore, Gase turned it on himself. As he has so many times this season, Gase took the blame for what he said were a few poor play calls.
Gase raised the bar on expectations for a franchise that has floundered for too many seasons.
Gase demonstrated, from Day 1, flexibility, versatility, open-mindedness and humility.
He knows how to communicate and relate and he knows how to call plays, which should not be overlooked.
This Dolphins team ended on a somewhat predictable down note.
But 2016 is one that will be highlighted in the future. It will be highlighted as the season in which Gase arrived, and everything changed.
This Dolphins team didn’t have playoff talent. But found ways to win. Always fought back. And never made excuses.
Gase wanted at least one night to think all this through.
But it didn’t take us long to realize this: in the very near future, the Miami Dolphins will be back.
And they’ll make loud noise.
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