DAVIE – Branden Albert was stuffing everything he could into a clear plastic bag.
Clubhouse attendants were taping shut cardboard boxes with sticky notes that included the address where the box should be mailed.
Andre Branch was rushing so he could make the drive across Alligator Alley and up I-75 to Tampa to watch his alma mater, Clemson, play Alabama in Monday’s College Football Playoff championship.
The Miami Dolphins locker room on Monday had all the signs of the end of another season.
“It’s always tough ending the season because you’re going to be sitting at home on the weekend and watching other teams play for championships,” center Mike Pouncey said. “The camaraderie we built on this football team and the togetherness we have on this football team, it sucks seeing everybody having to separate and go their different ways.”
Moving day was bittersweet for the Dolphins. Most acknowledged going from 6-10 to 10-6 and ending the season with a winning record and in the postseason for the first time in eight years was a significant step.
But that also meant if a team is in the playoffs and unless it wins the Super Bowl, the season will end with a loss. For Miami being dominated by the Steelers 30-12 in the wild card round made it difficult to look at the big picture.
“We truly believed in this room we could make a run, a serious run,” receiver Kenny Stills said. “We truly believed that. We feel like we didn’t do what we were supposed to do.
“I’m sick about the game but I still understand where we’ve come. It’s something you can be proud of but it’s not something to hang your hat on.”
Significant steps were taken under first-year coach Adam Gase, especially considering playoff talk wasn’t even realistic after Miami lost four of its first five games.
But a 30-15 victory over the Steelers in Week 6 was the turning point as the Dolphins won nine of their next 10 games.
And even though that was Miami’s only victory over a team with a .500 record or better (the Dolphins were 1-6 in such games including the playoffs, 9-1 against teams under .500) that wasn’t about diminish what was accomplished during the regular season.
“It was successful,” safety Michael Thomas said about the season, “based upon how this team was performing in the most recent years. We’re resilient and we overcame a lot of adversity, especially when it came to injuries.
“Our goal was to make it to the playoffs, and we got out in the first round. Successful? Yes. But definitely not satisfying.”
Offensive lineman Jerman Bushrod believes the sting will last as long as football still is being played, which means another month as the division playoffs and conference championships lead to the two-week buildup to the Super Bowl.
But after a champion is crowned the 2016 season officially comes to an end.
“It’s going to be tough to deal with, but after the Super Bowl you got to let it go,” Bushrod said. “It’s a new year. It’s definitely tough anytime you get into that dance and you don’t do what you need to do.”
Then the pressure is on vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier to patch holes and deliver Gase a team he can work with to take the next step and enable the franchise to win a playoff game for the first time since 2000.
“I feel like it’s coming,” receiver Jarvis Landry said. “We’re not all the way there, but we started something under Gase and the staff that he’s brought in that will allow us to do something special here in the future.”