MIAMI GARDENS — What was surely the final pass of Jay Cutler’s Miami Dolphins career and quite possibly the final pass of his NFL career, was nearly intercepted.
Of course it was.
Cutler lasted only one drive on a late Sunday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium that should have meant so much more.
The Bills beat the Dolphins 22-16 but really, who’s keeping score?
The record will show that Miami finished this season 6-10, one season after surprisingly going 10-6, and really, has any NFL season been so polar opposite than the one that preceded it?
On the first Bills drive of Sunday’s game, Tyrod Taylor the Dolphin-killer, completed a pass to a wide open tight end, Nick O’Leary, of Palm Beach Gardens, grandson of Jack Nicklas, who celebrated it here. Nicklas scored (and once again, Miami did not in the first half).
Safety Reshad Jones and linebacker Kiko Alonso were giving chase, not close enough, and really, what had changed from the first game of this season, to the last?
Was it scheme? Was it talent? Was it miscommunication?
Whatever it was, it wasn’t good enough. It was disastrous from start to finish.
And in particular, the finish was bad, Miami going 2-8 down the stretch.
On the second drive of this game on Sunday, a quarterback named David Fales, who, perhaps, will be Miami’s backup quarterback next season, threw incomplete on fourth down to a tight end named A.J. Derby, who, perhaps, will be the team’s backup tight end next season.
Fales to Derby, incomplete, in the first quarter of the final game at Hard Rock Stadium this season.
Just how we all predicted.
But really, who could have predicted any of it?
OK, to be fair, some were concerned that Ryan Tannehill did not have that knee surgery. And, to be honest, we’ll never know if that preseason ACL tear would not have happened if he did.
But there are things we do know, and know very clearly.
Miami was undisciplined. So, so undisciplined. One of the worst teams in the NFL in penalties. One of the worst teams in the league in turnover margin. One of the worst teams in the league in scoring differential.
There is so much to figure out. For Adam Gase and Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier. But for Gase, first and foremost perhaps, he must figure out how important it is that his team was over and over and over again this season, making not-so-smart penalties.
On Sunday, Miami’s first half looked like this: 0 points, 4 first downs, 9 penalties.
The Dolphins’ first penalty was committed by a man named Gabe Wright, who wasn’t even on the pregame flip card, because he was activated off the practice squad this week.
Neutral zone infraction.
On Miami’s second drive, Kenyan Drake and Ted Larsen committed pre-snap penalties on consecutive plays. Illegal motion. False start. These are the kinds of penalties that have tortured Gase and staff all season. They’re not even competitive mistakes. They’re mental mistakes. And this is Game 16.
All season, Miami has also committed penalties on third downs. Offense and defense, but especially defense.
In the second quarter, Walt Aikens lowered his head to hit Tyrod Taylor without reason, really, for an unnecessary roughness penalty that negated a third-down stop.
Later, Cam Wake committed a facemask penalty that negated a forced fumble by Stephone Anthony.
The Dolphins must determine if they need smarter players. Or if they need to change the way they coach. Or perhaps, even, if they should change a few of the coaches on staff this offseason.
It was good that Miami showed some fight during a touchdown drive in the third quarter, with the game and really the season, all but a closed book. But was it good that Jarvis Landry and Kenyan Drake were ejected for their roles in the melee?
Is it possible Landry could face suspension for what officials said were two New Year’s Eve violations?
It was sad, really, that there was more interest during the halftime performance of Circe Du Soleil’s “Volta” at Hard Rock Stadium, than the first half.
It was sad, really, that is was completely in Miami’s best interest to lose this game, ensuring no worst than the 12th pick in the NFL Draft. Oh, there were eyes on games in Los Angeles, where Dolphins fans wanted the Raiders to beat the Chargers (for draft pick purposes). And there were eyes in Baltimore, too, where it was possible Miami could leapfrog the Cincinnati Bengals if they were to win and the Ravens were to choke away a playoff-clinching opportunity.
But how many eyes were there in Miami?
Yeah, not really so much. As Gase said recently, Miami needs to make sure that they’re not in this position next season. They can’t be hoping for seven things to happen in order to have a chance to sneak into the playoffs.
They can’t afford to lose five straight games in the middle of a season. They don’t possibly have such poor talent on offense as to be one of the worst teams in the league.
Miami took a flier on Jay Cutler, and he didn’t fly. There weren’t enough accurate passes. There wasn’t enough positive energy. There wasn’t enough left in the tank.
With the victory, the Bills put themselves in position to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1999. This is great news for the Pegula family, Terry and Kim of Boca Raton, who happen to own the Bills.
For Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, the part-time Palm Beach resident, disappointment. He’ll want answers. But he’ll also have patience we suspect, as the phrases “hurricane,” “white-powdered substance,” and “AWOL” don’t usually appear in Dolphins stories in one season.
There will be hope that Ryan Tannehill will change the course of Miami’s offense with leadership and poise and decision-making and that Miami will strike gold with a Top 12 pick and find a way to clear enough cap space (Julius Thomas, Lawrence Timmons, a restructure or two) to add a few key free agents.
As for Sunday? Well, Timmons was involved in one memorable play just before the end of the third quarter.
Timmons filled the hole and lowered his pads to tackle Bills running back Mike Tolbert. And Timmons was absolutely trucked. Bowled over. Humiliated.
A personification of 2017.
What time does that ball drop?