Miami Dolphins insist their season hasn’t slipped away just yet

Bobby McCain and the Dolphins still think they can surprise people. (Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—It’s looking bleak for the Dolphins after three straight losses, two of which were utter humiliations, and their season is slipping away from them. After Monday’s 45-21 loss to Carolina, there’s little belief from the outside world that they have any shot at cracking the playoff field.

In the locker room, though, it’s a different story. As bad as it’s been lately, there’s no sense of players being demoralized or thinking to sleepwalk through the rest of the schedule.

“I look in every eye, and these guys, I know what they’re about,” cornerback Bobby McCain said. “I know what they’re about throughout the week. I know what the guy to my right and the guy to my left are about. We play for each other.

“I don’t care if we was 9-0 or 0-9, I’m still gonna play for the man next to me and I’m still gonna play (vigorously) and do what I gotta do. There’s no hanging heads. Next game. We’ve got Tampa Bay at home and we’re gonna prepare our tails off.”

He continued, “It’s very frustrating, not even as a team or an individual, but as a human. I don’t care if you’re a school teacher—if someone’s not learning what you’re putting out there, then you feel like you let them down and let yourself down. It’s frustrating. We know we’ve gotta keep putting the work in and keep chopping, keep chopping, keep chopping.”

The next obstacle in their path is a home game Sunday against Tampa Bay, which presents a prime opportunity to regain some confidence. The Buccaneers are 3-6 and are playing with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of Jameis Winston.

Miami rode out a lot of adversity at the beginning of the season with injuries and scheduling strains to get to 4-2. Three straight losses put the team at 4-5 with a minus-87 point differential, fourth-worst in the NFL. For context, the 1-9 San Francisco 49ers are one point better at minus-86.

With tie breakers taken into account, the Dolphins now sit ninth in the AFC standings. That in itself isn’t so dire, especially with No. 6 Buffalo merely one game better at 5-4, but the remaining schedule is brutal on Miami with two games against the Patriots, two against the Bills and a Christmas Eve game at Kansas City.

“We’re good,” center Mike Pouncey said when asked how he felt about the team slipping below .500 for the first time since last October. “We’re gonna regroup. We still control our own destiny… In the second half of the season, we can’t lose these football games. We just put ourselves in a deeper hole. We’re gonna continue to work hard and try to get a win next week.”

They’ve seesawed throughout the year with the offense and defense taking turns letting them down.

When Jay Cutler and the offense managed three touchdowns in the first four games, Miami stayed afloat by holding opponents to an average of 16.8 points.

That side of the ball seems to have figured some things out lately—just in time for the defense to spiral. Cutler has thrown nine touchdown passes in his last 12 quarters, and the Dolphins put up 24 points—not an overwhelming total by any means, but certainly viable—in their home loss to Oakland.

Their defense has allowed 98 points (does not include the two Ravens’ pick-sixes) and 1,222 yards over the last three games. It bottomed out Monday with the Panthers racking up 548 yards, the second-most by an NFL team this season.

“We’ll get it fixed,” linebacker Rey Maualuga said. “Just another frustrating night. It’s something I’m sure the coaches will get fixed and us players will make it a priority to fix the things we need to fix.”

Many of the starters on this team were with Miami last year when it went 10-6 and made the playoffs, and new guys like Lawrence Timmons, Maualuga and T.J. McDonald are proven veterans.

That’s the most frustrating element of this slide for the players, who refuse to concede that they’re overmatched personnel-wise. It’s also their greatest hope for reclaiming a season that’s on the brink of crumbling.

“We know we can,” safety Michael Thomas said. “The same guys that are here now have done it before. They’ve played good football before. They’ve made the plays before. We know we all can do it. Let’s figure it out.”

[PHOTO GALLERY: Amazing images from the Fins’ embarrassing loss in Carolina]

[Miami Dolphins 2017 mid-season awards]

[T.J. McDonald shows start of something good for Dolphins in debut]

[Five takeaways from Dolphins-Panthers]

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No hospitalization, but Dolphins RB Damien Williams needed IVs for illness

Dolphins running back Damien Williams battled a rough illness leading up to the Carolina game. (Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—It takes a lot to keep Damien Williams home from work. Practice is far from a chore for him, and few Dolphins players enjoy it as much as he does.

So when he missed two days last week because of an unspecified illness, there was no doubt it was serious. Williams declined to give many specifics, but hinted that he lost weight and said he needed intravenous fluids when he was sick.

When he finally returned for practice Saturday, he still wasn’t back to normal.

“I made myself,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is your profession. Be a professional.”

He didn’t use it as an excuse, but that obviously didn’t help him going into Miami’s 45-21 loss at Carolina on Monday. Williams had nine carries for 19 yards and caught two passes for 20.

His counterpart, Kenyan Drake, posted 82 yards on seven rushes and had a pair of five-yard receptions.

It was Drake and Williams’ second game sharing the backfield after Miami traded Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi.

[PHOTO GALLERY: Amazing images from the Fins’ embarrassing loss in Carolina]

[Miami Dolphins 2017 mid-season awards]

[Here’s how DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills can change everything for the Dolphins’ offense]

[Five Dolphins to watch vs. Carolina]

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Dolphins S T.J. McDonald says he’ll get even better after season debut

T.J. McDonald made his season debut at safety for the Dolphins on Monday. (Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—The Dolphins waited a long time to finally get new safety T.J. McDonald on the field, but the delay was tougher on him than the team.

McDonald missed the first eight games of the season because of an NFL suspension, but worked diligently during that time and was popped into the starting lineup for his debut in Monday’s 45-21 loss to Carolina.

“I hadn’t played a full game since 2016, and you can’t simulate this game speed,” he said. “The mental part wasn’t too much of an issue for me, but just making sure I get all my angles right and the speed of the game. That’ll come. I had to see it a little bit, but I feel good about it.”

McDonald appeared to play every defensive snap. He led the team with nine tackles.

While he was ineligible, he was allowed to do everything but practice or play. He remained in meetings and continued training under staff supervision, intent on doing everything he could to maintain his conditioning and be in position to contribute immediately.

“He was putting in work every single day,” fellow safety Michael Thomas said. “To come in every single day knowing you’re not playing, knowing you’re not part of the game plan, but you’re in meetings. You’re running and you don’t have nobody to push you, but you’re out there putting in the work to get in shape to play as many snaps as he played today. He’s a pro.

“I was proud of the way he played today. He’s gonna be great for us in the future.”

[PHOTO GALLERY: Amazing images from the Fins’ embarrassing loss in Carolina]

[Miami Dolphins 2017 mid-season awards]

[Here’s how DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills can change everything for the Dolphins’ offense]

[Five Dolphins to watch vs. Carolina]

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Dolphins defense in disbelief after getting mauled by Panthers

Panthers receiver Devin Funchess blew by T.J. McDonald for a touchdown. (AP)

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Rey Maualuga knew it was bad, but when he heard total numbers on what the Dolphins defense allowed in the 45-21 loss to Carolina on Monday, he thought it had to be a misprint.

Miami gave up 548 yards, just seven short of being the worst game by an NFL team this season.

“No,” Maualuga said in disbelief. “That’s total offense?”

When it was confirmed to him that the number was indeed accurate, as well as the 294 rushing yards, it was difficult to absorb that happening to a unit he believed was incapable of such a meltdown.

“Five hundred plus? That’s a damn lot,” he said. ‘That’s a lot. You see the guys that’s on this defense and there’s no way we should give up 350, let alone 400, let alone whatever you said it was. Five fifty? We’ve just gotta go back to work. It’ll be fixed for sure.”

Miami’s defense was fine in the first half and kept the game within reach until it unraveled in the third quarter. It was at that point that Cameron Newton led the Panthers on five straight touchdown drives.

The Dolphins went from down 10-7 heading into the final minutes of the first half to trailing 38-14 at the end of the third quarter.

For a group that starts with Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake on the defensive line, has three veteran linebackers and well-regarded talent at every position in the secondary, that’s unacceptable.

“We would never think that we’d give up that,” cornerback Bobby McCain said. “But we did. We’ve gotta look at it, take it for what it is and move on.”

Newton, who had struggled as a passer the last four games, came up with 254 yards on 21-for-35 throwing with four touchdowns and didn’t have a turnover. He also ran for 95 yards on five plays, including a backbreaker for 69 yards right after the Dolphins scored to pull within 31-14 late in the third quarter.

The Panthers had six plays of 20-plus yards. One of those was Cameron Artis-Payne running mostly untouched for a 43-yard gain in the final minutes.

By that point in the night, Artis-Payne’s run was little more than a footnote in the Miami defense’s worst performance of the season.

“Man, I—What’s on paper doesn’t define who we are,” Maualuga said. “Obviously people might look at (548 yards) and be like, ‘Holy crap, these guys didn’t come out and play and maybe they just can’t perform under the lights.’

“I don’t know. It just doesn’t define who we are as a defense and as a team. There’s nothing more to it. We have to come back and fix our mistakes and move forward.”

[PHOTO GALLERY: Amazing images from the Fins’ embarrassing loss in Carolina]

[Miami Dolphins 2017 mid-season awards]

[Here’s how DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills can change everything for the Dolphins’ offense]

[Five Dolphins to watch vs. Carolina]

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Dolphins can’t hide from reality anymore after 45-21 loss to Carolina

Cam Newton clobbered the Dolphins on Monday and might’ve ended their season. (Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Dolphins are out of ways to convince anyone that this season will get any better.

Through all the tumult this year, going all the way back to losing Ryan Tannehill to a knee injury a week into training camp, they’ve managed to stay afloat until now. With Monday’s 45-21 loss at Carolina, they fell below .500 for the first time since last October, and they look very much like a team that’ll spend the rest of this season scrapping just to break even.

Miami (4-5) didn’t even underperform that egregiously against the Panthers. It was more a case of seeing quite clearly that this team isn’t good enough.

This came at a time when the Dolphins got starting safety T.J. McDonald and guard Ted Larsen on the field for the first time, finally cashing in on two long-awaited arrivals. There’s no other help on the way. This version of this roster is who they are.

Adam Gase tried the offense he wanted to run and found it was too complex for his players. Then he simplified it to its most basic level. Then he brought back a more sophisticated design. Expand, shrink, expand, shrink, rinse, repeat.

He crafted the backfield to his preferences by dumping power runner Jay Ajayi in favor of more multifaceted players in Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake. Against the No. 2 run defense in the league, that duo totaled 25 yards on the ground and 25 as receivers until Drake broke loose for 66 on a touchdown run late in the third quarter.

Cam Newton basically offset that, by the way, on the very next play as he raced through the middle of the Dolphins’ defense for 69 yards. Four plays later the Panthers had another touchdown and a 38-14 lead.

Carolina’s one vulnerability is its secondary, and the Dolphins didn’t have nearly the firepower to exploit it.

Gase is thought to be the only man on earth who can coax Jay Cutler into being a viable quarterback. He completed 22 of 37 passes for 222 yards with one touchdown coming on a shovel pass to Julius Thomas and the other going to Jarvis Landry in garbage time. He was off all night and flung a dumbfounding interception Thomas’ way just before halftime that led to a Carolina touchdown.

Through almost three quarters, Miami’s longest pass play of the night was a 19 yarder to Landry. The most dangerous downfield weapon on the team is DeVante Parker, who delivered the first 20-plus-yard pass play of the night with a 24-yard catch at the end of the third quarter. The game was long over by then.

There was a time when the Dolphins got away with their dreadful offense, but the defense that was once thought to be one of the league’s best has slipped into mediocrity. It just gave up 45 points and 548 yards to an offense that entered Monday ranked 24th in the NFL. That’s the second-biggest yardage total an NFL defense has allowed this year.

Newton, who hasn’t had a decent game throwing the ball in more than a month, picked apart the Dolphins to the tune of 21 for 35 with 254 yards and four touchdown passes. He also hit them with his best rushing game of the year at 95 yards on five attempts.

He led Carolina (7-3) on five straight touchdown drives before checking out with four minutes left. It doesn’t get more demoralizing than that.

Even in a year where it looks like the threshold for making the playoffs is going to be fairly low, perhaps even 9-7, it’s hard to get there without being really good at something.

There’s little reason to believe the remaining games against good teams will be any different than the visit to Carolina or the Baltimore game or the New Orleans game. Maybe the Dolphins can pull it together in the upcoming home game against Tampa Bay, but no one’s going to give them a shot in New England the following week.

Perhaps it was unreasonable to expect more than this in a season plagued by misfortune from the onset. There always comes a point at which the truth can’t be brushed aside anymore, and that moment appears to have arrived for the Dolphins.

[PHOTO GALLERY: Amazing images from the Fins’ embarrassing loss in Carolina]

[Miami Dolphins 2017 mid-season awards]

[Here’s how DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills can change everything for the Dolphins’ offense]

[Five Dolphins to watch vs. Carolina]

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NFL national anthem protest: Dolphins continue kneeling at Carolina

Miami Dolphins players kneel during the national anthem before their game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on November 13, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Three Miami Dolphins players continued their protest for racial equality by kneeling during the national anthem before tonight’s game at Carolina.

Wide receiver Kenny Stills, tight end Julius Thomas and safety Michael Thomas took a knee on the sideline as servicemen held a field-sized American flag a few feet in front of them. The NFL is honoring military members throughout the month as part of its salute to Service campaign, and the Panthers had servicemen lining their entrance for player introductions today.

This is the second straight week the three players have kneeled now that coach Adam Gase has rescinded his policy that they must stay off the field if they’re not going to stand.

The trio kneeled among several standing teammates. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was to Stills’ left and put his arm around him during the anthem.

Stills and Michael Thomas have been kneeling since the beginning of last season. Julius Thomas began doing it in September in response to Donald Trump’s inflammatory remarks about protesting players.

[LIVE  PHOTO GALLERY: Miami Dolphins vs. Carolina Panthers]

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[Here’s how DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills can change everything for the Dolphins’ offense]

[Five Dolphins to watch vs. Carolina]

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Miami Dolphins inactives: Who’s in/out vs. Carolina Panthers tonight?

Dolphins safety Michael Thomas was unable to practice this week because of a knee issue. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

CHARLOTTE, N.C.–The Dolphins are getting two starters back for tonight’s game against Carolina. Safety T.J. McDonald is back from an eight-game suspension, and left guard Ted Larsen is also making his Miami debut after making it back from a torn biceps.

On the flip side, there was a long list of injury concerns coming into this game. Most importantly for the Dolphins, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (knee), running back Damien Williams (illness) and defensive lineman William Hayes (hamstring) are good to go. Safety and core special teams player Michael Thomas was also in question with a knee injury and is dressed for the game.

Here are the Dolphins’ inactives tonight:

G Isaac Asiata
QB David Fales
WR Rashawn Scott

CB Jordan Lucas
CB Tory McTyer
LB Stephone Anthony
OT Zach Sterup

Some other notes on tonight’s lineup:

–Williams starts at running back for the second straight week. He’ll share with Kenyan Drake.

–The Dolphins will go with a new offensive line now that Larsen is playing. Laremy Tunsil stays at left tackle next to Larsen, center Mike Pouncey and right guard Jermon Bushrod start for the ninth straight game and backup guard Jesse Davis is in at right tackle. Ja’Wuan James was placed on Injured Reserve on Saturday.

–Jordan Phillips is listed as the starter at defensive tackle ahead of Davon Godchaux. Godchaux played more snaps out of the two in every game they’ve both been active.

[Miami Dolphins 2017 mid-season awards]

[Here’s how DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills can change everything for the Dolphins’ offense]

[Five Dolphins to watch vs. Carolina]

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Post staff predictions: More struggles on tap for Dolphins vs. Panthers on MNF

What are our Miami Dolphins writers expecting on Monday night when the Fins travel to Carolina to face the Panthers in the Week 10 finale?

[RELATED: Dolphins vs. Panthers: How do they match up in Week 10?]

Miami Dolphins fans during the second half of the game between the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Sunday, November 5, 2017. Final score: Oakland Raiders, 27, Miami Dolphins, 24. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

STAFF PREDICTIONS

Joe Schad, Beat writer

Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis may be the best linebacker duo in the NFL. This is a problem because they can hunt Jay Cutler, attack Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams on rushes and after receptions and disrupt all those short passes to Jarvis Landry. Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short is a monster. Miami’s best chance on offense is taking deep shots to DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills. But will Cutler have the time required to do that?

Panthers 28, Dolphins 13


Jason Lieser, Beat writer

The Dolphins are in danger of falling below .500 for the first time this season, but never fear, the Jupiter Juggernaut is here! Miami kicker Cody Parkey will redeem himself from the recent missed extra points and go a perfect 6 for 6 on field goals to outlast Carolina and deliver the Dolphins their biggest win of the year.

Dolphins 18, Panthers 17


Hal Habib, Beat writer

I put a lot of stock in a good offensive line. And the fact is, the Dolphins will never have their ideal starting five on the field this year. Just as Ted Larsen gets healthy, Ja’Wuan James packs up for the year. Not a good time to be playing the league’s No. 1 defense.

Panthers 24, Dolphins 17


Dave George, Columnist

Cam Newton isn’t having a great passing year, but at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, he isn’t afraid to take off running for third-down conversions and goal-line payoffs. Altogether, this looks like a tight and somewhat ugly affair, with little room for error by the error-prone Miami offense.

Panthers 19, Dolphins 16

2017 NFL playoff scenarios: Dolphins still in thick of AFC race

The Dolphins could hang around in the AFC playoff race for a while. (Bill Ingram/The Post)

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Here’s something that might be difficult to believe: The Dolphins are still very much alive in the AFC playoff race.

Despite all their woes, including a brutal minus-63 point differential (sixth-worst in the NFL), Miami goes into Monday night’s game at Carolina just a half-game behind the Bills for the No. 6 spot in the AFC.

There appear to be three superior teams in the conference at this point: New England (7-2), Pittsburgh (7-2) and Kansas City (6-3). Beyond that trio, there are seven teams between 4-6 and 6-3. At 4-4, the Dolphins are currently in seventh place.

What does that mean? It means this might be a year in which 10 wins is not the threshold for making the playoffs.

It’s a rough schedule for the Dolphins, tonight being one of their hardest remaining games, but 8-8 or 9-7 isn’t out of the question at this point.

They have home games left against Tampa Bay (3-6), Denver (3-6) and Buffalo (5-4). The downside is they’re a huge underdog at Carolina (6-3), they play New England twice and have December visits to the Bills and Chiefs.

If Miami can scrape together nine wins, that’s been good enough to make it as a wild card seven times in the previous 10 seasons. Detroit made it last year at 9-7.

It’s not worth counting teams that made it with a single-digit victory total by virtue of winning their division. Obviously the Dolphins aren’t in that kind of situation. Every playoff team at 8-8 or worse (Carolina went 7-8-1 in 2014 and Seattle got in at 7-9 in ’10) over the last decade only made it because they were in a terrible division.

Even if 9-7 is good enough for the No. 6 spot, however, the Dolphins would be seriously vulnerable to tie breakers. Of the other six teams in that aforementioned second tier, Miami already has losses to Baltimore and Oakland. The Dolphins beat Tennessee, which currently stands to make it as a division winner, and went 1-1 against the Jets.

[One unmistakable example of why Miami loves Jarvis Landry]

[Tape Don’t Lie: Dolphins vs. Raiders]

[Damien Williams has some strong words on his incredible touchdown]

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Dolphins vs. Panthers: How do they match up in Week 10?

How do the Miami Dolphins (4-4) and Carolina Panthers (6-3) match up for Monday night’s NFL Week 10 tilt at Bank of America Stadium?

Dion Jordan tries to take down Cam Newton

When the Dolphins have the ball…

 

Miami total offense (31st in NFL) vs. Carolina total defense (1st in NFL)
Miami scoring offense (32nd) vs. Carolina scoring defense (4th)

Miami passing offense (29th) vs. Carolina pass defense (6th)

Jay Cutler is coming off his best game of the season, having completed 34 of 42 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday night against the Raiders. Cutler’s chances of keeping that momentum going against the Panthers aren’t strong as Carolina comes into Monday night’s tilt with a defense that has held opponents under 200 yards passing five times this season. Cutler’s success last Sunday came mostly on short and intermediate passes, which will often force the offense into third downs. Considering the offense’s success will depend on converting those third downs against an above-average defense, will Miami stick with a game plan that paints it into a corner? Edge: Panthers

Miami rushing offense (30th) vs. Carolina rush defense (2nd)

Although running backs Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake served as a key element of Miami’s passing attack against the Raiders, the backfield was largely ineffective on the ground, combining for 83 yards on 16 rushing attempts. Those numbers are inflated by a 42-yard run from Drake, and Miami still hasn’t scored a touchdown on the ground yet this season. The Dolphins will be facing a top-end run D without any real horses, so it’s difficult to see how they can be a factor. Edge: Panthers


When the Panthers have the ball…

 

Carolina total offense (21st in NFL) vs. Miami total defense (10th in NFL)
Carolina scoring offense (24th) vs. Miami scoring defense (16th)

Carolina passing offense (24th) vs. Miami pass defense (14th)

Cam Newton is one of the more talented passers in the league, but his numbers haven’t been up to par this season. Newton is completing only 62.4 percent of his attempts, and has thrown more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10). The Panthers will also be without Kelvin Benjamin (Glades Central), who was shipped to Buffalo just before the trade deadline. The Panthers offense is streaky, so Miami’s defense will need to capitalize on mistakes before Newton finds his rhythm. With only three interceptions this season, Miami seems ill-equipped to win the takeaways battle, but so long as they limit Carolina’s deep passing game, they can keep Newton in check. Edge: Dolphins

Carolina rushing offense (15th) vs. Miami rush defense (7th)

Carolina has a swiss-army knife in rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, who has yet to be featured on a team that continues to use 30-year-old Jonathan Stewart as its lead back. In fact, Cam Newton’s 69 carries are five more than McCaffrey has amassed this season. That three-headed monster, though, presents a unique challenge for a Dolphins run defense that has held five opponents under 100 yards this season. Against Atlanta, which has a similar multi-pronged rushing attack, Miami surrendered exactly 100 yards. Adding a powerful running quarterback into the equation make the task even more difficult for Miami. Edge: Panthers


Special teams

Cody Parkey’s extra-point enigma continued Sunday night when he missed his third PAT of the season in 12 attempts. The Jupiter native has been consistent elsewhere, nailing nine of 10 field-goal attempts this year. Carolina kicker Graham Gano, on the other hand, has been more consistent, nailing all but one of his 20 field-goal attempts and 15 of 16 PATs. Panthers punter Michael Palardy’s 47.4 yards per kick also compares favorably to Matt Haack’s 45.2-yard average. Edge: Panthers