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]
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