MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — For all intents and purposes, it’s time for the Miami Dolphins to start thinking about the NFL draft and next season.
The Dolphins (4-6) will say the usual things in the coming weeks about how they’re still mathematically in the hunt for a playoff spot. But in reality, Miami’s season essentially ended Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium following a deflating, 30-20 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was Miami’s fourth straight defeat.
Playing in January would require Miami to win out or at least go 5-1 down the stretch, and there are absolutely no signs of that happening. The Dolphins are a sloppy, below average team with a schedule that only gets tougher down the stretch. The Buccaneers (4-6) without starting quarterback Jameis Winston was supposed to be the easiest remaining game on Miami’s schedule.
Dolphins’ starting quarterback Jay Cutler picked an awful time to have his first multi-interception game of the season. Cutler threw three interceptions in the first half that took the air out of the team and put Miami in a bad spot early. He suffered a concussion in the final play of the first half and was replaced by Matt Moore, who provided a spark in the second half but came up short.
Cutler’s final stat line was 6-of-12 passing for 83 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions.
What it means: The Dolphins likely won’t be playing in January. That means the time is now for them to find out which players will stick around beyond this season. Miami must get its younger players more involved on both sides of the football to get them experience. There are some tough roster decisions looming for the Dolphins in the offseason.
What I liked: Following the trade of Pro Bowl tailback Jay Ajayi, Miami’s running game has surprisingly produced a string of long runs. The Dolphins had their third consecutive game with a rush of 44 yards or more. On Sunday, starting tailback Damien Williams produced a 69-yard run, which tied for Miami’s longest run of the season. In the two previous games, Kenyan Drake had runs of 44 and 69 yards. Miami’s running game overall wasn’t consistent, but the team is hitting home runs with the ground game.
What I didn’t like: Miami’s penchant for slow starts has been a season-long trend that showed up again on Sunday. The offense just didn’t look organized as evident by its four turnovers and eight penalties in the first half. Those numbers should be unacceptable for Adam Gase, who is an offensive coach and runs that side of the football. Miami’s four turnovers led to 13 of Tampa Bay’s 20 first-half points.
Fantasy fallout: Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills had a monster day with a career-high 180 receiving yards and a touchdown. His biggest play was a 61-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that tied the game with three minutes remaining in the game.
Maualuga’s replacement: The Dolphins had to make a last-minute switch on defense following the arrest early Saturday morning of starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. The team cut Maualuga and inserted backup Chase Allen into the starting lineup. Allen, who also started earlier this season in place of Lawrence Timmons, didn’t record a tackle and exited in the second half to be evaluated for a concussion.
What’s next: Miami has arguably its toughest game of the season next week. The Dolphins will travel to play the Patriots (7-2) at Gillette Stadium. New England swept Miami last season. The Dolphins also haven’t won at Gillette Stadium since 2008.