Good teams and upper-echelon players bring their best when the spotlight shines the brightest.
With a postseason berth on the line the Miami Dolphins failed to rise to the occasion in Sunday’s 34-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans (11-5), which ended Miami’s seven-game winning streak and won Tennessee the AFC South division.
The fact Tennessee pushed the Dolphins (8-8) around on offense and defense, playing an effective game of bully ball, shows there’s a dividing line between those who are postseason worthy (the Titans), and teams that aren’t like the Dolphins.
Here are some more takeaways from Sunday’s blowout loss:
Miami’s win streak ends, but it shouldn’t be forgotten
The Dolphins didn’t advance to the playoffs, but that shouldn’t water down the fact Miami rebounded from a horrible 1-7 start and made this season respectable in the final month. The Dolphins have a chance to deliver back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2002-2003 with a win over the Patriots (10-6) next Sunday. — Omar Kelly
Dolphins need more from Tua Tagovailoa in big games
Tagovailoa played his worst game of the season when Miami needed him to shine. We can’t put this loss all on Tagovailoa considering plenty of his passes were dropped, the rain and field conditions contributed to his three fumbles, and the interception he threw was tipped into the air. But the Dolphins needed better than 205 passing yards on 18-of-35 completions with the playoffs on the line.
Titans pummel Dolphins on ground
No Derrick Henry, no problem for the Titans, who rushed for 198 yards against the Dolphins defense. D’Onta Foreman dominated the Dolphins, putting up a season-high 132 rushing yards on 26 carries. Foreman, who also scored one rushing touchdown, became the fourth tailback to eclipse the 100-yard rushing threshold against the Dolphins.
Questionable calls didn’t help Dolphins
There were a series of questionable calls made throughout Sunday’s game, but the most glaring was a pass interference that wasn’t called on a fourth-and-11 play from Miami’s 27-yard line. Trailing, 17-3, the Dolphins opted against kicking a 44-yard field goal and DeVante Parker had his arm grabbed and was being pulled down by Titans cornerback Janoris Jenkins while a pass from Tagovailoa was coming his way. Parker was so upset by the non-call he yelled at the ref and got hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty.
Duke Johnson needs to remain Miami’s lead back
The Dolphins have used Johnson, the former University of Miami standout, as the team’s starter and lead back for three straight weeks, indicating that a shift has occurred on the hierarchy of the team’s backfield. Myles Gaskin, who had spent the bulk of the past two seasons as Miami’s starter and lead back, has been relegated to third-down specialist role. Johnson finished the game with 49 rushing yards on seven carries, and caught two passes for 16 yards.
Tua’s fumbles are a cause for concern
Maybe it was the wet ball, but the Dolphins have to address whatever the cause was for Tagovailoa’s three fumbles against the Titans. On one pass attempt the ball slipped out of his hand during a heavy downpour of rain. Another was on a bad exchange with the center. Maybe Tagovailoa should consider wearing gloves because he’s now fumbled seven times this season.
Covering Titans’ A.J. Brown 1-on-1 seemed unwise
Even though Tennessee didn’t have receiver Julio Jones, who is on the COVID-19 list, the Dolphins decided against double covering Brown, or having Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard shadow him for the entire game. Brown finished the game with two receptions for 41 yards on five targets. It wasn’t dominant performance, but Miami’s strategy against one of the NFL’s better young receivers was a little head-scratching.
Miami can’t get pressure on Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill entered Sunday’s game as the second-most sacked quarterback in the NFL, but the Dolphins, who came in leading the league in sacks, weren’t able to turn up the heat on him. Miami finished the game with one sack (Jerome Baker) because of how solid Tennessee’s offensive line and game plan was. In instances where the Dolphins would call their amoeba blitzes, the Titans would either move the pocket to buy Tannehill more time to make a throw, or throw a screen pass to a tailback.
Two defenders return from COVID list
Brandon Jones spent the past week on the COVID list, but participated in Sunday’s game after he and defensive tackle Adam Butler took a chartered flight to Tennessee. It wasn’t a given that either would play, but they each played their normal roles and handled substantial snaps. Jones finished the game with five tackles, and Butler, who plays on passing downs, recorded one tackle.
Durham Smythe having a career year
Each catch and yard Smythe adds this season builds on the career year he’s having in his fourth season with the Dolphins. Against the Titans the impending free agent caught three passes for 37 yards, which brings him to 32 receptions for 325 yards. However, he hasn’t scored a touchdown this season.
The Dolphins remain awful in January outdoor regular-season road games
In January of 1983, Miami, at the end of the nine-game strike season, traveled to Baltimore and routed the Colts 34-7. In the 39 seasons since then, the Dolphins have gone 1-6 outdoors in January regular-season road games, allowing an average of 34.3 points a game. — Steve Svekis
Why are two of the Dolphins’ most dynamic young players returning kicks and punts?
The numbers are, frankly, uninspiring. Standout rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle has returned nine kickoffs for a putrid 17.6-yard average this season and five punt returns for 35 years with a muff. Meanwhile, another Dolphins impact 2021 draftee, safety Jevon Holland has returned 12 punts for a woodwork 92 yards (7.7 per return) with a muff of his own. The reward isn’t within a zip code of the risk.
Tua Tagovailoa has gotten extremely loose with the ball security since the bye week
In his first nine games of the season, Tagovailoa had 10 turnover-worthy plays (any fumble, interception or incomplete pass that hits both hands of a defender). In the three games since the team’s off week, he has piled up 12 of them, a season-high five of them against the Titans. Five have resulted in a change of possession, one a fourth-quarter, game-tying pick-six against the Jets.
The fourth time wasn’t a charm for Brian Flores
Flores was turned back in his fourth shot at getting to .500 as Dolphins coach. He is aiming to become the first Miami coach to be .500 or better after three Dolphins seasons since 42-31 Dave Wannstedt was fired after a Nov. 7, 2004 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Previously, Flores — who is now 23-25 — had been 0-1 when the Dolphins lost to the New England Patriots 43-0 on Sept. 15, 2019, 15-16 when they lost to the Bills 56-26 to close out last season and then 16-17 when they were again drubbed by the Bills 35-0 to kick off the seven-game losing streak this year. Now, he will need a win against New England in the season finale to have a fifth shot at getting even in the 2022 season opener.
It has been 18 years since the Dolphins had winning records in consecutive seasons
Incredibly, a win over the Patriots would give Miami its first two-year run of seasons finishing over .500 in almost two decades. In 2003, Wannstedt’s squad went 10-6 to close out a seven-year streak of winning seasons. The Dolphins winning seasons since then have been 9-7 in 2005, 11-5 in 2008, 10-6 in 2016 and 10-6 last year.
Ryan Tannehill maintained his sharp play when getting more than seven days between games
One part of Tannehill’s transformation into a Pro Bowl quarterback with the Titans has been his performance in games that are played more than a week after his previous action. After the Dolphins game, where he completed 13-of-18 passes for 120 yards, with two touchdowns, no turnovers and a 127.1 passer rating. That improved him to 108 for 155 for 1,240 yards and nine touchdown passes against only two interceptions and a 107.5 passer rating in his six Titans games with at least eight days between games.
In case a reminder is needed about the greatness of Dan Marino
Tagovailoa has a career 86.2 passer rating in his first 22 NFL games (20 starts), while the NFL median rating during his career has been 95.1. Dan Marino had a 103.8 passer rating in his first 22 games (also 20 starts in 1983-84). The NFL midpoint rating during that timeframe in a more austere passing era was a 78.6. So, if Marino had had Tua’s 91% of the median during this time, he would have had, instead of 103.8, a 71.5. Conversely, if Tua were exceeding the current NFL median by the 132% Marino did, he would have a towering 125.5 passer rating. Aaron Rodgers led the NFL in 2021 with a 110.8 rating, heading into Sunday night’s game.
Two players on 2018 Dolphins roster have combined for 25.5 sacks elsewhere so far this year
Robert Quinn, a one-year free-agent pickup for Miami four seasons ago, set the team season record with the Chicago Bears with his 18th on Sunday against the Giants (edging 17.5 by Richard Dent, the MVP of Super Bowl XX). Perhaps as shocking, however, is the Dolphins’ 17th pick from the 2017 draft, defensive end Charles Harris. Harris, considered a bust with the Dolphins, has put together a 7.5-sack season in Detroit.
Dolphins were atrocious, but they weren’t alone
There is no excuse for the overwhelmingly hometown tilt of the officiating in Nashville. A clear offensive pass interference by a Titans receiver was called as DPI against Nik Needham. Then a fumble that saw Emmanuel Ogbah come out of the pile with the ball was ruled Titans ball without explanation. Finally, DeVante Parker was bumped as he made his turn and then mugged by a Titans defensive back in the fourth quarter. Parker blew his top, emblematic of an utterly forgettable day. Officials absolutely should have to face the media postgame, like the players and coaches do.
On deck: New England Patriots, Sunday, 1 p.m., Hard Rock Stadium
The Dolphins are gunning for their first three-game win streak against the Patriots (10-6) in over 20 years, since Miami extended its win streak over New England to five on Oct. 7, 2001. Meanwhile, quarterback Mac Jones has been bad on the road this season, completing 125-of-187 passes for only 1,298 yards and five touchdown passes, but also with five interceptions for an 84.5 passer rating.
Source: Berkshire mont