MIAMI -- One of the hardest things to do in the NFL is maintain success. Some teams can do it over the course of a full season, while the truly great teams can put it all together for multiple years.
The Miami Dolphins learned the hard way that sustaining excellence over the long haul is much harder than initially achieving it. Miami, after going undefeated in October, dropped its second straight November game -- an ugly, 37-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
There is no other way to explain this type of blowout other than to blame it on Miami’s youth, lack of maturity and perhaps overconfidence.
The young Dolphins entered this game as one of the darlings of the AFC after winning three of their past four. People were starting to mention "playoffs" and "Dolphins" in the same sentence for the first time in years. In addition, the lowly Titans (4-6) were coming to town after getting embarrassed by the Chicago Bears last week.
All of these factors set the Dolphins up for a very winnable game if they just remained focused and level-headed. Instead, it was the Dolphins who were shocked and embarrassed in front of their home fans.
This was the kind of baffling performance Miami players and coaches had no answers for after the game. Miami (4-5) had been in every game except one this year and laid an egg when you least expected it.
“That team I watched for 30 minutes wasn’t the same team I was used to watching for eight games,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said.
You saw things from the Dolphins on Sunday that were out of character.
Dolphins tailback and team leader Reggie Bush was benched in the first half after fumbling. Guard Richie Incognito was pulled for losing his cool and getting a costly penalty. Miami’s usually stout run defense was leaky and porous.
Also, quarterback Ryan Tannehill had one of those "rookie games.” After weeks of playing above expectations, Tannehill looked confused and out of sync. He threw for 217 yards and had three interceptions, including a pick-six.
Once the Dolphins fell behind, Tannehill forced the action, and that was too much to ask of the rookie. Miami is not a team built for coming from behind. He threw 39 times, which is the second-highest total of his career.
Tannehill’s accuracy and timing were off. He could have had four or five interceptions if the Titans didn’t drop a couple of extra opportunities. He was due for a bad game.
“I’m embarrassed by the way we played,” said Tannehill, who showed some frustration after the game. “Myself, I didn’t play well and we didn’t play well as a team. But at the end of the day, a loss is a loss and we have to move on.”
Tennessee is not an offensive juggernaut. But the Titans had few problems racking up yards and points against the Dolphins.
Titans quarterback Jake Locker returned from a shoulder injury and had an efficient game. He threw for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Locker also kept plays alive with his legs and rushed for 36 yards on four carries. With the Dolphins shooting themselves in the foot, that was all Tennessee needed from its quarterback.
Tennessee tailback Chris Johnson found the creases in the defense and rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown. He broke Miami’s 22-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher.
“This is the worst game, by far, we have ever played as a defense and as a team,” Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby said.
Let’s be honest: Miami overachieved in the first half of the season.
The Dolphins entered the year with too many holes on their roster to be a legitimate contender in the AFC. This is a rebuilding year, and Miami's solid start was the result of good health and a rookie quarterback who was developing faster than expected.
Miami’s best players are young, and eventually its youth was going to show. That day finally came Sunday.
This loss to Tennessee is another tough lesson for the Dolphins. The NFL is too competitive for a rebuilding team such as Miami to have major lapses in focus and concentration.
“We have to accept responsibility for the performance today,” Philbin said. “It’s not one person’s fault. It’s a team loss. ... It’s not a finger-pointing game, but we obviously need to do better.”
We’ve already seen the best (October) and the worst (November) of Miami this season. The Dolphins have a quick turnaround Thursday with a road game against the Buffalo Bills. You now have to consider Buffalo, which nearly upset the New England Patriots on Sunday, the favorite.
It was a fun and interesting first half of the season for Miami. But if the team can’t stem this tide, it could be a long November and December for these young Dolphins.