NFL Nation: Miami Dolphins

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- There are reasons to be disappointed in a once-promising 2014 season for the Miami Dolphins, who lost 37-24 to the lowly New York Jets on Sunday and finished 8-8 for a second straight year.

The Dolphins have holes to fill on the offense line, a No. 1 receiver who isn't happy and a defense that essentially disappeared in the second half of the season. And despite Joe Philbin's vote of confidence from ownership, questions still remain if Miami has the long-term solution at head coach.

Despite all the uncertainty, there is hope at quarterback, where Ryan Tannehill at least provides hope Miami can turn it around. It's clear that the Dolphins will go only as far as Tannehill takes them in 2015 and beyond.

Tannehill had a decent, but not spectacular, game on Sunday. He threw for 259 yards and one touchdown and had an 87.4 passer rating to wrap up a career season. But he wasn't in a festive mood.

"Does it feel good to lose?" Tannehill said. "No, I hate losing. I put [in] a lot of effort, a lot of time, a lot of blood, sweat and tears."

Tannehill eventually will be able to see his progress and individual success once he studies the big picture. By all accounts, 2014 was a good year for the former first-round pick.

Here are some key statistics about Tannehill:
  • He eclipsed 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his career, becoming the first Dolphins quarterback since Hall of Famer Dan Marino to reach that single-season total. Tannehill also set a new franchise record for completions in a season (392), also passing Marino.
  • He set career-highs with 27 touchdown passes and a 92.8 passer rating. Miami's scoring also improved from 19.8 points per game in 2013 to 24.25 points per game this season.
  • He has never missed a start in three seasons, despite being sacked 139 times. "I can't even express how tough this kid is and what he goes through," Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore said. "Mentally, physical, it's impressive to watch him go out Sunday, play, get banged around and regroup during the week. ... I don't know if I've met anyone tougher."

Tannehill entered his third season with several questions, and he answered most of them. He learned a new offense under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor and improved within the system as the season went on. Tannehill also improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio and his play speed. A second year in Miami's offense should only make him better.

One weakness continues to be Tannehill's inconsistency throwing the deep ball. That limited the offense to some degree. But Miami cannot expect a perfect quarterback. If I were Tannehill, I would put a major offseason focus on deep balls in an effort to at least become average in that area next season.

The Dolphins have an interesting decision to make, in regards to Tannehill's contract. He has one year remaining on his rookie deal. However, the team has a option this spring that will cost approximately $15 million to keep Tannehill in 2016.

At the very least, the Dolphins should ensure that Tannehill is Miami's quarterback for the next two seasons. Otherwise, they could enter talks for a long-term contract with Tannehill at a time when even up-and-down quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton receive huge extensions. That route would be more risky for Miami.

But Tannehill's arrow is pointing up and, therefore, so is the Dolphins'. Continued progress from Tannehill in Year 4 makes Miami a playoff contender to watch for next season.

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

December, 28, 2014
Dec 28
4:11
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 37-24 loss Sunday to the New York Jets:

What it means: The Dolphins were officially eliminated from playoff contention last week. So the loss didn't mean much in terms of the postseason. But Miami finished 8-8 for the second straight season, which is underachieving. The Dolphins failed to post their first winning season since 2008 and failed in an attempt at their first season sweep of the Jets since 2009.

Stock watch: Miami's defense continued its free fall in the final game. The Dolphins made Jets quarterback Geno Smith look like Joe Namath. Smith completed his first eight passes of the game and finished with a stellar 358 yards and three touchdowns. Jets receiver Eric Decker also had a huge game with 10 receptions for 221 yards. The Dolphins defense sprung major leaks in the second half of the season, and there's a need to re-evaluate everything. In terms of stock up, Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline was relatively phased out of the offense compared to previous seasons, but he was the most prolific option Sunday. He had five receptions and a season-high 94 yards. It is possible that this could be Hartline’s final game with the Dolphins. He is due a $5.95 million salary in 2015 and hasn't been an ideal fit most of the season in Miami's new offense under Bill Lazor.

Historic run: Miami running back Lamar Miller needed 79 rushing yards to get over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. He did it in style with a team-record 97-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that electrified the crowd at Sun Life Stadium. Miller finished with a season-best 178 rushing yards Sunday and 1,099 rushing yards for the season.

Game ball: Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 259 yards and one touchdown Sunday, gets the MVP honor for 2014. He surpassed 4,000 yards passing for the first time and set a career high for touchdown passes with 27. Tannehill also set a franchise record, passing Hall of Famer Dan Marino, for the most completions (392) in a season. Tannehill was a bright spot and more than earned Miami’s starting quarterback job in 2015.

What’s next: The Dolphins' season is in the books. Owner Stephen Ross already has said there will be stability this season at head coach with Joe Philbin and in the front office with general manager Dennis Hickey. However, Philbin might have decisions to make about his staff, particularly defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle after such a poor second half to the season.

Miami Dolphins inactives

December, 28, 2014
Dec 28
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins will host the rival New York Jets (3-12) at 1 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium.

Here are the Dolphins players you will not see in Sunday's game: Analysis: There are not any major surprises for Miami. Thomas injured his foot and will miss his second straight game, despite practicing throughout the week. This will give backup Jason Fox his second start and another audition before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. Receiver Percy Harvin and center Nick Mangold are the biggest inactives Sunday for the Jets.
» Pro Bowl analysis: AFC | NFC » Complete roster

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Cameron Wake, DE, fourth Pro Bowl selection: Wake led the Miami Dolphins with 11.5 sacks. This is the third time he's recorded double-digit sacks and most recently had a two-sack performance against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16. At 32 years old, Wake is still going strong. He remains one of Miami's top players and has a knack for the big moment when his team needs a big play in crucial situations.

Who he beat out: There are some big names who didn't make the cut this year at defensive end. Jason-Pierre Paul of the New York Giants recorded 10.5 sacks -- one fewer than Wake -- and didn't make the Pro Bowl. Baltimore Ravens defensive end/outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had 11 sacks, also had a Pro Bowl case for either position.

Brent Grimes, CB, third Pro Bowl selection: Grimes was one of Miami's most consistent players this season. He led the Dolphins with five interceptions -- including a pick-six -- and kept the secondary together through multiple injuries at cornerback and safety. Miami's pass defense is ranked No. 4 in the NFL. Grimes' one-handed, highlight-reel interception against Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson in Week 10 also should be a play of the year candidate.

Who he beat out: There were not many snubs at cornerback this year. The eight that made it, including Grimes, were all deserving of the honor. But if I had to nitpick, Minnesota Vikings second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes (47 tackles, one interception) played well this season but didn't have enough picks. He will only get better.

QB snapshot: Ryan Tannehill

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
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A quick observation of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and how he played in the Miami Dolphins' 37-35 win in Week 16:

Tannehill
Tannehill saved his best for one of the final games of the season. In Week 16, Tannehill threw for a season-high 396 yards and a career-high four touchdowns, and he had a 118.8 passer rating in Miami's victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

This was the kind of performance Dolphins fans have been waiting for. Tannehill made big plays and small plays and was a dominant player. Miami (8-7) had a franchise-record 36 first downs -- and 23 were via Tannehill and the passing game.

There also were subtle things Tannehill did well that didn't show up in the box score. He stood tall in the pocket, took some big shots from Vikings' defenders, and eluded pressure to keep the chains the moving.

Tannehill received praise Monday from offensive coordinator Bill Lazor for successfully executing the game-plan details against Minnesota (6-9).

"This guy is playing quarterback," Lazor said. "It's not just making the deep throws. It's not just getting some things out."

Tannehill solidified his case to be Miami's starter in 2015. This was a big third season for the quarterback and head coach Joe Philbin, who also is set to return for his fourth season.

With one game remaining, Tannehill already has set new career bests in touchdown passes (26) and passer rating (93.2) this season. He needs just 128 passing yards Sunday against the New York Jets to top his previous career mark of 3,913 yards. Tannehill needs 214 passing yards in the final game to reach 4,000 yards for the first time in his career.

Either way, it's been a successful season in which Tannehill made enough strides to provide optimism for 2015.
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was beaming in the locker room Sunday, following his team's 37-35 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Although Miami was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs about 20 minutes earlier, Ross excitedly announced that head coach Joe Philbin will return in 2015.

"He's coming back!" Ross said with a smile, squashing speculation on the contrary.

You cannot fault Ross for choosing continuity. He has tried the other way and it hasn't worked. Ross has fired a head coach (Tony Sparano) and a general manager (Jeff Ireland) and it hasn't resulted in a playoff appearance. Philbin would have become the third high-level executive to be let go in four years.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill and Joe Philbin
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesRyan Tannehill and the Dolphins will miss the playoffs this year, but Joe Philbin says he still expects to compete in the postseason during his tenure as Miami's head coach.
Philbin has his faults, but he made strides in his third season that appeal to ownership. The locker-room chemistry is much better after last year's disastrous bullying scandal. Philbin has the support of his players and has a chance to lead Miami (8-7) to its first winning season since 2008. All the Dolphins must do is beat the lowly New York Jets (3-12) next week at home.

Here are some key statistics in Philbin's favor:

  • Miami's scoring has improved from 19.8 points per game in 2013 to 24.3 points per game this season. Philbin's hiring of first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor played a key role in that improvement.
  • Third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill is having a career season. He has set career highs in touchdown passes (26) and passer rating (93.2) with one game remaining to pad those numbers.
  • The Dolphins had three losses this season by four points or less to three playoff teams (Denver, Green Bay and Detroit). If Miami pulled off any of these close games, the season result could have been different.

"Things are happening as an organization. I think everyone feels the buzz that things are changing around here," Ross explained. "They say patience is a virtue, you know. But I'm expecting big things next year -- I will tell you that."

Another aspect in Ross' decision is Philbin's support in the locker room. Following last week's loss to New England, which essentially ended Miami's postseason chances, veterans such as team captain Cameron Wake, receiver Mike Wallace and guard Mike Pouncey all came to Philbin's defense. Each veteran said any fault for the Dolphins' shortcomings is on the players.

Wake, who leads the team with 11.5 sacks, was among the players happy for Philbin on Sunday.

"Coach Philbin is a big part of this franchise," Wake said. "He's obviously part of the success of this team. That's great news and I'm looking forward to it."

According to Ross, this team is close to contending. Ross has been a strong supporter of Philbin, the owner's first hire in 2012. Ross said at the time that he's hopeful Philbin could become the "next Don Shula," which is both high praise and high expectations.

Philbin is 23-24 as a head coach, which is not awful but not great. If Ross doesn't think he can get an elite replacement -- for example, Jim Harbaugh -- why break up the entire regime and start from scratch? The worst move the Dolphins could make would be to hire another first-time coach and allow that person 2-3 more years to learn on the job and make mistakes.

Ross believes keeping Philbin and first-year general manager Dennis Hickey together for another year could end the Dolphins' six-year playoff drought. Hickey made several solid moves this year, most notably drafting left tackle Ja'Wuan James and receiver Jarvis Landry. Hickey also signed Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and safety Louis Delmas, who all contributed. Hickey wasn't the problem in Miami.

Sure, there is a chance the Dolphins could be in this same spot one year from now, missing out on the playoffs. But if that's the case, Philbin and the Dolphins can make a clean break, the coach having fulfilled the final year of his contract.

But there's also a possibility Philbin rewards the Dolphins for their patience and develops into the coach Ross thinks he can be in 2015. That would provide a long-term payoff.

Philbin must do better in his in-game management, especially in close games. The Dolphins also must play better late in the season. Philbin failed to win big games in December for the second straight season and that's a major reason Miami is not in the playoffs. Improvement in those two areas would go a long way.

"I want to compete for championships while I'm the head coach of the Miami Dolphins," Philbin said Sunday night. "That's what I told Mr. Ross I was going to do. I'm disappointed that we're not in [the playoffs]."

Keeping Philbin is a calculated risk, but it's worth a try.

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
4:33
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 37-35 victory Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings:

What it means: The Dolphins needed a late comeback to pick up a much-needed win after two consecutive losses. Rookie defensive lineman Terrence Fede blocked a punt to give Miami a safety and a wild finish. It certainly wasn't pretty. But the victory gives the Dolphins (8-7) and head coach Joe Philbin a chance to finish with a winning season. However, Sunday's win by the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) eliminated the Dolphins from playoff contention.

Stock watch: Running back Lamar Miller was a threat on the ground and through the air. He finished with 92 rushing yards and 58 receiving yards. Miller is 79 rushing yards from his first 1,000-yard season. In terms of stock down, Miami's defense gave up a lot of points to Vikings rookie quarterback and Miami native Teddy Bridgewater (259 yards, two touchdowns). Minnesota's 35 points marked its second-highest output of the season.

Wake’s milestone: Cameron Wake recorded two sacks on Bridgewater to notch 11.5 on the season. This is the third time Wake has recorded double-digit sacks in his career. He also became the fourth Dolphin to accomplish the feat. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Wake's first sack of the day triggered a $750,000 bonus in the defensive end's contract.

Game ball: Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill had one of his best games of the season. He threw for 396 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Tannehill also showed toughness by absorbing some big shots and continuing to lead the offense to five touchdown drives.

What’s next: The Dolphins will wrap up their 2014 season the same way they did last year by hosting the rival New York Jets (3-12). Miami likely will be favored to win at home, but anything is possible in this AFC East matchup. The Dolphins won the first meeting 16-13 in Week 13.

Dolphins-Vikings inactives

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
11:41
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Here are the players you won't see in Sunday's game between the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings:

Dolphins (7-7)
Vikings (6-8)
Analysis: There are no surprises from Miami’s perspective. Dallas Thomas and Daniel Thomas were both listed doubtful during the week and will not play. Backup right tackle Jason Fox will make his first start of the season at right tackle. The Vikings have a good defensive line and will test Fox. Miami also is much healthier at linebacker. Starters Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi are active after missing last week’s loss to the New England Patriots.

Vikings vs. Dolphins preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:00
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When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens. TV: Fox.

Two teams out of playoff contention will meet in South Florida on Sunday when the Miami Dolphins (7-7) host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8).

These are two clubs who represent the up-and-down middle class in the NFL. Despite good moments, neither team has been able to reach the consistency it takes to make the postseason.

Who will come out on top? ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and NFL Nation columnist Kevin Seifert breakdown the matchups:

Walker: Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a South Florida native with plenty of interest out of Miami. How is his development in his rookie season?

Seifert: He has really come on, via a steady ascendance that makes him without question the best of the rookie quarterbacks in 2014. The Vikings' major goal for Bridgewater's first season was to keep him from getting beat up and beat down. Coach Mike Zimmer was especially cognizant about not ruining him behind a bad offensive line or on a bad team or putting him on the field before he was ready to succeed. That's why the Vikings began the season with Matt Cassel as the starter.

Bridgewater got on the field earlier than they expected because of Cassel's Week 3 injury, and after some expected early struggles -- most notably on deep accuracy -- Bridgewater has gotten on a nice little run. The Vikings are 4-3 in his past seven starts, he has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in his past three starts and thrown for at least 300 yards in his past two. Most recently, the Vikings trusted him in a pass-first game plan against the Detroit Lions' stout defense. He completed 31 of 41 passes for 315 yards, the highest completion percentage for a rookie in a game when throwing at least 40 passes in NFL history. People in South Florida know Bridgewater has a calm personality that allows him to navigate pressure situations well. The early returns are that the Vikings have found their starter for a long time to come.

The Vikings are protecting Bridgewater with three backups on their offensive line, at right tackle, right guard and left guard. Are the Dolphins still as strong up front defensively as they were earlier this season?

Walker: It's an interesting question, because a month ago I would have pegged this as a huge advantage for Miami. However, its defensive line has mostly disappeared the past several games. It has been a mystery here in Miami, because that was the strength of the team in the first half of the season. The Dolphins got zero sacks on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week and he put up 41 points. Before that, Miami allowed 661 rushing yards in a three-game stretch from Weeks 12-14. Teams have pretty much done what they wanted against Miami's defense, which at one point was ranked as high as No. 2 in the NFL. The Dolphins are running on fumes, and it is most evident on the defensive line. On paper, it's still an advantage for Miami, but the group must prove it on the field.

Although it doesn't always show in the standings, the Vikings are playing solid football in the past month. What's led to their recent surge?

Seifert: A few things, with Bridgewater's development being the most significant. When you're getting production from that position, everything else is a little easier. It took some time for the Vikings to recover schematically from the suspension of tailback Adrian Peterson. They've used a backfield-by-committee system, getting 538 yards from rookie Jerick McKinnon, who is now on injured reserve, and 421 yards (and seven touchdowns) from Matt Asiata. Dolphins fans can expect to see a mix of Asiata, veteran Ben Tate -- claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns -- and Joe Banyard. Bridgewater has benefited from the emergence of receiver Charles Johnson, who was signed off the Browns' practice squad earlier this season. Johnson has replaced the disappointing Cordarrelle Patterson in the starting lineup and has 19 receptions for 355 yards in his past five games. Finally, the Vikings' defense has begun taking the form Zimmer wanted to see when he took over the team this year. Zimmer still calls the defensive signals, and he has helped mold a pair of youngsters -- defensive end Everson Griffen (12 sacks) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- into frontline players. The Vikings' three losses over the past two months have all been by one score or less. Even after losing Peterson and Cassel in the first month of the season, they've got a chance to finish .500.

How should we expect the Dolphins to respond emotionally in this game? They're all but eliminated from the playoffs. Do you think they'll pack it in? Will they fight for Joe Philbin's job? Or has the decision already been made?

Walker: I will start with the last question. The decision has not been made officially on Philbin, but the gears are beginning to click in motion. The past two weeks were an eye-opener for the decision-makers in the organization. The team didn't show up in two huge games against the Baltimore Ravens and Patriots. Philbin now has a three-year record of 22-24 and hasn't made the playoffs. His teams play their worst football when it matters most, in key games late in the season. That's not good enough for Miami owner Stephen Ross.

The best Philbin can do is prove he can motivate the Dolphins to play well in these final two games when nothing is at stake. That will be a challenge in itself. A 9-7 season at least gives Philbin a leg to stand on, although I'm not sure that will be enough without making the playoffs. I expect Miami to play for Philbin because he is well-liked in the locker room. But if things get really difficult in this game -- like it has the past two weeks against the Patriots and Ravens -- I'm curious to see how the players respond.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the Peterson controversy. Has that worn off on the team, even with new details emerging?

Seifert: I think it did hang over the locker room and the coaching staff for a long time, mostly because there were several stops along the way when it seemed as if Peterson's return was imminent. There were some genuinely shocked players and coaches when the final ruling came down that Peterson would not return this year. Now, I think everyone is past it. The appeals, accusations and lawsuits are all essentially irrelevant to the Vikings' 2014 season. Peterson isn't going to be on the field this season, and he might never be in a Vikings uniform again. My perception is that most of the players and coaches who will decide the outcome of this game Sunday are well beyond worrying about it.

The Vikings are tied for sixth in the NFL with 38 sacks but Ryan Tannehill has taken the sixth-fewest sacks in the league. What has been the key for the Dolphins' pass protection, and do you think it'll hold up against the Vikings?

Walker: The numbers are a bit skewed due to a stellar first half of the season. The Dolphins' pass protection was very good when Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert was healthy and guarding Tannehill's blindside. A strong case can be made that Albert was Miami's first-half MVP. However, a season-ending knee injury to Albert exposed some holes on Miami's offensive line. Rookie Ja'Wuan James moved from right tackle to left tackle and the struggling Dallas Thomas was put at right tackle. Since Albert went down in Week 10, Miami has allowed 21 quarterback sacks in five games. That's a little more than four sacks per game. The Patriots and Ravens registered 10 combined sacks. I do expect the Vikings to get pressure on Tannehill.

QB snapshot: Ryan Tannehill

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
1:00
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A quick observation of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and how he played in the Miami Dolphins' 41-13 loss in Week 15:

Tannehill
Tannehill showed something I had not seen in his previous 45 starts: He threw an accurate and consistent deep ball. The Dolphins let it fly in Sunday’s loss to the New England Patriots. Tannehill had a season-high 47 pass attempts and he took several deep shots down the field.

On the first offensive play of the game, Tannehill connected on a 50-yard bomb to speedy receiver Mike Wallace. It was the kind of play Dolphins fans were waiting for all season. Tannehill threw a beautiful, 32-yard touchdown to Wallace and also drew a pass interference penalty on Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner in the second quarter.

Even two of Tannehill’s missed connections deep to receiver Brian Hartline and backup tailback Damien Williams were good throws and not the fault of the quarterback. For one game, the deep ball was in Tannehill’s arsenal. He threw for 346 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

"Obviously one game doesn't put the nail in the coffin or anything," Tannehill said. "But I felt confident all year that we can make the [deep passing] plays."

Tannehill had a 73.5 passer rating and must play better overall. He was sacked four times and fumbled twice. Both fumbles were recovered by the Dolphins.

But the improved deep passing is something worth keeping an eye on in the final two weeks of the regular season. The Dolphins should continue to attempt stretching the defense to see if Tannehill is capable of consistently throwing the ball deep.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Nearly everyone on the outside in South Florida is wondering what's next with the Miami Dolphins.

Following Sunday's 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots, the Dolphins all but guaranteed they will miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. Now, the future of the coaching staff is in jeopardy.

[+] EnlargeJoe Philbin
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsHead coach Joe Philbin has a chance to improve his overall record in Miami (22-24) if the Dolphins can win out the rest of this season.
However, Dolphins (7-7) head coach Joe Philbin said Monday he is only focused on the next task at hand, which is beating the Minnesota Vikings (6-8). Meanwhile, speculation will continue to swirl whether Philbin is coaching his final two games in Miami.

"What my focus is and the team, staff is this week," Philbin said. "This is Game 15. This is the 2014 season. What happened in the past, certainly at some point in time, is relevant. But right now what's relevant is getting our team to play up to their potential for 60 minutes against the Minnesota Vikings. That's really all that's important to me right now."

Dolphins players defended Philbin Sunday night. The general theme was, "It's the players on the field not executing, not the fault of Philbin."

"They just beat us on the football field," Dolphins guard Mike Pouncey said. "The coaches don't do anything. There are guys out there; it's 11-on-11. The coaches have nothing to do with it."

Added Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace: "Coach Philbin is our coach and we're rocking with him no matter what. So we got a lot of things to deal with in the next two weeks. We got to stick together."

Philbin said he appreciates the players' support and isn't surprised by their reaction. However, Philbin must also be held accountable for his 22-24 record over three seasons. That record cannot all be placed on the players.

Philbin's in-game decisions have been questionable at times, particularly in close losses. The Dolphins also have started slow or, like Sunday in New England, finished slow. In their most important game of the season, they were outscored an astounding 24-0 by New England in the third quarter alone. Miami also gave up 27 unanswered points in the second half. The team rarely put 60 minutes of good football together this season.

The decision begins and ends with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who hired Philbin three years ago. According to Philbin, the pair spoke Sunday night in Foxborough, Massachusetts, after the ugly loss.

"He and I talked immediately after the game," Philbin explained. "We will talk again a number of times throughout the course of the week. We were both disappointed in how the team performed in the second half."

The best thing Philbin can do is pick up two more victories to end the season at 9-7. It would be the first winning season for Miami since 2008. That would at least strengthen Philbin's case to return for a fourth season.

But after two consecutive December collapses and no playoffs in three seasons, change is definitely possible in Miami. The biggest challenge for Philbin and the Dolphins will be to ignore the outside noise.
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- We've seen this Miami Dolphins story many times before.

It starts with optimism and playoff dreams in the summer. It ends with despair and disappointment in the winter.

That despair was on players' faces following Miami's 41-13 blowout loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. Reality set in as the Dolphins (7-7) fell to .500 and essentially out of the playoff race for the sixth consecutive season. New England, by contrast, clinched the AFC East title for the 12th time since 2000.

Enough is enough for this version of the Dolphins. This is a team that cannot win the big games. The culture of mediocrity hasn't changed since the hiring of head coach Joe Philbin in 2012, and now his status is in question: Do the Dolphins have the right coach to take them to the next level?

In coaching, you are what your record says you are. Philbin is 22-24 in three seasons -- and that simply isn't good enough. He's also 1-4 in his past five December games, his teams playing their worst football when postseason hopes hung in the balance.

This was a no-excuses year for the Dolphins, who have enough talent to make the playoffs. But they will likely be watching the postseason on television -- again.

"To be where we are at this point is tough," Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "I feel like with the guys we have in that room, the players that we have, there is no way we should be sitting where we are at right now. You know, that is frustrating for me."

Philbin, who said he's not thinking about his job security, did not coach with enough urgency in the most important game of the season. The Dolphins called a running play on third-and-6 on the opening drive. Lamar Miller gained just 3 yards, and the next play was a blocked field goal that New England returned for a touchdown.

"I think that was part of the game plan we had on third down," Philbin said, when asked about the decision. "We meet on third down every single week. We come up with plays in each down-and-distance category and that was one of the plays we came up with."

In the second quarter, the Dolphins ran on second-and-14 for no gain. That set up a third-and-14 play in which Tannehill forced an interception over the middle. Three plays later, the Patriots scored another touchdown.

The Dolphins trailed 14-13 at halftime. Guard Mike Pouncey said Philbin gave a "really good speech at halftime; guys were pumped up." Yet, his players didn't respond: New England scored a franchise-record 24 unanswered points in the third quarter to pull away.

This was a game the Dolphins had to have to keep their postseason hopes alive -- and they laid an egg.

"It's very frustrating. It's disappointing more than anything, but angry," Pouncey said. "It seems like every year it falls down to the same thing. We fall short. I'm sick of it. I know everybody on this football team is sick of it."

Each player I spoke to Sunday defended his head coach. Philbin is well-liked in the locker room. That will carry some weight when Dolphins owner Stephen Ross must make his final decision.

But the biggest factor for coaches is wins and losses. Philbin does not have enough of the former and has too many of the latter.

The Dolphins will be favorites to win their final two home games against the Minnesota Vikings (6-8) and New York Jets (3-11). That would put Miami at 9-7, which is a winning season.

But it still wouldn't feel like a successful year. The Dolphins had a chance to make a statement, but instead lost three of their past four games.

"I understand the business, but to win the last two games will help not just him, it will help the whole team to go 9-7," Dolphins center Samson Satele said. "But you never know what they're thinking upstairs. You just got to control your job, do your job and play hard for the coach. Like everybody said, he's our coach and I'll give everything I can for him every play and every game."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace was waiting for this type of game all season.

Wallace
Wallace
The New England Patriots play a lot of man-to-man defense and opponents have increasingly showed a lack of respect for Miami’s deep ball. This combination presented the ideal opportunity for the Dolphins to take shots deep despite a prior reluctance to do so.

As a result, the Dolphins connected on rare "splash" plays in Sunday's 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots. Wallace had five receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown. That included a 50-yard deep ball on the first play offensive play of the game and a 35-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

“Definitely, we have to stretch the defense out,” Wallace said. “We have to or they're going to come up and put a lot of guys in the box and it will be hard to run the football. ... We got a couple [deep plays].”

There are major questions whether Tannehill can consistently and accurately throw the deep pass. Tannehill temporarily silenced the critics for at least one game.

Most of Tannehill’s deep passes were accurate and on the money. Even a potential touchdown throw to backup running back Damien Williams was on target, but dropped in the end zone.

"Obviously one game doesn't put the nail in the coffin or anything," Tannehill said. "But I felt confident all year that we can make the [deep passing] plays."

It was difficult for Wallace to feel good about his performance after the Dolphins suffered a blowout loss. The 28-point margin of defeat was the largest for Miami all season. The previous high was 19 points to the Buffalo Bills in Week 2 and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3.

Perhaps the biggest issue is Miami suffered this kind of blowout loss with its season on the line in December. Just a week ago, the Dolphins controlled their own destiny and held the final wild-card spot in the AFC. But back-to-back losses to New England and the Baltimore Ravens will keep Miami out of the playoffs.

“It’s disappointing again,” Wallace said. “It’s the same as last year. We had the season in our hands to do something about it. We dropped the ball again.”
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Miami Dolphins' 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots:

Pouncey
Frustrated Pouncey: The Dolphins' locker room was deflated after the team lost for the third time in four games. But perhaps the most upset player Sunday evening was starting guard Mike Pouncey. The Dolphins fell to 7-7, and losing to New England essentially ended their hopes of making the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. "It's very frustrating. It's disappointing more than anything, but angry," Pouncey said. "It seems like every year it falls down to the same thing. We fall short. I'm sick of it. I know everybody on this football team is sick of it."

Questions answered? The Dolphins surprised everyone by going deep on multiple occasions against the Patriots. That has been a major weakness for third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but he actually threw an accurate deep ball in this game. Tannehill connected with Mike Wallace for a 50-yard bomb and a 32-yard touchdown. Tannehill also threw a pretty deep ball to backup tailback Damien Williams, who dropped the ball in the end zone. "Obviously one game doesn't put the nail in the coffin or anything," Tannehill said. "But I felt confident all year that we can make the [deep passing] plays."

Continue to fight: Dolphins players were aware their playoff hopes were all but done. But they said they will continue to play hard for themselves, the team and the coaching staff. Miami will host the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets in the final two weeks.

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
4:10
PM ET

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 41-13 loss Sunday against the New England Patriots.

What it means: The Dolphins (7-7) continue their late-season free fall in ugly fashion. They lost their third game in four weeks to drop to .500 and essentially end their playoff hopes. The Patriots took advantage of Miami's mistakes and scored 21 points off turnovers. This blowout loss makes you question the status of Joe Philbin, who dropped to 22-24 in three seasons as the Dolphins' head coach. They most likely will miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year.

Stock watch: The stock is rising for Miami's deep ball. This was a penny stock most of the season, because the team was reluctant to even try taking deep shots most weeks. But the Dolphins' passing offense was aggressive at times, which included five deep throws in the first half. It worked three times on a pair of bombs to receiver Mike Wallace and a pass interference call against Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner. As far as stock plummeting, Miami's third-quarter performance took a major tumble. The team was an astounding plus-72 in third-quarter scoring this season, but the Patriots were the dominant team after halftime. New England scored a franchise-record 24 points in the third quarter to set the tone and pull away from Miami in the second half.

Show of respect: Patriots coach Bill Belichick is good at providing interesting wrinkles and coaching adjustments. One change he made from the first meeting was to put Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis on Dolphins rookie receiver Jarvis Landry in the slot on key passing downs. Landry has really come on in the season's second half and entered the game leading Miami in receptions. That is a sign of respect from Belichick to put his best coverage player on Landry, who finished with eight catches for 99 yards.

Game ball: There weren't many kudos to pass around following a blowout loss, but Wallace showed off his big-play ability with five catches for 104 receiving yards and a touchdown. His score was a one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone. He also had a 50-yard bomb to start the game.

What's next: The Dolphins will return home for their final two games of the regular season. They will host the Minnesota Vikings next week and the New York Jets in Week 17. Those are winnable games that are important for Miami as the team tries to prove it can finish on a high note.

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