NFL Nation: ryan tannehill

The Miami Dolphins were ranked 24th against the run last season and are in desperate need of a stud defensive tackle.

Pending free agent and Pro Bowler Ndamukong Suh is set to hit the market next week as the most dominant defensive lineman available.

Are the two sides a match?

According to ESPN analyst and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general Mark Dominik, the Dolphins have “a real shot” at landing Suh. Dominik's theory wasn’t based as much on team fit or a chance for Suh to compete for championships in Miami. Dominik believes the lack of state taxes in Florida puts the Dolphins in the running for a player such as Suh, who is expected to get one of the riches free-agent deals this offseason.

“When you’re talking about state taxes and you’re in Tennessee, Texas or Florida and you’ve got that up your sleeve, any one of those teams has a real shot,” Dominik said, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Although I agree the absence of state taxes is an advantage, the bigger question is whether the Dolphins can afford to pay for a big-ticket item like Suh. He is expected to garner a contract in the range of $100 million or more.

It is doubtful that the Dolphins dish out a $100 million contract to land Suh. Miami spent the past three days clearing about $13.5 million in cap room by releasing veterans Cortland Finnegan, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Nate Garner. There will be more cuts, but it’s highly unlikely this is to set up a megadeal to get Suh to Miami. The Dolphins were big spenders in free agency the past two years, and this is the offseason the team is expected to take it easy and focus primarily on the draft.

If the Dolphins spend $100 million on one player this offseason, it would be starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, not Suh.
A closer look at the areas the Miami Dolphins could address in the draft. On Wednesday we look at the receiver position, which is scheduled to work out Saturday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Change is coming for the Dolphins at the receiver position. Miami was ranked 17th in passing with 233.1 yards per game last season, and the immediate futures of several veterans are in question. Starting receiver Brian Hartline and slot Brandon Gibson could be salary-cap casualties due to their $5.95 million and $3.26 million salaries, respectively. The Dolphins must also decide what to do with No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace, who is due $9.9 million. Wallace was benched in the second half of Miami’s Week 17 loss to the New York Jets due to venting his frustration. It remains to be seen if both sides stay together or part ways. Either way, the Dolphins need to have a strong group of receivers around quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is entering his fourth season.

Three players the Dolphins could target in the draft:

Kevin White (WR), West Virginia: White's production was off the charts. He had 109 receptions, 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns last season for the Mountaineers. White is a good fit for the Dolphins' offense. He has good ball skills and also is good at breaking tackles after the catch, which is very valuable in offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's system. White can solidify his standing as one of the top receivers in this draft class with a strong performance at the combine.

Devante Parker (WR), Louisville: Parker's numbers took a hit last season because he battled injuries. But scouts remain very high on him because of Parker’s physical tools and competitiveness. At this stage, it’s hard to separate White and Parker. It really depends on what teams are looking for. I give White the edge because of his consistency and production. But the Dolphins could be watching both players very closely this week.

Devin Smith (WR), Ohio State: Smith could be a Day 2 target. He is a speedster who averaged an astounding 28.2 yards per catch for the national champion Buckeyes last season. Smith also caught 12 touchdowns. The Dolphins are unsure about their situation with Wallace and currently do not have another deep threat on the roster. If Miami decides to trade or release Wallace, Smith is someone to keep an eye on.
The Miami Dolphins have a big decision this offseason with No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace. He is due $9.9 million this season, which includes $3 million guaranteed in March, yet the offense and quarterback do not suit his strengths.

Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey reportedly met with Wallace recently to discuss their options. Nothing is off limits for either party, including the possibility for a trade, which would help the Dolphins with cap space and to get something in return.

If Miami ultimately decides to go that route, here are three potential trade partners:

Seattle Seahawks

Analysis: We saw during the playoffs that Seattle's biggest weakness is wide receiver. It's the reason the two-time NFC champions acquired Percy Harvin in 2013, although that move didn't work. Wallace is a deep threat with elite speed. He would take the pressure off quarterback Russell Wilson, who throws a much better deep ball than Ryan Tannehill. Wallace also would prevent opponents from putting eight in the box against Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. It's a great fit for both sides. Wallace fills one of Seattle's few holes and gets to compete for championships, which is what he did early in his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Fit rating (10 being the best): 9

Indianapolis Colts

Analysis: The Colts are on the cusp of being a championship contender. They need a little more talent, and Wallace could be one of those additions to help Indianapolis get over the hump. Wallace has had big games at Lucas Oil Stadium. He loves the fast track and can do a lot of damage playing in a dome with Colts quarterback Andrew Luck eight times a season. Indianapolis is not afraid to make bold trades. The Colts recently acquired former first-round picks Vontae Davis and Trent Richardson the past few seasons. Some will work out and some won't. But the Colts are usually aggressive in their pursuit of players.

Fit rating: 9

New Orleans Saints

Analysis: Wallace is a Louisiana native. He would have no issues playing for his home team, which also plays in a dome and has an elite quarterback in Drew Brees. New Orleans' offense would be a dynamic fit for a talent like Wallace. But the biggest issue is the Saints' salary-cap situation is not very good. It's tough to see New Orleans creating the type of room necessary to take on Wallace's $9.9 million salary in a trade. Wallace returning home is more feasible if he's released and free to negotiate a more cost-effective contract.

Fit rating: 7

Walker's Dolphins mock draft 2.0

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
The 2014 season is officially over. Now, it's time to turn the page to 2015 and that starts with player acquisitions via free agency and the NFL draft.

With that said, let's do a periodic mock draft updating fans on the Miami Dolphins' top targets with the No. 14 overall pick.

Things will change periodically throughout the scouting process. But here is my latest Dolphins' mock:

No. 1: LB Shaq Thompson

School: Washington

Stats: 78 tackles, 4.5 sacks, four interceptions

Analysis: Thompson remains my leading candidate for Miami with the No. 14 pick. Significant changes are coming at linebacker, as the team is not expected to keep high-priced veterans Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. Thompson would add youth and much-needed playmaking ability to Miami's linebacker corps. Thompson was so athletic that he also took carries at running back. Jelani Jenkins, who led Miami with 110 tackles, and Thompson would be a nice pair to build around.

No. 2: WR Kevin White

School: West Virginia

Stats: 109 receptions, 1,447 yards, 10 touchdowns

Analysis: The Dolphins were fine at wide receiver last season. However, changes could be coming over the next several weeks where this becomes a position of need. The immediate futures of starters Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace both remain up in the air. Hartline, who under-produced in Miami's new offense, is due $5.95 million. Wallace, who was benched in the second half of Week 17 following a verbal altercation, is due $9.9 million in 2015. Expensive backup Brandon Gibson ($3.26 million) also could be on the chopping block this offseason. These potential moves could push a young receiver like White at the top of the list in the first round. The Dolphins need playmakers around budding quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is still developing. White has good size and his production was off the charts. He could be a complement to Jarvis Landry, who does most of his damage underneath.

No. 3: WR Devante Parker

School: Louisville

Stats: 43 receptions, 855 yards, five touchdowns

Analysis: Choosing between White and Parker at this stage is really a matter of preference. Both are projected top-15 picks. Currently, I have White slightly ahead due to the difference in college production, which is something the Dolphins often value. But Parker has most of the tools that would fit in Bill Lazor's offense. He's big, tough and has good ball skills. However, Parker lacks the elite, top-end speed on tape. His 40-yard dash will be important at the NFL combine later this month.

No. 4: DT Danny Shelton

School: Washington

Stats: 88 tackles, 9.0 sacks

Analysis: Shelton was No. 2 on my mock draft list a month ago. The main reason why he's falling is because Shelton was so impressive at the Senior Bowl that there's doubt he falls to No. 14. In fact, Shelton has a good chance to go in the top 10. There aren't many players like Shelton in this draft. He's a natural run stuffer who is hard to move. Shelton also has surprisingly nimble feet. If Shelton happens to be available at No. 14 -- and that's a big if -- the Dolphins should not hesitate with this pick.

Is Ryan Tannehill a $100 million QB?

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
Now here is where things get interesting for the Miami Dolphins and starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel reports the Dolphins have had internal discussions about a long-term contract for Tannehill. The deal reportedly would be for seven years with a maximum value of $105 million, which includes incentives. Doing simple math, this type of contract gives Tannehill an average of $15 million per year.

Hyde also reports the contract would be guaranteed for two years and the team would have an out clause before the third season. This layout is similar to what the Cincinnati Bengals did last season with Andy Dalton, who signed a six-year, $115 million contract.

Here is the big question: Is Tannehill a $100-plus million quarterback? There are two ways to answer this question, and a strong case can be made either way.

Tannehill’s critics say absolutely not. He is 23-25 as a starter and has yet to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs or have a winning season. Football is a team sport, so it’s not all on him. However, elite franchise quarterbacks elevate the play of those around them, and Tannehill has not yet proven he can do that. Tannehill also struggles mightily to throw the deep ball, which is a weakness that may not be fixable. With a long-term contract, the Dolphins are essentially committing to a short and intermediate passing game that doesn’t attack opponents deep.

In contrast, Tannehill supporters make a case that he is worth $100-plus million simply because that is what the market dictates. Quarterbacks play the glamour position and get paid handsomely for it. Tannehill also is coming off a career year where he threw for 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns and had a 92.8 passer rating. If quarterbacks such as Dalton (83.5 rating), Jay Cutler (88.6), Colin Kaepernick (86.4) and Matthew Stafford (85.7) all recently signed $100-plus million extensions, why not Tannehill?

Is Tannehill a top-10 quarterback? No. But neither are these aforementioned $100-million quarterbacks in his peer group. The market may be overblown, but that is something the Dolphins can’t control.

What the Dolphins can control is their options and, ultimately, their decision. The team can work out an extension, use its fifth-year option for $15 million in 2016, or roll the dice and let Tannehill play out the final year of his rookie contract.

If I’m the Dolphins, I would take advantage of the fifth-year option. It would keep Tannehill in the fold for two more years for approximately $17 million. After that point, the Dolphins should definitely know if Tannehill is a franchise quarterback.

The Dolphins must get this quarterback decision right for the long-term health of the franchise.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was in a jovial mood last week. The team announced major changes to Sun Life Stadium and Ross, who worked on that project for the past few years, had reason to celebrate.

However, Ross' football team has been inconsistent on the field. He made his first head-coaching hire in 2012 with Joe Philbin, but the team is 23-25 in the past three seasons. The Dolphins went 8-8 the past two seasons. Yet, Ross believes the Dolphins have a bright future, in part due to the success of third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

“I think you saw the development of Ryan, and a lot of the other younger players, and I think that bodes well,” Ross said. “It’s hard. You see all these teams making coaching changes and you see us, and none of them have quarterbacks, [they] mostly don’t. So I think that bodes well for the future as we build something.”

Tannehill silenced a lot of critics by throwing for 4,045 yards and 27 touchdowns and posting a 92.8 passer rating this season. All of the aforementioned totals are career highs. Tannehill also proved he could quickly learn a new offensive system under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor. The pair should be even more in sync in their second season together in 2015.

But the team still has a ways to go. The Dolphins finished third in the AFC East for the second straight season, and the division projects to be more competitive next season.

"We were up and down like everybody else," Ross said. "I thought we were getting there, and we didn't make it. But I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that we're on our way."

Miami Dolphins Senior Bowl preview

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
With a two-week break until the Super Bowl, many NFL decision-makers will meet this week in Mobile, Alabama, for the 2015 Senior Bowl.

This is a huge scouting opportunity for all 32 teams to see some of the best prospects in this year's NFL draft. I will be there this week to check out every practice, and interview incoming rookies.

Here is a preview of things I am looking for throughout the week as it pertains to the Miami Dolphins:
  • Defensive help: It’s no secret the Dolphins need help on defense. This is a group that absolutely collapsed in the final six weeks under defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. Miami could use help at all three levels, including defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback. One big name I’m keeping a close eye on is Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton. He could be a target for the Dolphins at No. 14 overall. Miami's run defense was ranked No. 24 in the NFL, and the team could lose starter Jared Odrick in free agency.
  • Local flavor: Seemingly every couple of seasons you hear of a big NFL talent that was discovered in South Florida who got away from the Dolphins. Recent examples include New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham and Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton, who played at nearby colleges but were overlooked by Miami. This year’s local talent includes four players from the University of Miami: tight end Clive Walford, linebacker Denzel Perryman, receiver Philip Dorsett, and cornerback Ladarius Gunter. The Hurricanes (6-7) underachieved this past season, but had good talent. The Dolphins should know these local players as good or better than any other team.
  • Quarterbacks: The Dolphins do not have a backup quarterback under contract. Veteran Matt Moore, who made $4 million last season, is a pending free agent in March, and Miami doesn’t have a legitimate prospect behind starter Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins could look to the draft to find their No. 2 quarterback. It wouldn’t be a high selection. But several middle- or late-round quarterbacks are in this game, including Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Oregon State’s Shane Mannion, and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson. These are not big names, but the Dolphins will be in the market this year for quarterback insurance.

Remember to keep it locked on’s Dolphins page throughout Senior Bowl week as we bring you all the latest from Mobile via articles, video reports, and more.

Also, feel free to check out my first mock draft for Miami this offseason and ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s pick for the Dolphins in his first mock draft.
Perhaps the most promising sign to emerge from the Miami Dolphins' 8-8 season was the progress of third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He set career highs in yards (4,045), touchdowns (27) and passer rating (92.8), as well as learned a new offensive system under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor.

But who will back up Tannehill in 2015? It's an important question the Dolphins must address this offseason.

Miami only carried two quarterbacks on its 53-man roster for most of last season, and respected veteran Matt Moore will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Moore, who made $4 million in 2014, should garner interest from quarterback-needy teams. He's a very good backup and a proven part-time starter over his eight-year career. The Dolphins need cap room and can't afford to pay Moore what he made the past two seasons.

I talked to Moore a couple of weeks ago and he was unsure of his return.

"If the situation is right, that will happen," Moore said. "If there's a situation elsewhere that is intriguing, it might also happen. ...I'm going to kind of feel my way through it."

Translation: If Moore gets an opportunity elsewhere to compete for a starting job and with a higher salary, he's most likely leaving Miami.

The Dolphins will explore cheaper alternatives at backup quarterback, especially now that Tannehill is a proven starter. The easiest route would be to draft an affordable, developmental quarterback in the middle or later rounds. They also could look for a veteran in free agency if they are willing to spend more.

Tannehill's durability has been stellar. He started 48 consecutive games since Miami drafted him No. 8 overall in 2012. But a backup quarterback is always one play away.

The Dolphins must find a decent player behind Tannehill who also fits within their budget.
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

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.

QB snapshot: Ryan Tannehill

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

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.

Vikings vs. Dolphins preview

December, 18, 2014

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.

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.

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.”

QB snapshot: Ryan Tannehill

December, 9, 2014
A quick observation of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and how he played in the Miami Dolphins' Week 14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday:

Tannehill struggled to put points on the board for the second week in a row. In the 28-13 loss to the Ravens, the Dolphins' offense started off well by getting a 10-0 lead. Then, the Ravens took over and outscored Miami 28-3 in the final three quarters.

It was an inexcusable performance on both sides of the ball in a huge game. The loss most likely will keep the Dolphins on the outside of the playoff race when the season ends in three weeks. But it's also telling that Tannehill, who is auditioning to be the long-term solution at quarterback, isn't doing enough to keep Miami from floundering down the stretch for the second straight December.

Tannehill threw for 227 yards and a touchdown against Baltimore. That's not a bad game, but he certainly didn't do enough to make it a close game. He particularly failed to make big plays against the Ravens, who dared him to throw deep. Tannehill also was sacked a season-high six times.

Tannehill is now 1-3 in his past four December games. This is the time of year when great quarterbacks and great teams separate themselves to get into the playoffs. Tannehill and the Dolphins still have some growing to do.