Dolphins Return to Sea Level with a Mile High Hangover

One dessert Dolphins fans will find on their Thanksgiving Day plate is an extra helping of humble pie.  At one point or another, we’ve all tasted a slice of that bland crust, filled with enough bitterness to turn a good stomach sour.  Perhaps arriving at the neighborhood sports bar only to be turned away by a “take out only” sign was an omen for the day.  Thanks again, COVID!

What was supposed to be a successful business trip to Denver for this Miami team turned out to be a 5,000-foot trainwreck scattering a five-game winning streak along the mountainside.  Luckily, there was enough humble pie spilled in this game for every dumbfounded Dolphins fan and rubber-necker who asked, “What happened?”  If you recall, in last week’s column, Miami looked to be a team that captured lightning in a jar by playing complete football in all phases of the game.  Apparently, they captured something else because when the lid came off, there was a noticeable stench that dissipated into the thin atmosphere of Mile High Stadium.

For the first 10 minutes of this contest, the Miami Dolphins seemingly picked up right where they left off after last week’s home win against the Los Angeles Chargers.  The Dolphins defense looked crisp and quick off the snap, marshaled by Denver QB Drew Lock, predicted by most (including yours truly) to be terrorized and sent to pasture.  An early interception by Xavien Howard (aka, “The Raptor”) gave Tua Tagovailoa a short field to begin the Dolphin’s first offensive possession.  The drive was quickly capped off by Miami’s only alpha-receiver at the moment, Devante Parker, who seems to have finally developed a full bouquet of flavor after almost 5 years in fermentation mode.  His acrobatic snag of a well-timed Tua spiral was a thing of beauty, likely two layers of endzone paint away from being called incomplete out of bounds (Miami 7, Denver 0).  From that point onward, the Dolphins we had come to know looked like fish fighting to stay alive in search of familiar waters.  Even one last Fitzmagic gasp for air would not be enough to overcome a 20-13 final score on this dud of a day in Denver.

Yes, something was amiss this past Sunday and a lesson will be learned by coaches, players, and fans alike.  Rest assured, Brian Flores will see to that.  The Miami Dolphins are now 6-4, perhaps having won some games they should have lost, and losing a few they’d probably like back as mulligans.   I’m not an engine guy, but I know a well-tuned machine requires that all its individual components are calibrated and performance-ready.

This was not the case against the Broncos, for reasons soon to be determined as potentially exploitable.  Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the lynchpin gear of this Dolphins machine, was clearly experiencing his first dose of rookie friction versus the Denver defense.  It could be argued that his performance (or lack thereof) was enough sand to stall the engine, at least on this particular Sunday.  Regardless of the reason, Miami’s talented franchise rookie QB had a bad day at the office, and Boss Flores made the correct decision in his attempt to make this business trip a successful one.

To play high-level complementary football, each facet of the game needs to benefit the other.  The offense can help the defense with sustained ball control.  Likewise, the defense can help the offense by creating turnovers, while special teams can assist with field position, blocked kicks, and timely field goals.  None of that happened on Sunday as Denver running backs gashed the Dolphins defense for large-chunk gains coupled with an unproductive offense that failed to sparkle.  For now, let’s remove that grain of South Beach sand from our eyes and focus on taking care of business for real against the New York Jets on Sunday.