But when the sting does subside, when the Dolphins look at the big picture, they will see a gutsy effort against the Cowboys and further validation that this has matured into a good football team.
The Dolphins opened plenty of eyes during a three-game winning streak. But they may have opened even more eyes in this one-point loss to the Cowboys. This is a good Dallas team, probably a playoff team. The Dolphins had three different leads and gave up their last lead on the final play of the game. They matched Dallas. They showed they belonged.
The skeptics wondered when they beat Kansas City, Washington and Buffalo on consecutive Sundays how much the caliber of competition contributed to that streak. The Cowboys were several notches higher. They rarely lose on Thanksgiving Day. This would be the litmus test.
And even though the Dolphins are sitting here right now at 3-8 — and that will always be the bottom line — what they have proven over the past month is that many of the ingredients are firmly in place to be a playoff-caliber team. How close are they? The Dolphins have now lost four fourth-quarter leads this season, against the Browns, Broncos, Giants and Cowboys. Just imagine what could have been.
The Dallas game was further evidence of how far this Dolphins team has come.
• The Dolphins have some legitimate playmakers on offense. Marshall has overcome his early-season drops and is playing well.
• The defense continues to play well and the early-season disappointments have been wiped away by one consistent effort after another. The Dolphins picked off Tony Romo twice and one of Dallas’ two touchdowns came on a 5-yard drive. What I like most about this defense is how it plays with a chip on its shoulder. That’s good to see.
• The playmakers on defense are starting to make plays.
What now? If the Dolphins continue to play this well, they have a legitimate chance to beat any of the five remaining teams on their schedule. The Dallas game gave us a loss, but it also gave us hope.