Season Now In The Rearview Mirror

Posted Dec 31, 2012

Plenty to build on for 2013 according to Philbin and players.

Early last week Miami Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin talked about how it would feel when everything comes to a screeching halt for his team, and today is that day.

Less than 24 hours after ending the 2012 season, Philbin’s first as a head coach, with a disheartening 28-0 loss at the New England Patriots he was beginning to assess what was accomplished. Miami finished one game under .500 at 7-9 and out of the playoffs, but winning streaks of three games in the middle of the schedule and two near the end shed some optimism for such a young team.

“We’ve got an excellent group of men in that locker room. It’s a high character group and football is very important to those guys,” Philbin said in his final press conference of the season. “Now we have our systems in place on offense, defense and special teams. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do and we need to take a thorough evaluation of the entire program. When these guys back from the offseason we’ll hit the thing running and take it from there.”

Statistics don’t always tell the whole story, especially for a team that underwent wholesale changes on both sides of the ball and started a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill in all 16 games. He became the first rookie quarterback in franchise history to do that, something not even Hall-of-Famers Bob Griese and Dan Marino accomplished.

Tannehill wound up completing 282-of-484 passes for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a 76.1 passer rating. He also was the team’s fourth leading rusher with 211 yards and two touchdowns on 49 carries with a 4.3 average. Coming into an offensive system under his college head coach, Mike Sherman, certainly helped speed up Tannehill’s development.

“I think I grew in most areas and obviously with every rep you’re going to get more comfortable and with every game you’re going to get more comfortable,” said Tannehill, who had 19 starts in college at quarterback for Texas A&M before being taken eighth overall in last April’s NFL Draft. “So I feel like I grew in a lot of areas but I still need to do a lot more growing. The season flew by and I think that would be the biggest thing is how fast it flew by. I’ll take a little time to relax and get away from it and then I’ll really closely evaluate myself and evaluate my play and go from there.”

Philbin pinpointed the road win at the New York Jets following the bye week on October 28th (30-9) and the Week 16 win at home over the Buffalo Bills (24-3) as the two games he felt best illustrated the capabilities of his team. The way they performed in all three phases and how they went almost the entire game against the Bills without a penalty are the key reasons why he picked those victories.

Center Mike Pouncey went a different route and as it turns out he chose the same vein as Tannehill did a few weeks earlier as far as the one game that really stood out for the players. It just happened to take place at Sun Life Stadium back on November 25th on Thanksgiving Weekend.

“I think the way the season went and we came back and beat the Seahawks (24-21) with a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter stands out,” Pouncey said. “I think that spoke a lot about this football team and our character to go out and beat a good football team like that. I think that game marked our whole season.”

First-year defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle installed a base 4-3 defense that was new to a lot of his key players, yet that unit still managed to be Miami’s biggest strength for the majority of the season. Yesterday’s performance against the Patriots clearly stung as New England was able to have success on the ground through the air, but that more the exception than the norm.

Fourth-year cornerback Sean Smith was the leader of the secondary and was upbeat as he finished cleaning out his locker. He started out the season strong with solid performances against elite receivers like Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green and gave a succinct overall evaluation of the defense’s 2012 performance.

“We definitely learned a lot with the whole new coaching staff coming in and the whole change to the system,” Smith said. “I think everybody met their expectations if not more. No one knew what to expect coming in and we did some good things. We had our ups and downs but overall I think it was a very interesting year and I definitely look forward to next year and seeing where we can go.”

This was running back Reggie Bush’s second season in Miami and he put together the second best rushing performance of his career behind last year’s 1,086 yards and six rushing touchdowns. He wound up with 986 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns and 35 receptions for 292 yards and two touchdowns.

Like Smith, Bush is a free agent but has expressed a strong desire to return to the Dolphins because, as he put it, he has “unfinished business.” Even though he fell 14 yards shy of reaching 1,000 for the second straight season, it was the team goals that meant more to Bush and he realized there were some missed opportunities.

“I think as a team we were a couple of last-minute drives away from being a playoff contender,” said Bush, who just completed his seventh season in the league. “So I think it comes down to just us learning how to finish strong in every phase of this game – offense, defense and special teams. We’ve got to learn how to finish strong, finish plays and make the plays when necessary that are going to help is be a contender.”

Part of that suddenness Philbin referred to could be felt throughout the facility today as the players went through their exit physicals and individual exit interviews with Philbin as well as the final team meeting. Some of the players cleaned out their lockers on Friday before the weekend flight to New England while others took care of it today.

As far as really being able to break down trends and provide comprehensive answers to big picture questions regarding the team and specific players, Philbin wasn’t totally ready to that. The loss to the Patriots was still fresh in his mind and the minds of the players, but the two areas of concern he did put near the top of the list was getting more explosive plays on offense while eliminating explosive plays against the defense and winning the turnover battle. He will take a broader look at those things and others in the coming weeks and months.

“I need to improve like everybody else and that’s really what the offseason’s all about,” Philbin said. “I haven’t really had time to reflect necessarily but I’m going to sit down with the players and ask for some of their input. Obviously, we had a plan in place for this season and I thought it was a good plan. However, you’ve got to learn and you’ve got to make adjustments and changes and improvements and we’ll do that. That’s part of the process, listening to some of the guys that you work with on a consistent basis and seeing if they have ideas that may or may not benefit the program. So there will be changes and adjustments and I certainly plan on improving myself.”
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