What are the most compelling storylines of this Dolphins' season? With things wrapping up Sunday in Buffalo here's my own personal list of the 10 that stand out most. See if you agree.
1. The Miami Miracle
Have to start with this because years from now when people look back at the 2018 season, they won't be talking about the record or how they got there. They'll be talking about the day they beat the New England Patriots on the most improbable of final plays, a double lateral for the ages. I imagine by that time about 200,000 people will claim they witnessed it in person. Everybody, after all, wants to be part of a miracle.
2. Road troubles
The Dolphins finished a very good 6-2 at home and have a chance Sunday against Buffalo to finish with a 6-1 record in the AFC East. You would think that would have been a recipe for success. But the difficulty this team had winning on the road, and the manner in which they lost, has everything to do with the predicament they currently find themselves in. There were games against the Bengals and the Colts where fourth quarter double-digit leads disappeared. The other losses were one-sided. You never expect to dominate on the road. But a 1-6 road record heading to Buffalo? Not what you're looking for.
3. Injuries, more injuries
I know every team has injuries. I understand it can become a tired excuse. But it's impossible to correctly frame this season without attributing so much of the failures to those important pieces lost by injury. I mean it's one thing to lose a back-up guard or a special teams player. But the Dolphins have lost far too many impact players, certainly on offense. After a while, it's hard to find a next man up to be the next man up.
4. Gauging Tannehill
We were looking for a definitive conclusion on Ryan Tannehill this season, his seventh in the league, and I'm not sure we got one. He played well early on, missed five games with a shoulder injury, came back and put together a few solid games and then struggled most recently against the Vikings and Jaguars. How big a factor were the injuries to the offensive line? And at receiver? How will his season be remembered if he finishes with a strong performance Sunday against the Bills? So much to sort through. So many variables to consider.
5. A plus-eight turnover margin
This is undoubtedly the most impressive stat of the season and it truthfully explains why the Dolphins remained in the playoff mix deep into their schedule despite an offense and defense ranked near the bottom of the league. The Dolphins have forced 27 turnovers this season and 20 of them came by interception. Wish they had done a better job turning them into points.
6. The High-Five
This isn't a storyline as much as it is a moment, a moment when everything looked so promising, when you thought that the impromptu high-five between Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant in the open field against Oakland would become the lasting snapshot of this season. Little did we realize both players soon would be lost for the season.
7. The Giant that Frank Gore is
Did anyone really expect that at 35-years-old Frank Gore would produce the way he has, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, breaking so many tackles, re-writing history one violent burst at a time? We got to see him for 14 games and for that we should all feel fortunate. He has already secured his place among the all-time great runners and it was only fitting that he lived out one of his final chapters in his hometown.
8. Interception Man
This is the season that cornerback Xavien Howard moved from very good to outstanding, his seven interceptions still tied for the league lead heading into the last Sunday of the season despite the fact that Howard has missed the last three games. Did anyone notice? You bet they did as Howard earned a starting spot in the Pro Bowl, a fitting tribute to a player who, as scary as this sounds, hasn't come close to reaching his potential. On Wednesday, he was also named the team's Dan Marino Most Valuable Player, clearly a deserving choice.
9. An elite left tackle
It's been a while, but the Dolphins have finally found one in third-year-player Laremy Tunsil. We weren't sure what to expect after Tunsil struggled some a season ago, no doubt realizing he wasn't quite ready for the enormity of this challenge. But this season he was ready and he played like it week after week, neutralizing the opponent's best pass rusher, often residing on an island of sorts with only him between the defender and Tannehill. Adam Gase recently called Tunsil the best tackle in football. After what we witnessed this season, I challenge you to find a better one.
10. The Bottom Line
You can't ignore the obvious. The goal was to make the playoffs so by that standard alone this season has to be disappointment. We mentioned above the injuries and the road troubles and they were certainly both huge factors. But it's never really that simple. We were encouraged by early success, but if anything was consistent this season it was a lack of consistency and that's the storyline that will surely remain among the most vivid.