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AC In The AM: Even In Defeat, There Are Encouraging Signs

With a whole lot to sort through after Sunday's loss to the Giants, with just two games left in what has been a season like none other and with the Cincinnati Bengals next up at Hard Rock Stadium, we offer our weekly dose of Tuesday morning perspective.

• The last two weeks have been especially difficult, kicking seven field goals and losing by a point to the Jets and then getting outscored 29-10 in the second half against the Giants. You can point to many factors that have contributed to the two straight losses after winning three of the previous five games, but the most obvious reason to me is a roster that continues to change at a record pace.

• As much as this coaching staff tries to maintain some semblance of stability – and for the most part have done a remarkable job given the circumstances – the constant churning of this roster has to take its toll. Think about some of the things we have seen: Four different starting running backs, 10 different starting offensive line combinations and a secondary filled with so many non-drafted rookies, some of them just learning each other's names. All told the Dolphins have used an NFL record 80 players in games this season and the number figures to go up over the final two weeks of the season.

• None of this, in truth, comes as much of a surprise. See, more than anything else, this season is about tomorrow more than it is today, about identifying young players that can be a part of a long-term solution and about giving as many of those players as possible an opportunity to succeed. That's what's happening now. That's why we're seeing all the shuffling and the late-season additions and so many different starting lineup combinations and that's why there will be days like last Sunday when all those moving parts are simply too much to overcome.

Meanwhile, there were still some encouraging signs in the loss to the Giants:

• The play of wide receiver DeVante Parker, who caught a pair of touchdowns, giving him eight for the season, only a day after being taken off concussion protocol. How much more do we need to see? The former No. 1 pick has turned his career around in one season, with career-best numbers, and his recent contract extension through 2023 is the clearest indication yet of how he is viewed by this coaching staff.

• Also coming out of concussion protocol was wide receiver Albert Wilson who, like Parker, responded with a strong game, perhaps his most impactful of the season, finishing with five catches for 59 yards. He looked as quick as he has in a while.

• I thought it was interesting that the three players who intercepted passes against the Giants – Vince Biegel, Nik Needham and Jerome Baker — are all enjoying statement seasons and will certainly, I believe, be a part of this moving forward. Biegel arrived via the trade that sent Kiko Alonso to the Saints and has been consistently solid all season, that interception the first of his career. Needham, an undrafted rookie, is now the most experienced boundary cornerback on the team and, week in and week out, has played as well as any defensive back on the roster. Baker, meanwhile, tied a career high with 12 tackles against the Giants and has emerged as a leader on this defense.

• First-year linebacker Sam Eguavoen continues to play well, getting a sack and a key pass breakup against the Giants. Between Raekwon McMillan, Baker, Biegel and Eguavoen, the Dolphins have a nice, young nucleus at linebacker.

• Did you notice the Dolphins used tight end Mike Gesicki some against the Giants in the slot receiver position. That's one way to create a mismatch.

• The running game has failed to produce much all season and that's an issue that must be addressed in the offseason. But this doesn't fall solely on the running backs. The offensive line deserves its share of the blame because so often the holes just haven't been there. "We have to do better," said center Daniel Kilgore. "It's the same story every week."

• As for the pass rush, I'm sure that's going to be a major offseason priority as well.

• Expect plenty of emphasis this week on the red zone offense, which has struggled over the past two games after an excellent showing against the Eagles. "It's hard to win with field goals in this league," said coach Brian Flores.

• I never get tired of watching Ryan Fitzpatrick play. The intensity and joy he brings into every game. The way he leads these young players. The way he is so fearless with the ball in his hands, breaking tackles, running over defenders if necessary. The way he can still flat out wing it, evidenced by his 20-yard touchdown bullet to Parker against the Giants. I was recently asked to vote for the MVP of this team. I didn't hesitate writing down Fitzpatrick's name.

• When Flores met with the media Monday afternoon, he indicated that Fitzpatrick would remain the starting quarterback over Josh Rosen. "We are always going to do what is in the best interest of the team," he said. "We're going to play the guy that gives us the best chance to win." Fitzpatrick is undoubtedly that guy.

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