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AC In The AM: Where Do Dolphins Go From Here?

With a last-second loss to the Colts likely to resonate for a few more days, with the Bills coming to town this Sunday and with the urgency of December now right in front of us, we offer up this Tuesday morning dose of perspective.

  • How do you recover from a loss like that one? How do you not let it define who you are? How do you build off the positives? Those are the immediate challenges facing this team. No doubt this was the most brutal loss of the season for a variety of reasons. The Dolphins played so well for so long. They led by 10 early in the fourth quarter. They got an impressive welcome back performance from Ryan Tannehill. It was all there, and then it wasn’t. Every week a different script unfolds. This week is about testing the fabric of this team. You let a loss like this dwell for too long, it can easily become two losses. Can’t let that happen.
  • Two straight home games against AFC East teams, first the Bills and then the Patriots, afford the Dolphins an opportunity to right things in a hurry. Win both of those games and the complexion of the season changes. As concerning as things are at 5-6, there is still time to make a late-season run, tempered by the knowledge that this team probably needs to win four of its last five to have a realistic shot at playing in January.
  • Adam Gase stood before the media late Monday morning, trying to explain what went wrong in those final 13:36 yet embracing the importance of quickly moving on. “Our focus just needs to be one game,” he said. “It’s probably good that we’re home. We’ve got a great opportunity to get back to .500.” As for that fourth quarter, Gase said “we did what we game planned to do” then added, “it’s unfortunate we lost the game because there were a lot of guys that did good stuff. It’s just hard to see right now.”
  • As mentioned above, Tannehill’s performance was wrapped with promise, clearly another example of how much he means to this team in general and this offense in particular. He couldn’t have played much better in the first half and really played reasonably well in the second half as well. There is undeniably a major difference in everything this offense does with Tannehill in the lineup. We need to see how quickly the Dolphins can build on that over the final five games.
  • How special was cornerback Xavien Howard during that remarkable 24-second stretch late in the first half when he intercepted back-to-back Andrew Luck passes? Those were difficult plays, both of them. But Howard, now with a league best nine interceptions in his last 16 games, made them look easy. Pro Bowl voting is underway. Howard couldn’t have picked a better time to remind us of the enormity of his abilities.
  • For those who are counting, and we are, Cam Wake’s sack of Luck on Sunday puts him at 96.5 for his career. This was no easy task. Luck hadn’t been sacked in five games for a reason. But Wake somehow got to him, relying on a combination of effort, skill and strength to bring Luck down with basically one hand. I fully expect Wake to reach 100 career sacks this season.
  • When Leonte Carroo came out of Rutgers three years ago, his story was of a player with great hands and an ability to make some of the most difficult catches. We finally got to see both of those skills on that 74-yard scoring play, Carroo taking the ball out of the Indy cornerback’s hands literally at the apex of his leap. Carroo will be the first to tell you that his two-plus seasons in the league haven’t gone the way he had hoped. But now with all the injuries at receiver, he will continue to get opportunities over these final stretch of games, opportunities like on Sunday when he clearly showed that his career growth chart is trending up.
  • It has been an issue for far too long and continues to be an issue. The Dolphins need to do a better job covering tight ends. All three of Luck’s scoring passes Sunday went to tight ends, two to Eric Ebron and one to Jack Doyle. Is it scheme? Is it personnel? I really expected improvement this season, certainly with No. 1 pick Minkah Fitzpatrick now in the mix. But with five games left, we’re still waiting.
  • My weekly comments about Frank Gore: Every game seems like the previous one with Gore. He runs hard. He breaks tackles. He produces first downs. He’s averaging 4.5 yards a carry and I’m wondering if there’s ever been a 35-year-old back with that kind of yards per carry average after more than 100 carries. It is remarkable how he plays so physical and remains so reliable. Gore is a treat to watch. I’m reminded of that every time I see him play.
  • Good to see Kenyan Drake have his most productive game in a while, scoring a pair of never-a-doubt touchdowns. “I didn’t get touched on either one,” he said Monday. If you recall, a year ago at this time Drake put together a late-season surge, gaining more yards than any other running back in the final five weeks of the season. The Dolphins could certainly use a repeat performance.
  • In case you haven’t noticed, that’s two straight games with a blocked punt for the Dolphins’ special teams, Brandon Bolden getting one against the Packers and Kiko Alonso following suit against the Colts. Alonso, by the way, continues to play at perhaps the highest level of his career.
  • And now the page turns to the Bills, a team that trails the Dolphins by only one game in the standings and has been buoyed by the return of rookie quarterback Josh Allen, who led them to a home victory Sunday against Jacksonville. “Got to win this game,” said Gore. “That’s all that matters right now.” How right he is.

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