Better at times, just not there yet.
That sums up the performance of the Miami Dolphins in Sunday's 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
We continue to see reasons to make us feel like that first victory is getting closer, reasons to be somewhat encouraged. We saw Josh Rosen play very well, at least in the first half. We saw the Dolphins take their first lead of the season and we saw the defense play solid at times. Again, at least in the first half.
They just couldn't sustain. Certainly not in the second half.
That's when the Chargers took over and that's when the Dolphins simply did not have an appropriate answer, not on either side of the ball.
The offense got shut out in the second half once again. The defense couldn't get off the field, giving up long drives and failing to stop the Chargers with any consistency on third down. "You've got to put together two good halves in this league," said coach Brian Flores. "We have been unable to do that."
Similar to a week ago in Dallas, Rosen played an excellent first half, in this case completing 12 of 16 for 159 yards. At one point, after seven straight completions, Rosen had a perfect quarterback rating. But similar to last week he could not keep things going in the second half, hitting on just 5 of 8 passes for 21 yards and an interception.
In the meantime, the Chargers controlled the ball, at one point in the third quarter putting together a 16-play drive that consumed more than 10 minutes off the clock. Didn't matter that it only generated a field goal. They clearly had things going their way.
So what do we make of this Dolphins' team after one-quarter of the season? It is clear with all the changes, with 15 players added to the active roster since the first of September and with injuries that have taken away so much continuity on the offensive line, that this team is struggling to find itself.
I believe their identity will be forged by the play of Rosen, the way he spreads the ball around, the way he stands so calmly in the pocket, surveying the field, trying to give this offense the spark it so badly needs.
We saw that spark briefly on Sunday, the Dolphins taking a 10-7 lead -- their first of the season – on a 34-yard scoring pass from Rosen to DeVante Parker with 6:32 left in the first quarter. It was one of those no-doubt-about-it plays. Parker beat his man by couple of steps and Rosen hit him in full stride. Can we clone that?
Unfortunately, the lead didn't last long, the Chargers going up 10-7 on a Philip Rivers touchdown pass with 2:45 left in the first quarter. After the Dolphins tied it at 10 on a Jason Sanders field goal, Rivers threw his second scoring pass of the game to go up 17-10 at the half. And the lead, as well as the frustration, just grew in the second half.
The message from Flores following the game was much like the same message he delivered after the first three defeats. Stay focused. Don't dwell on the past. Make corrections and then move on.
Flores figures there are eight to 10 plays each game that have so much to do with the final score. "We have to start making those plays," he said. "We miss blocks, miss tackles. drop passes, miss a kick, we can't do those things. We need to come out and play a lot better."
I really believe there are some good days ahead for this team. I believe this coaching staff has done everything humanly possible to put the most competitive product on the field. But a good play here and there just doesn't cut it. This team must develop the ability to sustain, to capitalize on momentum-swinging plays and to follow something good with something better.
That's the frustration of the first month of the season. There were glimmers of hope, certainly in the past two games against the Cowboys and Chargers. There were moments where we said to ourselves, now that's progress. But those moments were fleeting, as fleeting as that brief four-point lead Sunday against the Chargers.
Now the Dolphins get a chance to take a deep breath and to carefully scrutinize everything that has transpired up until now. Now it's about using the upcoming bye week to reflect and respond and to search hard for solutions that can hopefully help make the final 12 games of the season more palatable than the first four.